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School Issues: The New Pro-Choice?

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott School Issues: The New Pro-Choice?
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“Why do we need a school board? Can you name anything the school board has done that helped a single child?”

Those aren’t the sorts of questions you might expect from a speaker who is a former member of the Columbus Board of Education. But then again, the meeting at which the questions were posed involved a whole lot of unconventional perspectives about education.

Speaker Stephanie Groce served on the Board of Education from 2006 through 2011. She offered observations about local education opportunities at a Thursday meeting sponsored by United Schools Network.

United Schools Network in itself is full of surprises. It sponsors three local schools, 95% of its students are economically disadvantaged. Children arrive at its schools two years behind in learning. By the time they hit 8th grade, students in United Schools Network facilities are out-performing students in 14 of the 16 school districts in Franklin County.

And it’s a charter school network. Surprise. United Schools Network operates Columbus Collegiate Academy at two locations and United Preparatory Academy.

If Groce seems like an odd pick as a speaker for the school choice community, a quick review of her board service indicates that she’s long been an advocate for children’s access to good schools, both in and outside of the district’s facilities. She says she’d been opposed to things like vouchers until halfway through her tenure on the Board of Education. After seeing so many children trapped in failing schools and the board’s failure to improve conditions for those children, her perspective changed.

Ultimately, regarding school choice, she says, “Either you support it, or you don’t need it.” That is, the most vocal opponents of school choice are typically those served by affluent, high performing schools. They don’t need school choices. Other parents have children in failing schools, or children who are bullied in their schools. Groce voiced their perspective, saying, “I want a good school too, don’t deny me that.”

The former board member also warned about the education buzzword, “progress”, and the problems that occur when any district prioritizes appearances over reality. She said that Columbus City Schools has issued statements of “progress” every year since 2007. But a bar graph showed that the 2007 passage rate on the spring administration of the third grade reading test was 63%. In 2014, it sat at 64%.

More troubling, the passage rate for the early fall exam actually dropped in 2014; it moved from 40% to 34%. But that’s ignored in favor of producing reports about “progress”.

And while United Schools Network operates very high performing schools, director Andrew Boy acknowledged, “Not all schools are good.” He continued: “We need to close bad schools, regardless of what they are.”

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