December 13, 2006
The Independent has long been critical of the spending policies of our local school districts, and quick to cut through the manure when school officials tell the gullible public how good our schools are. To prove our point, we compare the local school districts each year, publishing the results of standardized test scores and other criteria designed to gauge just how good an education our children are receiving.
As we've reported many times, local schools are mediocre at best, except in one area — our school districts spend far more per student than similar-sized districts elsewhere in the state.
We recently reported another trend — school population, out of control for most of the last decade, is beginning to decline, especially in Sag Harbor.
Apparently stung by the statistics and criticism that private schools are doing a better job educating local kids, Sag Harbor District officials decided to defend themselves.
There is nothing wrong with school spirit and being proud of what you do. In fact, there is much to be proud of in Sag Harbor schools.
But when district officials hold staged events to defend the schools, then flaunt misleading data or tell outright untruths to appease parents, there is something seriously wrong.
Such was the case when COPEC invited school superintendent Kathryn Holden to a sit-down before a group of parents.
COPEC, first of all, stands for the Coalition of Parents, Educators and Community members, many of whom have vested interests in insuring the status quo at the school remains. Should enrollment continue to decline (it's currently about 1000), for example, the district would hardly need 115 teachers.
Holden cited some test results which indicated Pierson High School is an excellent academic institution, and pointed out proudly how a large percentage of graduates attend college — 85%. She neglected to mention the students haven't even spent a day in college yet. It's the percentage who SAID they planned on going to college. Does anyone want to guess how many students actually graduate from college? We would bet a far lower percentage. By the way, Pierson ranked only 27th in the county in this category.
Holden named a couple advanced placement test results as evidence of the school's academic success. For the record, Pierson students did do well on the English Regents exam, ranking 13th in the county. But in math and physics the school was among the very worst in the entire county. It ranked 60th out of 117 schools tested on Long Island in number of graduates with Regents diplomas.
Using a variety of criteria, The Independent has devised a mathematical formula to rank the East End high schools. For the record, Pierson finished seventh out of nine two years ago and tied for fourth this year, squarely in the middle of the pack
Of course, Holden was fed cupcake questions to answer, so instead of being confronted with the facts, she was able to advance her agenda — pointing out how many teachers have masters degrees, for example, which is (duh!) now a state requirement.
What she wasn't asked is if test scores show the schools to be average at best, why does her district spend so much more money than all of the similarly sized schools elsewhere in the county and state?
Dialogue is healthy, and all parties benefit from honest exchanges. This wasn't about getting to the root of the problem, however — this was a dog and pony show.
The fact is, parents are pulling their children from Sag Harbor schools and sending them to private schools. One Pierson teacher, according to the Sag Harbor Express (The Independent wasn't invited), called doing so "a grave mistake." Another parent opined it was "total ignorance." But to hear parents with children in Ross School and Stella Maris tell it, it may well be the other way around.