The Greek philosopher Epictetus reportedly said, “We must not believe the many, who say that only free people ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers who say that only the educated are free.”
If this is true, then it is up to the various school systems to create what Epictetus would have called “free people.”
However, some are wondering if the Dougherty County School System is doing what it is supposed to be doing. With average SAT scores well below the state and national averages, these people argue that school system officials are falling down on the job, especially considering the allegations of cheating on the CRCT and the recent hiring process that led to Dr. Joshua Murfree being the only candidate.
In 2009, the average SAT score in Dougherty County was 1257 out of a possible 2400. In contrast, Lee County’s average was 1483. Deerfield Windsor School, a Dougherty County private school, beat all comers with a 1690. The state average was 1460, while the national average was 1509. From the numbers alone, it’s certain that Dougherty County students aren’t performing as well as their peers in other schools.
First created in 1901, the SAT has been around for a long time, but that time hasn’t been without controversy. Allegations abound that the SAT is racially biased, and the average scores do lead credence to such allegations, especially when compared with Lee County’s average SAT score of 1483 while having a population that is over 82% white as of the 2000 census. Some colleges have even gone so far as to stop accepting the SAT due to the allegations.
David Mashcke, chairman of the Dougherty County School Board, disagrees. “While I may see some of that issue in the reading or writing sections, I do not see it in the math section. Basically, numbers are numbers; they are not race driven. Regarding reading and writing, I do not fully buy into that having a racial bias. In the United States, everyone has to learn about and adapt to the others around them. All racial and ethnic groups have to confront these challenges; this does not equate to racial bias.”
Others have accounted low academic performance on socioeconomic factors.
Dave Davies, the headmaster at Deerfield Windsor School, says, “There is a high correlation between socioeconomic levels and SAT scores,” but he also says that there are always exceptions.
Maschke points to his own background for an example of such an exception.
“As a first generation born American,” Maschke said, “I am well aware of the challenges my parents confronted arriving at Ellis Island as persecuted refugees with odd last names, penniless, not knowing a word of English, with no home and a single suitcase of cloths and pictures. But they knew from the thousands of years of generations before them that education, commitment and hard work were the keys to success in a free country. It can be done and is being done every day.”
So then, where is the problem?
Maschke believes the problems start well before the senior year of high school.
“The bigger issue is the number of students that are not SAT ready at eleventh grade because they did not achieve earlier in their school careers. Many students start lagging behind in elementary school. The gap widens in middle school grades and so, by high school, they cannot compete on a state or national level.”
One usual fix discussed when talking about improving schools is to increase the amount of money being spent. Dougherty County spends $7,649 per student, while Lee County spends only $7,569 per student per the budget published on the respective school system websites.
Dougherty County’s online budget, however, was prior to the $4.4 million dollar reduction in state funds due to thepoor economy. The current per student average is significantly lower.
Comparisons to the national average of $9,130 back in 2006 certainly lend credence to this argument as well, especially since Deerfield Windsor School charges high school students $9,884 for the 2010-2011 school year.
However, Maschke points out that such comparisons can be tricky. For example, “smaller systems like Lee County have drastically less costs for special education accommodations and for student transportation,” he says.
Dougherty County schools are actively trying to combat the low scores. Maschke cites multiple programs in place to prepare students for the SAT.
“Some examples include: SAT prep classes, remediation classes, tutoring opportunities, graduation coaches, counseling and on and on,” Maschke said.
Davies points out that it may not be fair to judge a school on the basis of a test, without what he referred to as an “input test,” a measure of where students started, which can be used for comparisons to see what kind of progress the students made.
Davies goes on to mention that comparing Deerfield Windsor to Dougherty County Schools is unfair due to some advantages that Deerfield has such as selective admissions, smaller class size and parental involvement.
“One thing that teachers who come here from public schools mention is that here they call a parent and get a call back,” Davies said. “Parents will step up and get something done.”
Regardless of the causes, it’s clear that Dougherty County School System students have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the state, much less the nation, in regards to SAT scores.
Written by Tom Knighton. Read his blog at SWGA Politics.com. A lifelong political junkie, Tom started out his adult life as a journalism major at Darton College before leaving school to serve his nation as a U.S. Navy Corpsman. Through the years, he has watched government from outside and inside. A former Reagan supporter, then later a Democrat, Tom now finds himself quite comfortable as a card carrying Libertarian and all around smart-elec.