Rules and Exceptions; Facilities and Penicillin

This article deals with the fact that there are rules and then there are exceptions to the rules on spending for faciities to improve academics.

My opinion, not necessarily anyone else’s …

This article deals with the fact that there are rules and then there are exceptions to the rules.

Something I wrote in a previous blog rekindled a discussion Tom Linehan and I have had before.  Tom is well read and interested in education issues. He and I have talked over coffee and it is always interesting to talk to him. We have our differences, but that’s ok.

I wrote that the proposed elementary school renovations would help academic achievement. Specifically, I wrote (bold text is my emphasis):

“It’s true that just making buildings “nicer” won’t guarantee a better education. But we’re not just making these buildings “nicer”; we’re adding new educational spaces for kindergarten and student special services and we’re making them safer. These renovations can make a better education easier to achieve. We’ve heard from parents and staff at Lancaster, North Salem and Barron that renovations there improved educational outcomes, especially for students who require special services.”

Tom challenged my contention (bold text is my emphasis):

“In fact I can find no hard evidence of this whatsoever. The arguments that the schools, safety and utility might improve could be valid. That is a judgment call. But to say that education outcomes could or would, in any way, be improved is simply contradictory to just about every study I have ever read on how to improve education. To claim that there is any chance that spending on facilities is going to improve education outcomes is disingenuous at best”.

Where we diverge is a matter of “Rules verses Exceptions”.  We are both correct, but from different perspectives. I’m not wild about the “disingenuous at best” word choice, but let’s overlook that and I’ll try to explain my contention more clearly. Here’s where Rules and Exceptions come into play.

The rules can be generally correct, but specific exceptions can be different and important. Understandably, most studies focus on the rule; they don’t focus on the exception. Here’s an analogy. Penicillin is a widely prescribed antibiotic that is effectively used to treat and eliminate bacterial infections. That’s the rule.  However, there are exceptions. Some people are allergic to penicillin. The effects of this allergy can range from a mild rash to death. Penicillin is not an effective treatment for someone who is allergic to it. These people are the exception, not the rule. But exceptions do exist and you can’t totally discount them.

The result we’ve seen in Salem’s renovated elementary schools is that academic improvement has occurred in our special needs student population. Our case is an exception to the general rule that spending on facilities won’t lead to academic improvement.

Logically, it makes sense. In our un-renovated elementary schools, we put students who are easily distracted in hallways, stairwells and bus ports to provide academic help. Can you imagine a more distracting environment for an attention challenged student than a hallway, stairwell or bus port where “everyone is coming and going”? In our renovated elementary schools these students are served in small rooms designed to minimize distractions and maximize academic instruction for challenged students. Our staff and student’s parents have told us that they’ve seen dramatic improvements in their student’s academic progress.

In our case, observations and data show that spending on small instruction spaces provided by our elementary renovations did improve academic achievement for our special needs students. We expect the same results at the other schools, once they are renovated.

Please support our students at the un-renovated schools by voting “Yes” on school Article 2 and Article 3 this March.

Email comments or questions to me at pmorgan@sau57.org

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