School Board candidates discuss closing achievement gap

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | 11:25 p.m. CDT; updated 4:20 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 24, 2011

COLUMBIA — Public questions focused on closing the achievement gap and increasing overall student achievement at Tuesday's School Board candidate forum.

The forum was hosted at the Activity and Recreation Center by the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association, Columbia Council PTA and Columbia Parents for Public Schools.

Candidates answered community questions at random by pulling index cards out of a bag. Several candidates drew questions about closing the achievement gap.

Candidates Helen Wade and Tom Rose both said early childhood education is the best way to address the issue and work toward prevention.

"I think quality early childhood education — a universal program that's both a private and public venture — is going to be needed to close the achievement gap," Rose said.

Jonathan Sessions pointed out there is a gap before children even start school, but he brought up a different strategy to address the issue.

"There are things we can do as a district, and I think small autonomous schools would provide us some opportunities," Sessions said.

One of the questions Wade picked asked if teachers deserved pay raises in spite of the gap. She said she felt teacher salaries are not the area to target.

"We have an achievement gap, and failing to pay our teachers won't close it," Wade said.

Sara Dickson had a question about teacher salaries, but it was based on overall student achievement instead of the achievement gap. She said she thought there was a correlation between pay and achievement and that the district should use salaries to reward successful teachers.

"I believe it is very important for us to do what works and reward teachers who work hard," Dickson said.

Educational development and district curriculum were two other issues brought up at the forum.

Liz Peterson addressed early childhood education as a priority in educational development but also said connecting families to their children's education is something she would like to see in the district.

"I believe that I'm a partner with my child in education," Peterson said. "I think we should work to bridge the gap between families and education."

Dave Raithel said the board should listen to district faculty and administrators when it comes to choosing materials for the curriculum. The board also should look at the effectiveness of these materials, he added, and make its decisions with the combined information.

"The board is the ultimate monitor of curriculum choices," Raithel said.

The next candidate forum is 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the district's administration building, 1818 W. Worley St.

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Dave Raithel March 16, 2011 | 5:53 p.m.

There is little disagreement between the candidates regarding the importance of early childhood education. The major difference is between those of us who will choose to no longer cut those programs to balance a budget as has been the practice, but will instead ask the voters to pay for them should that be necessary.

Furthermore, it is not a settled matter that early childhood education is the sufficient cause to close the achievement gap. There still remains an ongoing discussion - between board members, and between the teachers themselves, regarding the effectiveness of the curriculum methods and materials the district employs.

Dave Raithel
Candidate, CPS Board of Education

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield March 16, 2011 | 7:03 p.m.

I wasn't able to attend this forum. Did all of the candidates dance around the usual elephant in the room? That would be the fact that parent and student effort are as important, if not more so, than teacher pay, the length of the school year, early childhood education, etc. Peterson's quote seems to come the closest to broaching this subject.

Also, which achievement gap does this story refer to? The one between whites and blacks? Or the one between the U.S. and other countries? If it's the latter, it would be great if one of these days a reporter would ask the candidate, administrator, politician, etc. making that claim if that's a valid comparison. After all, many other countries simply write off underachievers as a lost cause after a certain point, whereas the U.S. bends over backwards to get them through grade 12.

(Report Comment)
Bridget Kapp March 21, 2011 | 2:45 a.m.

Mr. Bearfield,
Thank you for your comment. The only statement I heard about parent and student effort at the forum was Peterson's. I don't believe it was brought up otherwise.
Also, the story refers to the achievement gap among racial groups. If you like, I can look into the validity of the other gap among countries that you mentioned.

(Report Comment)

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