To the Editor:
Florida’s fourth-grade students, in international testing, rank second in the world in reading, even surpassing Finland, an educational powerhouse, which ranked third. This is incredible!
Florida, with a large Hispanic and black population (the state is only 57% white) would be expected to perform poorly. But this amazing fourth-grade success portends improved performance in Florida’s higher grades.
Success is also found in the geographically distant community of Montgomery, Vermont, a small town of 1,200 persons and seven covered bridges. Over 200-years-old, this community is mostly white, but not wealthy; 53% of its students receive free or reduced cost lunches. What is so very remarkable about Montgomery is the educational success of its students in grades 3 to 8. In NECAP testing, fifth-grade students scored 100% proficient in reading; the other grades scored 99%.
Contrary to Florida and Montgomery, in our own elementary schools in Lewiston and Auburn, we are producing illiterates—and in large numbers. NECAP scores indicate that 3 to 4 of every 10 of Auburn’s fourth-grade children are less than proficient in reading as revealed by NECAP testing. In Lewiston, it’s 4 to 5 of every 10 fourth-grade children. The highest fourth-grade reading score in our communities is 76% at East Auburn Elementary; the lowest is 9% at Longley.
For our fourth graders, this isn’t a temporary problem; time will not make them better. Failure in the early school grades is predictive of continuing failure; eighth-grade results are persistently similar. This failure is predictive of the smaller number of students expected to graduate high school, and it’s predictive of the percentage that will later be on welfare or in prison.
It is unfortunate that our children are not able to live and attend school in Florida, in Montgomery or some other community with successful schools. If they could, their future would be promising. Their geography is not their fault, and neither is their choice of parents.
Educators, reluctant to claim their own failure, hasten to blame parents for neither supporting nor preparing their children to succeed in school. These parents are themselves victims of a failed educational system, and so long as educators blame their present failures upon previous failures, this vicious cycle will continue.
Children in Lewiston and Auburn deserve a better education than they receive, but they have no voice. Our adults have a voice; accordingly, they deserve the educational system they have.