Monday, December 6, 2010

Laurens School "In Need of Assistance"

Acting under the infamous federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, Iowa officials have put Laurens-Marathon elementary and middle school on the state list of "Schools in Need of Assistance (SINA)." There are 356 Iowa schools on the list, including elementary schools in Spencer, Storm Lake, and Fort Dodge. One fourth of all Iowa schools are said to be in need of assistance, but few of them are small rural schools.

Laurens reached this list after being on the "watch list" in 2009-2010.
Also on the new watch list are Emmetsburg Middle School and Pomeroy elementary school.

"The reality is that every school will end up on the list [by 2014] because statistically it's not possible to reach a 100 percent (student proficiency ranking)." says Barb Besch, Spencer's school improvement director, quoted in the Spencer newspaper in August.

Laurens made the list because students were not testing well on reading. Laurens made a previous poor showing in a Des Moines Register comparison in April, 2008. The Register compared the grades of graduates who enrolled at UNI, ISU and SUI. Laurens was in the bottom half while West Bend-Mallard and Pocahontas ranked in the top ten.

The SINA list was made public in August, and was featured in the school publication Laurens-Marathon Update, December/January/February 2010-2011 which arrived in local mailboxes last week. The Update included two messages from superintendent Iner Joelson. While one message was indeed from Joelson, the second was boilerplate provided by the state officials who put Laurens on their SINA list.

In his personal message, Joelson said the SINA list "often stigmatizes the school and the community, not to mention the teachers, students and staff." But he added, "I am confident that we are not on the list because of bad teachers."

In the second, pre-drafted letter Joelson explained that students had not made "adequate yearly progress" for two consecutive years, but also alleged that L-M is "offering a top-quality education." The sentence "Unfortunately, our district is not able to provide school choices because there are no other elementaries in our district for students to attend" was also taken from the state sample letters. Presumably Joelson does not actually think it unfortunate that we lack a second elementary school.

However that sentence does reveal what many observers say is the ultimate effect of NCLB: not to educate children, but to create turmoil, even to the end of changing schools into cash cows.