Who’s to blame for Columbus district’s bad report card?

The Columbus Dispatch – October 27, 2013

Parents, you’re to blame.

You, too, Columbus school board. Together, you’re most to blame for Columbus City Schools’ poor academic standing — the four F’s, three D’s and two C’s on the district’s state report cards right now — according to a new poll by Saperstein Associates for The Dispatch of Columbus residents who say they’re likely to vote on the Columbus City Schools combined levy/bond issue on Nov. 5.

Overall, those who took the poll said parents and the Columbus Board of Education were equally to blame. The poll asked likely voters to pick which potential culprit is most responsible for Columbus’ report card: the district’s high-ranking administrators, teachers, parents, students, the school board, race and poverty, or too little money to fund education.

The district’s central-office administration wasn’t too far behind on the list of those whom poll respondents think are most to blame.

Look deeper and the poll results show that parents even blame themselves.

Among respondents who don’t have children in school, 18 percent say parents shoulder the most blame. Among those who have kids in a Columbus school, it’s still 15 percent.

“The parents aren’t that different from the non-parents,” said Martin D. Saperstein, head of Saperstein Associates.

When asked whether parents had at least some responsibility for the report card, 91 percent said they did. Ninety percent of respondents also said the school board had at least some responsibility. In all, 803 likely Columbus school district voters were polled from Oct. 7-19. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

It’s interesting that even with a 9.01-mill levy and bond issue on the ballot being touted by supporters as the solution to Columbus’ academic woes, voters see the lack of money as the next-to-least important factor in the district’s poor performance among the seven possibilities the poll presented, Saperstein said.

Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman, the leading voice of the levy campaign, has been fiercely critical of the district’s academic state while saying several times that no single group is responsible for it. He has dismissed finding fault for Columbus schools’ problems as “education politics.”

“This is not about assigning blame,” he said in late August, speaking about the district’s report-card results and the need to fix the schools. “Everybody should take a place in line. We are all responsible. (We) said this is someone else’s responsibility. Let them do their jobs — and then walked away from it. Here we are today. The only way to get out of this and to improve is to say, ‘ It’s not their job, it’s our jobs.’?”

But Columbus residents who were polled didn’t share Coleman’s view. In addition to dismissing too little money for schools as the culprit, few likely voters blamed teachers or students. Nor did they blame race or poverty as the primary reason for the district’s grades. Seventeen percent said they don’t know whom to blame.

Martin Kopp says it’s the school board.

“I believe they take an oath of office, and I believe they have violated it. I believe the word is nonfeasance. By not doing something you’re obligated to do, that’s as wrong as doing something bad,” said the 97-year-old who lives on the Far East Side. Everyone earning a paycheck in the district is responsible, he said.

“They have an obligation to deliver a product, and they haven’t been doing it.”

Parents who have children in private, parochial or other types of school settings were even more likely to blame Columbus City Schools parents for their district’s academic plight. Forty-one percent of parents of religious-school students said it’s the parents’ fault, for example. Men blamed parents more than anyone else; women say the school board and central-office administrators are slightly more to blame than parents.

“It’s not teachers’ fault,” said Damon Stewart, 36, who lives on the East Side. “It’s especially the students and the parents. That’s on the students and on the parents.”

It’s obvious to Kathleen Klinkert, 65, who lives on the East Side, that parents aren’t involved as they should be.

“Both of my children are in their 40s. I don’t have any little ones. But when my children were in school, I made sure I knew their teacher,” she said. “I made sure if there was a problem, all she had to do was call me. If they needed something extra (for their classrooms), ‘call me.’?”

District officials have spoken out, even more so in recent years, about the need for parents and the community to get involved in schools. Former Superintendent Gene Harris often spoke publicly about how difficult it is for the district to get better quickly without the support of families.

Columbus schools have open-house events each year to invite parents and families to visit and get involved; some schools that have low turnout at parent-teacher conferences have offered free pizza to entice parents to come. Others decided to visit parents at home instead. But to Klinkert, parents’ absence doesn’t let the school board off the hook.

“They’re there to represent us as citizens. And they’re not doing a good job of it. They’re supposed to oversee everything that’s going on with the schools. They’re not doing it. I don’t know what they’re doing, but they’re not making sure the kids are getting the education they need.”

Too often, parents think of schools as a babysitting service, said Lewis Alston, who also is 65 and lives on the East Side.

“Parents have to be held accountable for how our children are doing,” said. “A school is for educational purposes. It’s not for raising children. That’s what the parents are for.”