Anniston High School finds itself on the state’s most list of “failing schools,” a develop that is neither surprising nor, quite frankly, all that helpful.
The creation of the “failing list” as part of 2013’s Alabama Accountability Act virtually guaranteed that many schools with high poverty and historically low academic performance would fall to the bottom 6 percent of the state’s public schools.
That’s generally been the case as schools in Jefferson County, the Black Belt and other pockets of concentrated poverty have been perennial names on the “failing list.”
So, there’s a lot of pointing to the darkness but very little lighting of candles.
Anniston City Schools Superintendent Darren Douthitt told The Star last month that the process for helping “failing schools” was incomplete. “It’s difficult for me to understand how you can stamp an entire school as failing,” Douthitt said.
The superintendent makes a great point. The “failing” label usually ends up being hung around the necks of every student, every teacher and administrator, every school board member, every parent and everyone else who lives in a community where a school is placed on the list.
The Alabama Accountability Act’s fixes for failure include allowing students zoned for a “failing school” to attend a non-failing school in the same district. That’s a problem in Anniston where there is only one high school in the district.
Another remedy spelled out in the Accountability Act offers financial assistance to students in “failing schools” who wish to transfer to a private school. That would likely mean the highest-performing students in a district like Anniston might exit for a private school. This fix seems to be removing the best students (and often the most dedicated parents) from the “failing school” and leaving behind the students who are struggling the most. That seems to us like a recipe for keeping a school on the “failing” list.
It’s time for the state Legislature and the governor to revisit the 2013 Alabama Accountability Act.
If the state is to assemble a list of public schools it decides are failing, then more measures are needed to make corrections. For example, the “failing” designation might trigger several actions from Montgomery. Those could include stricter oversight into the operation of the school and a data-driven analysis of what needs fixing. More state money would be directed at those deficiencies.
The state is stuck in a trap that has ensnared many in government. A frustration at weak public school performance set some officeholders in search of a one-size-fits-all solution. There is no magic formula that will correct an under-performing school. In fact, many of the issues facing a district like the one in Anniston occur well before a student steps on campus or even before he or she is old enough to start school. Yet, public school educators open the schoolhouse doors to every student regardless of their circumstances. We suggest the state move past list-making and move into problem-solving.