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It’s about education (08/13/2006)
By Frances Edstrom

Public school funding being the legislative black hole that it is, we parents and taxpayers are used to being overwhelmed with news stories about our schools' imminent financial disaster. A study of letters to the editor during the years I have been at the helm of the Winona Post would show the vast majority to be about whether or not we should give public schools more money. For many of us, this constant barrage creates a "whipped dog" reaction: Okay, okay, just punish me, but get it over quickly!

What a breath of fresh air it is to be able to read accounts of public school board meetings at which the actual work of public schools is addressed: educating our children well.

A story in today's Post recounts discussion at a recent meeting about the lack of a standard grading scale at Winona Senior High School. Member Brian Neil "wondered what percent of successful class work constituted a grade of A, B, C or so forth."

"When kids say they are on the honor roll, how do I compare one to the other?" he asked. That is a very good question, one we should all be asking ourselves. Without uniform standards of grading, an honor roll is nothing more than a "feel-good" story in the newspaper that gives people something to tack up on the refrigerator.

Lacking standards, a very good student could earn relatively bad grades, thus jeopardizing admission to a top higher ed facility.

Even more important, without standards, students whose work doesn't really reflect superior results can be on the honor roll, and give them a false sense that they are on track for success in post-high school education when quite the opposite might be true.

I read with interest in the August 6, 2006, issue of the Pioneer Press a story entitled, "Acing high school, but not ready for college; Demand for remedial classes has jumped across Minnesota." The article detailed the sad fact that many of our high school graduates find themselves not only unprepared for higher ed, but must waste time in remedial courses for which they pay out of pocket, but which do not count toward earning a degree.

Many of our high schools are failing to adequately prepare a fairly large number of students for life after graduation. To the credit of Winona Senior High School, the number of its graduates needing remedial work is lower than the state average. The percentage of WSHS graduates in Minnesota higher ed institutions taking remedial classes is 19%, while the state average is 35%. But even 19% is too many kids, and it could be argued that it represents if not a misuse, at least ill-use of taxpayer money.

The Dist. 861 school board is to be congratulated for addressing this academic issue, as well as others they have proposed to improve the quality of the education being offered.

A standard grading scale is a necessity. After adopting one, perhaps the school board and high school site team will address abandoning the practice of allowing the students to choose courses they find "interesting" and instead demand that the academic professionals dictate which classes (math is sorely neglected by many kids) students must take to not only graduate, but be successful graduates.

" At www.mnscu.edu/media/publications/and scroll down to "Getting Prepared" to read the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities report on remedial needs of college students.  


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