As the number of school-closing proposals across Indiana increase,
the number of impassioned pleas to save schools grows.
But one argument persists in Fort Wayne that continues to baffle:
Elmhurst High School shouldn't be closed because it's the most
successful high school in the district. Apparently, it's an argument
that's fueled by Fort Wayne talk radio discussions. I've also heard a
newscaster for one of the local TV stations raise the issue,
suggesting that academic performance should be a measure considered.
Fort Wayne administrators have taken great pains to avoid suggesting
that academic performance has anything to do with the proposal. The
matrix they used weighed school enrollment, capacity, course offerings
and building conditions -- adding up to a convincing case for closing
It's not entirely surprising this is an issue. The Indiana Department
of Education has targeted 23 schools for improvement under the state's
accountability law, and taking over a school or merging it with
another is one of the punitive consequences schools face after five
years on probation.
The Code Blue opponents of FWCS's long-range building plan in 2007
also argued that the district didn't deserve public support because
its performance lagged other districts, as if students must earn the
right to learn in decent buildings.
Since others have raised the issue in connection with Elmhurst,
here's the reality: It's not the "best academic high school" in Fort
Wayne, as one talk radio listener told me.
-- The school has not met adequate yearly progress guidelines under
the No Child Left Behind requirements in any year since the measures
began in 2002.
-- Its graduation rate of 84.1 percent is slightly better than the
district average, but lower than Northrop or Snider high schools' 90
-- The zero-dropout distinction that supporters point to refers only
to the last academic year. More than 8 percent of the class of 2009
was still finishing diploma requirements last fall. Four percent were
officially classified as dropouts.
-- Just 49 percent of Elmhurst students passed both English and math
portions of ISTEP+ last year, down from 55 percent the year before.
The state average is 73.7 percent; the districtwide average is 61.1
-- Just-released figures from the Indiana Commission for Higher
Education show that 62 percent of Elmhurst graduates in the class of
2007 required some remedial coursework after they enrolled at Ivy Tech
or a state university.
All of this is not a criticism of the school. With 63 percent of its
students coming from low-income households, it does an admirable job
in academic performance. But if supporters are going to raise academic
achievement as an argument for keeping the school open, they should
use data and not emotion.