Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Their timing was astoundingly bad. On the heels of news last week (GoBigEd, July 20) that Nebraska's black-white racial achievement gap in math and reading is just about the worst in the country, the board of the Omaha Public Schools is tossing around a figure of $500 million for school remodeling and other fiddle-while-Rome-burns spending.

So they want to spend a half-a-bil more on stuff that doesn't matter, instead of debating how soon and how thoroughly they should fire the superintendent and top officials who have presided over the decades-old debacle in the black-white test score gap.

Most African-American students in Nebraska live in the Omaha Public Schools district. We all know their standardized test scores begin to drop far beneath the average scores posted by white students to the point where a black eighth-grader's math and reading ability is several grade levels beneath that of a white eighth-grader in OPS.

Yet OPS is notorious for refusing to use any form of systematic, intensive, explicit phonics curriculum, called "research-based" reading instruction, even though has been proven time and time again to equip all students, but especially disadvantaged kids, for reading and other school subjects much better than the "balanced literacy" strategies that OPS has in place, and which is obviously failing African-American kids so drastically.

And now Nebraska is a national laughingstock. Great.

The reading philosophy that OPS uses is not only much more expensive than if they would teach reading right in the first place, causes far more pupils to be labeled as "learning disabled" on down the road at immense expense, but the statistics are just glaringly apparent that OPS is using the wrong curriculum, and really, truly, heads should roll.

Consider, for example, this graphic, which shows how effective just one of the research-based instructional programs, Success For All, is compared to what most of Nebraska is using:


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John Mackiel, OPS Superintendent, has had about 11 years to improve education in Omaha. Despite spending over $13,000 per pupil, per the Platte Institute, despite having one employee for every seven students, despite a massive racial balancing program, despite good intentions, test scores have actually declined somewhat during his tenture. And now Nebraska has the dubious distinction of the worst racial learning gap in math, and one of the worst in reading in our nation.Dr. Mackiel, who is paid $258,000 a year, should be held accountable for our terrible learning gap.

You say disadvantaged kids can't learn well? Well, no. KIPP Charter Schools turn disadvantaged students into, on average, kids that score at the 80th percentile nationally in math and at the 62% percentile in reading in just three years. And KIPP does NOT skim or cherry pick students. They are chosen among the poorest families by a lottery. In the words of the late, great Ricky Ricardo, John Mackiel has some "splanin" to do. The media needs to get on his case and not buy his inadequate excuses. That's why he gets the big bucks.
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