Fake news at its finest

Tom Dunn - Contributing Columnist

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not looked at any of the state’s recently released school district report cards. In fact, I haven’t looked at them for years, because the information they contain is not worth the paper on which they are written.

The last time I did study them, however, state bureaucrats had made them so complicated that even superintendents couldn’t figure out where the data came from, and what, exactly, we were suppose to learn from them. Upon their release, superintendents often respond with a “here we go again” shake of the head, although we have to be good boys and girls when questioned about them by the media and refer to them with the appropriate seriousness. Anyone bold enough to disparage them risks being skewered by lawmakers and the occasional state board to “prove” how fearful we are of being “held accountable” for student success. It’s a joke.

So, I long ago decided that, instead of wasting time reading them, I would spend my time on more valid pursuits, such as finding Bigfoot or searching for UFOs.

Politicians who have claimed that these reports are a valid assessment of the performance of your school’s staff have lied to you. They have pretended as if environmental and social factors outside of school are inconsequential contributors to a child’s success, when the research tells us otherwise. As if that isn’t bad enough, they have then falsely placed the responsibility of a student’s growth solely in the laps of teachers and principals, even though there is not a scintilla of research supporting this myth.

Additionally, when these same politicians have claimed that the report cards were created to satisfy the hordes of citizens who were demanding to know “how their community’s schools were performing,” that was a lie, too.

I was a school superintendent for thirteen years and a building principal for five years prior to that. During my entire tenure in those positions, I received exactly zero questions or complaints about how our district or school performed on the state’s report card. Zip. Nil. Nada. Not a single question or concern about a document that citizens were supposedly clamoring for; not even from those who one would think would care the most … parents. They did not care.

When I heard from parents, it was because they felt their child had been treated incorrectly or unfairly by a staff member. THAT is what they care about, not a bunch of bogus test scores comprising a report they couldn’t possibly understand.

There’s a lesson there for anyone willing to listen. But, politicians are too busy talking to listen.

These report cards were created not for you and me, but for politicians, primarily Republicans, whose agenda was to privatize schools. The best way to achieve their goal was to create the illusion that public schools were failing children. So, they created a document that “proved” just that. They don’t care if the data they use is valid. It is fake news at its finest.

To further illustrate what a sham this is, the report cards were changed when the state’s own data was showing that schools were performing better than the pols expected. When the numbers didn’t match the rhetoric, they changed the rules. A district could be ultra-successful one year and much less so the next for no other reason than the rule changes. You don’t have to take my word for it. Look it up.

It’s hard to be more devious than that.

If these report cards are truly an indicator of the quality of your school’s staff, then how is it that one can predict a district’s performance on them without knowing a single thing about the staff?

The answer is simple. Since we know that a child’s poverty level and the education level of his or her parents have a much larger impact on student success than the teacher he/she has, it stands to reason that a wealthy community with a high percentage of professional parents who are college graduates will perform better than communities without those advantages.

Let’s take the schools in Montgomery County, for example. As I wrote above, I haven’t looked at any of their report cards, but I am willing to bet that the report card for the Oakwood Schools will be at or near the top of Montgomery County schools because it is a wealthy community with a high percentage of households containing parents with college degrees. Look it up to see if I am right.

In fact, one can also generally predict which schools in every Ohio county will be successful and which will not with little to no knowledge about the school itself. All you need to know is the community’s demographics.

So, if you can predict a school’s results without knowing a single thing about its staff, I’d like politicians to tell me one more time how the report cards are a reflection solely of the school.

On second thought, they can save their breath, because I’m not buying what they are selling.


Tom Dunn

Contributing Columnist

Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.

Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.