9-1-16 – Failure to Educate: Is It the Kids or the System?

by Rob Roper

The Vermont Agency of Education released its report on the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) student evaluation tests, the latest to gage the proficiency of our K-12 students. Here’s what Education Secretary Rebecca Holcomb said regarding poor, special needs, and secondary English speaking students:

“Our children from more prosperous families continue to rank near the top nationally. Our most vulnerable youth- those living in poverty, with disabilities, from marginalized populations and who speak English as a second – continue to have test scores that are on average lower than our general population.” Sec Holcomb, 2016

Significantly lower. In Language Arts all students averaging the scores from 3rd through 11th grade (including students who receive free and reduced lunch, etc.) scored proficient and above for Language Arts 57% of the time vs. 39% of students receiving free and reduced lunch and 12% for special needs students. In math, the average scores were respectively 45% proficient overall v. 28% and just 8%.

And, here’s what Secretary Holcomb’s predecessor, Armando Vilaseca said about these same demographics when he left office in 2013:

“I am particularly concerned that we still have not made major progress in closing the achievement gap for students living in poverty…. Vermont students demonstrated significant achievement gaps based on family income….. The smallest gap was 14 percentage points in fourth grade mathematics, and the largest was 23 percentage points in fourth grade reading.” former Vermont Secretary of Education Armando Vilaseca (11/26/13)

We all know Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. It’s time to recognize that the public school system, as it is currently designed, does not/cannot/will not adequately serve at-risk populations of students.

This is not to say our public schools are bad. They are not. They are very good at educating mainstream students. They are, however, a one-size-fits all monopoly, and if you are not that one size – say an English as a second language learner, or a kid from a low income family – the public school system clearly does not fit you.

As a society, it’s time we recognized that trapping kids in school situations that do not meet their individual needs is immoral. Doing so unfairly sets the kids and the school up for failure, and wastes quite a bit of the taxpayers’ money in the process. The solution, of course, is building more school choice into the system.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bob M September 3, 2016 at 1:30 am

“This is not to say our public schools are bad. They are not. They are very good at educating mainstream students”

So you’d say that 45% efficiency in math, for example, is “very good”?


Brian J Vogel September 9, 2016 at 6:42 pm

This is why it amazes me that the Agency of Education is focused on towns sending tuition money to private schools, which according to Vermont Digger, affects 2.1% of the Vermont student population. The numbers above seem to suggest that the AOE has bigger problems it should be concerning itself with.


James Hall September 11, 2016 at 6:38 pm

Poor families are not necessarily the problem, or at least were not always a problem with the children being educated. I grew up in a time when there was one major war finishing and another about to begin., children of families who had someone in service were not all poor, but many were. They were educated because the parents and people in charge of their care saw to it that they WERE educated, by doing the school tasks in and out of the classroom. There has to be a commitment, if there is not the kids will not perform in school and later on in life. There is no comparison between the will to succeed in poorer family situations back then and now. The system has failed us, and I believe the priorities are terribly misplaced in education as we know it today.


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