Friday, December 15, 2000

Low standards

Warner provision is wrong

        Poor Sally Warner. She's confused the meanings of “lower” and “maintain.”

        Her confusion robs Cincinnati Public Schools students of an incentive to get a better education.

        Sally Warner is a member of Cincinnati Public's Board of Education. This week the board passed one of her proposals.

        By a 4-2 vote, the board changed the rules allowing high school students to participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports.

        Harriet Russell and Florence Newell voted no. They should have had more company.

        By the old rules, students could play football, for instance, only if they made a 2.0 grade point average — a C average. Fall below that and, theoretically, they're off the team.

        By the new rules, high school students can maintain a 1.0 GPA, a D average, the state minimum, and stay on the team. But they must do extra work in an “intervention program” — join a study group, receive tutoring, etc. — that has yet to be set up and funded by individual schools.

        By the new rules, these students don't have to improve their grades. They can earn straight Ds for four years and still get a diploma.

        There is no incentive to do better, to get an education — which is the reason kids go to school.

        “We're not trying to lower standards,” Sally Warner said. “We are trying to maintain them.”

Please explain

        Now, I'm confused.

        Even though I'm a product of Cincinnati Public, I can still tell the difference between a 2 and a 1. A C and a D. “Lower” and “maintain.”

        To help clear up my confusion, I called Sally Warner.

        She told me: “The standard is still a 2.0 GPA. Maintain that and we give the kid a pat on the back.”

        Fall below 2.0 and it's “intervention” time. No extra work, no play.

        D students used to play under the old rules, too. “We had a two-waiver system,” she said. The waivers let these students play in two academic quarters of their high-school careers.

        Sally Warner told me some students used more than two waivers. Blame that on sloppy bookkeeping and overworked coaches and athletic directors.

        She promised that won't happen under the new rules. Better records will be kept. More student athletes will stay in school. Or staffers' salaries will suffer.

No standards

        Each school must set up and pay for its “interventions.” Sally Warner explained how this might work: Companies can “adopt a high school.” Old football players can return to their alma mater and “tutor kids in math.”

        Such ideas concern the two dissenting board members. “We don't know the source of the money or the cost,” said Harriet Russell, a former teacher.

        “Tutoring is for trained professionals,” said Florence Newell, associate professor of education at the University of Cincinnati, “not well-meaning amateurs.”

        Sally Warner promises to track the results of the new rules. Grades will be checked. Dropout rates measured.

        Before anyone gets out a calculator, the program needs some standards. Tutors must be qualified. Grades must improve. Ds won't cut it.

        Until then, one word fits the new rules: flawed.

        Sally Warner can look up that word in the dictionary. “Flawed” is among the Fs, dangerously close to “failure.”

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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