Raising the bar in Beloit schools

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Don't expect all the solutions to come from inside the schoolhouses.

THE CONTRASTING HEADLINES were hard to miss on front pages last week, and together tell an important story the community should absorb about the School District of Beloit.

From the Tuesday, Nov. 13, Beloit Daily News: "Statewide report cards issued for school districts; in Beloit, overall numbers slip." The article reports the Beloit district's scores fell and land in the category of "meets few expectations," with the latest figures being worse than last year.

From the Wednesday, Nov. 14, Beloit Daily News: "Success by the numbers for BMHS math stars." The article is about a group of advanced math students, who are so good academically they are piling up college credits even before they graduate.

SO HOW CAN that be, with students performing among the best anywhere in a school district the state rates as falling woefully short of basic competency expectations?

How is it some students obtain a world-class education in such a challenged environment?

Is it money? The taxpayers - local and state, primarily, because Beloit is the most subsidized district in Wisconsin - pony up well north of $100 million a year to educate the community's kids. If money could solve the problems, Beloit wouldn't be described as "meets few expectations."

Is it the diverse nature of the district, with Beloit being an urban majority-minority institution? Only if you're a racist. Many factors come into play to determine one's scholastic performance. Not all babies are born with equal brainpower; some are more gifted than others. But the level of melanin in one's skin does not determine the intellectual capacity of the individual.

Is it the incompetence or indifference of the professional educators? In any large workforce there are terrific performers and poor performers, and lots of folks in-between. But any notion that failures are the fault of some mass disengagement by educators defies logic. We're convinced the professionals try hard to move the needle in a positive direction. The results, not the efforts, are disappointing.

WHAT THE NUMBERS - good and bad - suggest to us is this: Fixing these problems is a long-term project, and must involve every corner of the entire community.

Start with this thought. More than four out of five Beloit district students live in poverty.

Keep in mind, poverty does not just impact the kids. The entire household is mired in poverty. Maybe it's a two-parent home. Maybe it's a struggling single mom. Maybe there's one kid; maybe there are several.

The children spend around a third of each school day with the district, and two-thirds in the challenged home or on the street. That timeframe covers less than half the days in a year, so the influence of tough conditions in the home obviously is much stronger than any remediation at school.

The operative word is "hope."

With hope, human beings can achieve great things.

Without hope, the ground collapses beneath one's feet.

IT'S EASY TO JUDGE. To put down the schools, blame the educators. To write off kids as dumb and lazy. To call poor parents names.

Question: How does that make anything better?

The challenge ahead touches every part of community-building. Not just growing jobs, but growing jobs that pay family-supporting wages. Working with struggling parents to learn and practice better skills. Getting behind the movement to introduce literacy at the earliest ages. Finding better ways to address fundamental needs so parents can work and get out of poverty - job training for those who need it; transportation; adequate and affordable day care; supportive measures to keep families intact and functioning. Engaging with the whole individual's needs - economic, psychological, spiritual, and teaching civility, respect for others and fundamental manners. Addressing the pipeline to prison.

Get your mind around the fact this is not somebody else's job. It's everybody's job. There's something you can do. Figure out what that is.

Because everybody matters, or, sooner or later, nobody matters.

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