2014-04-03 / Opinion

Facts vs. Emotion

To the Editor:

Since coming to Newport close to a year ago, I have paid close attention to the ongoing school consolidation debate, particularly in the recent weeks with the outpouring of emotion in public discussions and published letters. I think it is important for all involved to debate this issue with more facts and less emotion. Additionally, we all need to be comfortable and willing to discuss facts no matter how distressing they are to hear.

Make no mistake. The exploratory committee that was established in 2009 was created due to fiscal issues related to declining enrollment and increased costs, not because of some benevolent search to find the best educational opportunity for our children. Newport was specifically cited as having a higher cost per student due to its retiree health benefit package.

In order to appreciate the fear behind some of the “hurtful” comments made by non-Newport parents, it would serve us all well to look at the facts. NECAP test scores for Newport/Middletown/Portsmouth high schools this past year showed that 27/52/57% (math), 85/86/89% (reading), 33/46/50% (science) and 52/73/59% (writing) were at or above “proficient”. While these numbers indicate a need for improvement in all schools, they show the substantial gap between Newport and the two other high schools in math and science. Add to this the well-documented truancy problems in Newport public schools, and parents have every right to be concerned about the merging of these schools.

Many were willing to quickly decry concerns expressed by Middletown parents, calling them callous and based in the emotion of fear. The above statistics give validity to those emotions. Furthermore, using words such as “diversity” and “family” and catch phrases such as “think about what we can accomplish together” are no less based in emotions such as hope, especially when unsupported by any real data.

This isn’t the first time school unification has occurred in the United States. Data exist. The U.S. Department of Education looked at school unification from 1988-1992. They found that schools that reorganized had parents 12% less likely to respond to school questionnaires, 10% less likely to attend an open house, 5% less likely to check their children’s homework, and 10% less likely to take part in Parent Teacher Organizations. A more current analysis in 2011 by the National Education Policy Center shows that contemporary research does not support consolidation and stated that desired fiscal efficiencies are often made worse.

While every situation is case-bycase, I would advise that we discuss this situation in a manner less fueled by emotional rhetoric and with more evidence. In that manner perhaps each community can get their fiscal houses in order and make the necessary changes to empower our children, whether that be in a consolidated status or not. Andrew J. Tompkins

Newport

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