We appreciate Principal Suzanne Mitchell’s numbers-driven defense of her school, Selma Elementary, and Johnston County’s other low-performing schools, which she argues aren’t low performing at all.
To the contrary, the principal says, the county’s low-performing schools are actually among Johnston’s highest performers in terms of student academic growth from the first day of a school year to the last.
Among Johnston County middle schools, Ms. Mitchell noted in a letter to the editor, none has greater academic growth than Smithfield Middle. Among the county’s elementary schools, three of the top five are so-called low performers, she added.
The principal goes on to argue that it’s just a matter of time before all of that academic growth yields higher passing rates on end-year tests mandated by the state.
For the sake of Smithfield and Selma schoolchildren, we hope Ms. Mitchell is right, but we suspect the row left to hoe is longer than the principal would have parents believe.
Over the weekend, we found ourselves talking to a teacher at one of those schools that is either low performing or not, depending on whom you ask.
Five weeks into the school year, the teacher said, she’s already a week behind where the curriculum says she should be. That’s because her students – fifth-graders, I think – didn’t enter fifth grade prepared to do fifth-grade work.
Those students might have made tremendous strides as fourth-graders, which is Ms. Mitchell’s point. But they aren’t ready for fifth-grade work, which is the harsh reality for the teacher – and an even harsher reality for her students, who won’t be ready for sixth grade when they’re sixth-graders.
Now maybe we’re doing school all wrong these days. Maybe the current U.S. public school model, in place for as long as anyone can remember, is not the right model for the 21st century. Perhaps we should have schools within schools that move students along when they’re ready, whether that’s in six months, nine months or 12.
But we didn’t hear Ms. Mitchell advocate that. She and other Johnston school leaders just want the state, when it’s grading schools, to place more emphasis on how much progress students make from day one to day 180.
But that won’t help the teacher whose fifth-graders can’t do fifth grade work. And until North Carolina changes how it structures its public schools, preparing children for the next grade is still Job 1.