When critics raised low test scores and other dismal educational performance measurements, former Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Michael Hanson had a stock answer.
The scores aren’t where we want them to be, but the district is getting better, Hanson would say. And he would add that he inherited a mess when he took over in 2005.
We know now five months after Hanson’s ouster that Fresno Unified was not improving at the K-8 level in two areas essential to student success: reading and math, as measured by The Nation’s Report Card in 2015. That’s on the administration, board of trustees and teachers.
In math, for example, Fresno Unified fourth-graders out-performed only their Detroit counterparts. And, in fact, their scores actually dipped slightly from 2009 and 2013. The eighth-grade math scores also bested only Detroit and, again, dropped by a small margin from previous years.
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A similar story was revealed in reading. Fresno Unified fourth-graders performed nearly identically to those in Baltimore, Cleveland, Dallas and Philadelphia while registering a slight uptick in performance over 2009 and 2013. The eight-grade reading assessment was a disaster – there’s no other word for it. Fresno readers at that grade level were the worst in the nation among public school students in large cities, and performed below what they had in 2013.
Besides revealing how Fresno Unified stacks up against other large districts facing the huge challenge of poverty, this assessment measured student proficiency. Again, the results should concern everyone in our community.
Only 14 percent of fourth graders and 12 percent of eighth graders were proficient or advanced in math. And just 13 percent of fourth and eighth graders were proficient or advanced in reading.
This indicates clearly that there is much work ahead in Fresno Unified. Everyone in the district must pull together and focus on helping our community’s children get the quality of education they deserve – and they need to successfully compete in our 21st century global economy.
Getting there won’t be easy. But it will help if everyone in the district – students and their families, staff, faculty, administrators and trustees – treat each other with respect and recognize that there will be honest differences of opinions.
Most of all, the district and its next superintendent must leave behind two pages from the Hanson playbook: going to great lengths to bury negative news and scapegoating those deemed to be political opponents.
One of Hanson’s most touted innovations was bringing a “data dashboard” to the district. Though the dashboard provides in real time how students are faring, he chose to wield it as a political tool – touting the district’s (and his) successes while keeping failures away from the eyes of trustees and the public.
Making the complete data dashboard available to everyone would enable trustees and families to make fully informed decisions on where the district should invest funding and what practices should be adopted to improve educational attainment.
When you are the nation’s second-lowest performing large urban school district in grades 4 and 8, it’s best not to repeat the mistakes that got you there in the first place.