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February 26, 2013

Letter to the Editor: Feb. 26, 2013

 ‘Cherry-picking’ bill desperately needed

Over the past year, I have watched in amazement as a number of stakeholders from a certain school district in Howard County have written letters to the editor that have appeared in the Kokomo Tribune. All have the same message: They oppose Rep. Mike Karickhoff’s “cherry-picking” bill that would prevent public schools from choosing their transfer students.

The resistance to this bill by so many people connected to a school district that is, in fact, carefully choosing its transfer students amazes me because it actually indicates a lack of confidence in their school. After all, if their teachers and school are so great, then why are they afraid to admit certain students? Could it be that the school itself is not so superior, but that their high standardized test scores and self-perceived superior school climate are a direct result of the socioeconomic status of the students who attend that school? And, in order to retain this mask of superiority, they are working hard to keep their student body as homogeneous as possible?

It could be that this school system and others like it are indirectly admitting what every teacher in a high-poverty, urban school already knows: It’s a whole lot easier to be a “top performing” school when the vast majority of students in that school come from middle-class homes.

Study after study indicates that the No. 1 predictor of a student’s success on standardized tests is not the student’s teacher or school. It is the student’s socioeconomic status. As Donald Orlich claimed in a recent study at Washington State University, students from middle-class homes outscore their poverty-stricken peers by as much as 60 percent on standardized tests.

The results of this study are nothing new, though. Paul Thomas of the New York Times argues in his article “Avoiding the Poverty Issue” that we have “decades of evidence that test scores reflect more significantly the lives of children than the quality of teachers or schools.”

It follows, then, that schools choosing their transfer students based on test scores, parent interviews, attendance and behavior records from a previous school, or any other factor that influences academic achievement, is a form of socioeconomic segregation. If this segregation is allowed to continue, it could have devastating consequences for our community.

We all live in this community together. We are all human beings, woven together in a beautifully diverse tapestry. Some of us can try to erect walls around our middle-class schools and pretend that the poverty in this community is not our problem, but that won’t make it go away.

Siphoning off resources from urban schools by picking off their best, most advantaged students is immoral because it ultimately hurts the poorest of the poor, those who lack the power and the resources to speak out for themselves. It also undermines one of the core values of our nation — that all children, regardless of race or ethnicity or socioeconomic status, deserve access to a quality education. It is this value that has made our country great.

I applaud Rep. Mike Karickhoff for standing up for our most disadvantaged students and their schools by pushing the “cherry-picking” bill through the Indiana House. And I thank the public educators in our community who have dedicated their lives to helping ALL children succeed.

Amy McCauley, Kokomo

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