The combination of reasons for Muscogee County School District's continuing academic struggles didn't crop up in the short time David Lewis has been on duty as superintendent. And he hasn't been here long enough to get credit for recent modest improvements.
But he's definitely been here long enough to get a realistic sense of the challenges that lie before him. We think he sees those challenges clearly, and is ready to confront them head on. God knows, and David Lewis knows, it won't be easy.
The MCSD's overall results on the state-administered Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCTs) were released last month, and the news was decidedly mixed. There were district-wide improvements in some areas, and the school system closed the gap with the state average. But there were still too few passing grades, and the district as a whole did not measure up to the state average on any of the specific tests.
A school-by-school breakdown of CRCT results came out last week, and it shows quite specifically where the improvements have come and where the struggles remain.
Lewis was quite rightly pleased with the performance of some elementary schools that have a history of academic struggles. This time around, Fox saw more than 90 percent of its fifth graders pass in language arts and 87 percent pass in math. Cusseta Road's third graders topped the state average in math. Key's fifth graders topped the state average in reading and science, and third graders did so in reading, math and language arts.
Another highlight was Reese Road Elementary, where every fifth grader passed language arts, and where third and fifth graders outpaced the state in every subject.
Overall -- thanks in large part to success stories like those -- the district improved on more than half the tests, and edged closer to the state average on a third of them.
But this undeniable and unspinnable reality looms: The MCSD as a whole did not meet the state average in any subject, at any grade level. That's nowhere near good enough, and no educator or administrator in the system would try to argue that it is.
Moreover, despite significant and in some cases dramatic improvements in third- and fifth-grade scores at individual schools, the scores of fourth graders fell in every subject. How should that bizarre anomaly be interpreted?
We know that poverty, with all the problems that cause it and result from it, is the dominant risk factor for young people -- academically and otherwise -- and that there are a lot of poor children in Muscogee County schools. What we can't seem to figure out is why Columbus has a harder time educating its poor children than other parts of Georgia.
If David Lewis and the other administrators and educators here can figure that part out, the result would be more than significant; it would be historic.