Gentler Failure

Our children isn't learning

What’s the best way to deal with chronically failing schools? In Massachusetts, apparently, the answer is to come up with a kinder word for failure. The Boston Globe reports that the phrase chronically underperforming, currently used to describe the city’s worst schools, may soon be scrapped in favor of priority one or Commonwealth’s priority. The aim is both to avoid bruising student and teacher egos, and to show that the state is set to take action.

The state’s Board of Education spent 17 minutes of a meeting in March debating the labels. Springfield Superintendent Joseph Burke told the Globe he liked priority one because it “sounds nicer.” The most adult reaction in the room may have come from 17-year-old Zachary Tsetsos, the board’s only student member, who said: “Why are we spending time on this? I don’t want to tiptoe around the issue. I’m not concerned about what title we give these schools. Let’s work on fixing them.”

It isn’t the first time the state has dealt with the issue. In November 2007, the board met in Randolph, Massachusetts, to discuss that district’s chronically failing school system, in which half of third-graders underperform in math and reading, and 40 percent of 10th-graders are below standards in math and English.

According to the Globe, Randolph School Committee Chairman Larry Azer pleaded with the board to avoid punishing labels. “When schools are labeled as underachieving, I don’t see what it serves other than just to call them out,” Azer said. “When the town hears ‘underperforming,’ the average person thinks these students are underperforming.” And he wouldn’t want to give them that impression.

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