Is letter grade best judge of school?

Vincennes Sun-Commercial

We’re not sure how important these letter grades that the state Department of Education assigns to schools every year are in attracting (if the grades are good) people to a community — or scaring them away if the grades turn out to be bad.

We haven’t seen any studies, even one from that “center” up at Ball State University, indicating that in the marketplace of school competition the grades mean a thing — which was the whole point of coming up with the system in the first place, that the grades would allow parents to make the best choices when the time came to decide where to send their little tykes so’s to get ‘em some learnin’.

Possibly the system has failed, in that former students-cum-parents have seen their own alma maters given poor grades, and knowing that can’t be right they’ve come to dismiss the DOE system out of hand, which seems to us a wise and thoughtful thing to do.

We have seen plenty of reports about how schools are the first thing young couples look at when deciding which community to move to and start their families. But we’d say about half those reports conclude it’s athletics, not academics, that sway couples, that the outcome on the playing field is of greater influence than achievement in the classroom.

We think it should be the stated purpose of the Legislature to see that, however school performance is measured, each school “scores” an A — that no matter where a young couple should choose to live, they’re guaranteed their children will attend a top-performing school.

We don’t mean that standards should be lowered, rather that resources should be made available to school corporations as needed to enable them to succeed at the optimum level.

That’s what we want, isn’t it? That statewide Indiana has the best schools?

The trouble is that, in Indiana, just as in the late Eudora Welty’s home state of Mississippi, the Legislature “has always shown a painfully loud reluctance to give money to public education.”

There would definitely need to be more tax dollars spent than are being spent today to achieve that ultimate goal of statewide school excellence.

Even consolidation — the panacea preached by the hard thinkers at Ball State — wouldn’t “save” enough money to make a difference; and besides, we noticed that a good many of those larger school corporations held up as high achievers by the Ball State folks didn’t grade out much better than the districts with enrollment levels they consider to be too small.

If we want better local schools the money to help improve them is going to have to come from local sources. But unlike local governments, school corporations don’t have the authority to establish their own income taxes, there’s no food and beverage tax available to them to levy additional funds, no innkeepers tax to turn to for help.

Additional local money for better schools has to come from local governments.

Local officials need to think more long-term, and decide just how tax dollars are to be spent — whether on pretty accessories or on true necessities. To paraphrase blues legend Memphis Minnie, we need to look after our pork chops, not worry about the gravy.

The city’s Redevelopment Commission actually takes property-tax revenue away from the Vincennes Community School Corp., money which the district could be using to invest in technology to better educate local students, freeing up more money for instruction.

Instead, the money gets spent on parking lots and utility access roads and playground equipment — on what we’ve come to think of as “applause projects,” which may earn local officials a round of applause, a pat on the back and even an award but that don’t necessarily help solve the more-pressing matter of meeting the future needs of our local graduates.

We need less money spent sprucing up Levee Street and more in support of learning.

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