There’s probably nothing more controversial in a community than its public schools and education.
Just about everyone is affected by public school systems, either with children in a school or from paying taxes to support local schools. In addition, the public schools in Jackson County — all three systems — make up the county’s largest employment sector. And everyone has opinions about what is right or wrong with public education in general.
While there are many legitimate issues worthy of debate about our public schools, Jackson County is fortunate to have some of the better schools found in the state. Over the last few years, the tide of standardized test scores has shown a consistent pattern of achievement from most of Jackson County’s public schools.
That doesn’t mean local schools are perfect or that some couldn’t be better. In fact, just judging a school based on test scores probably isn’t totally accurate; other factors, such as school safety, social/cultural atmosphere, community responsiveness and extracurricular and athletic offerings affect students’ overall education experience.
But at their core, schools exist for academics. Absent other objective criteria, standardized tests results, taken over time, are the best barometer available to see how a particular school is doing. In that regard, most Jackson County schools rank among the best in the state in year-to-year results over a broad swath of tests at multiple grade levels.
Of course, a lot of schools make that claim. School officials are very good at PR spin, often using the phrase that a particular test result was “better than the state average.”
But that phrase is meaningless. Just being at or slightly better than the state average is a very low standard and does not reflect quality or real achievement. Unless a school is significantly better than the state average, it really doesn’t have much to brag about.
And that’s what separates most Jackson County schools from their peers. Rather than just being “at or better” than the state average, most local schools perform well above that mediocre standard.
So even as the economic downturn is affecting local public schools with layoffs and other cutbacks, it should be noted that for the most part, the three Jackson County school systems rank among the state’s best. Of that, the entire community should be proud.