Tribune editorial: Close a school over test scores? Seems childish.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cesar Reyes and his wife Carmen Ramirez express their dismay at the closure announcement of Oquirrh Hills Elementary in Kearns where their children Julio, 7, and Gabriela Reyes, 10, attend school. The Granite School District Board of Education held a public hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, at the Granite Education Center in Salt Lake City where they decided to close the school due poor performance since 2015.

The children of Oquirrh Hills Elementary didn’t raise their test scores enough, so their school has to close.

Maybe if they had just foregone a few hours of video games each week. Or maybe they should have spent less time kicking balls and daydreaming instead of sharpening their critical thinking skills.

Or maybe they were too hungry because rent took all the money. Maybe their parents can’t help them with their homework because their English and math skills are not very strong.

Or perhaps they change addresses often and are forced to jump into the middle of lesson plans they’ve never seen before.

No matter. They didn’t achieve, and now they have to walk or take a bus to another school farther away.

Hey. The law is the law. We can’t be expected to bend for the little pikers.

Oquirrh Hills is the first and hopefully only school to be forced to close under a four-year-old state law that says “failing” schools must cease operations if they can’t improve student test scores for three years.

It was one of 10 schools in Granite School District that were classified as “turnaround” schools under the law, meaning that education consultants were sent in to help raise scores. That worked in the other nine schools, but in the third year Oquirrh Hills actually saw its scores decline.

“We apologize for things that we could have done better but that maybe weren’t done,” Granite School Board member Terry Bawden told frustrated Oquirrh Hills parents at a Tuesday meeting.

The idea behind the law is that no student population should endure year after year of little success and no improvement. That is absolutely true, but closing a school for poor performance is like fixing a flat by junking the car.

The law’s intent is to inject market dynamics into public schools: they must succeed or disappear. But student populations like Oquirrh Hills are not an attractive market. Don’t expect any charter school to take over in the wake. Even Oquirrh Hills’ best teachers were likely looking for greener pastures after the turnaround began, which only accelerated the problem.

Are the children to blame? Of course not. Fault lies with an ill-conceived state law and an inadequate school board response to it. In other words, we elected the people who killed Oquirrh Hills. The kids are just the ones who will pay the price.