Editorial: High-achievers should get rewarded, low-achievers should get supported

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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In October, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released an evaluation of every school district in the state, a report that has for the first time included a score that compared school districts with one another. Each school was evaluated under this building-level academic score on a scale of 100, giving Pennsylvanians the unprecedented ability to rank school districts based on such a scale.

Earlier this week, the Mt. Lebanon School District, whose grade of 99.5 led both Allegheny County and the entire state, was rewarded by Gov. Tom Corbett for its excellence in academics. Corbett, alongside state Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq, lauded nine of Mt. Lebanon’s schools for reaching such a high level of academic acheivement, declaring the school district a role model for other districts in the state to follow.

While Mt. Lebanon has had resounding success in fostering a community of academic excellence, Corbett’s declaration of the school district’s influence highlights the relationship between the academic performance of an individual district and the socio-economic status of residents who live within the district. As a result of these differences in status, some school districts are better equipped to provide a higher quality of education to their students.  . Mt. Lebanon, which spends $6,586 per student annually, can provide far more resources to their students than districts that spend less per student than the national average, which is $5,691.

Although Mt. Lebanon possesses the ability to provide its students with a great education, other school districts don’t have the same resources or capital to allot to bolstering quality educational institutions because funding stems from local property taxes. Mt. Lebanon can certainly be a role model for other districts to follow, but in order for other school districts to keep pace with them and the other 427 schools that scored above 90, the state needs to focus on allocating more funds in the state budget to impoverished and under-represented school districts.

Although Corbett intends to create a system through which higher-achieving districts are available to mentor and advise less-achieving districts — which is a step in the right direction — this cannot be the sole solution for increasing the quality of public schools in Pittsburgh and across the state.

Apart from re-allocating funds to pay for training programs for teachers, newer textbooks for students and better opportunities for graduating seniors, Corbett has to revisit the $1.1 billion in education cuts that have seriously affected school districts. If the state continues to cut funding for public school districts, there will be little opportunity for the lower-achieving districts to ever improve their level of achievement.

So as Corbett’s mentoring system for a joint collaboration of effective teaching and administrative strategies commences, the state government has to complement that initiative with a systemwide approach that encompasses policies addressing accountability of school district faculty and administrators, statewide reforms of student curriculum and assessment and the implementation of a strong system for professional development.

Mt. Lebanon possesses the ability to provide a comprehensive education to its students, but shouldn’t every school district be capable of doing so? Yes, they deserve commendation, but the lower-achieving districts are the ones in dire need of attention.

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