In times of crisis, it is important not to panic, but instead focus energy on a clear-eyed view of the circumstances with an emphasis on solutions.
Today the city of Columbus faces perhaps the greatest challenge in its history.
In the same year the city celebrated 200 years in public education – the founding of Franklin Academy in 1821, the state’s first public school — data shared during Thursday’s school board meeting shows a free-fall in academic achievement in K-12 education.
The district’s mid-year assessment of reading and math scores for K-8 students show one in three students is two or more grade levels behind in at least one of these core subjects. At Columbus Middle School, more than half of the students are two or more grade levels behind at a pivotal point in their education. Barring a herculean achievement in getting those students back on track, the dropout rate is certain to spike while graduation rates will fall precipitously.
Dismiss it as panic if you like, but those numbers constitute a state of emergency that goes beyond the school district and reaches every corner of our city.
A student entering ninth grade who is performing at a 6th or 7th grade level faces a monumental challenge in completing high school. Today, a young person without at least a high school education faces a grim future, one likely to be dominated by poverty and all its associated ills, including crime, something that affects us all.
The quality of life in our city cannot be separated from the viability of our public schools. When our schools fail, it damages our city’s ability to attract new businesses and jobs, depresses home values, threatens public safety and does grievous harm to our collective psyche.
Even those whose children have never set foot in a Columbus public school have a real vested interest in the state of our public school system.
The tendency to ascribe blame in this crisis is a natural one and useful to a point. Knowing “how we got here” is important in finding the way forward.
It would be easy if we could point a finger at one person or one factor and say, “Ah, there’s the problem.” But in this case, so narrowly defining the problem will only exacerbate it.
We continue to have confidence in Cherie Labat as superintendent. She has proven herself competent since her arrival. The board would do well to support her recommendations.
Over the last decade our school district has struggled along with a “D” rating and a series of changes in leadership — four superintendents during that span.
When COVID-19 arrived last spring, it presented grave challenges to a school system struggling to make progress. The lack of in-school instruction — 2,405 CMSD students attend class two days a week and another 856 attend virtual classes only — has been particularly damaging for a large number of students, who often lack the home environment required to keep up, something not uncommon in all schools during virtual learning.
When CMSD voted against moving to a modified calendar of the 2021-22 school year, something administrators believed would help student retain what they had learned by shortening the summer break while creating “real-time” intervention periods in both the fall and spring semesters for students who had fallen behind, it must be regarded as a missed opportunity for immediate action.
While this editorial is based on the numbers from one district, we suspect the move to virtual learning has resulted in most students falling behind.
As noted, this crisis does not belong exclusively to the school district. It is one that affects us all.
We call upon every elected official, every business, every citizen to stand ready to help the district find solutions.