Muddle, Muddle, Toil And Trouble

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We’re for muddled, short-term decision-making and slapping a Band-Aid on the problem — for the moment, anyhow.

Granted, muddling through doesn’t generally make for sound policy. But it beats rushing into the wrong decision and then living with the results for years to come.

So we’re glad the Payson School Board balked at making a hasty decision in response to the sudden problem with school crowding.

The lamentable effects of Superintendent Ron Hitchcock’s abrupt resignation barely 18 months into his effort to introduce sweeping changes into the struggling district became painfully clear on Tuesday. He said little as the haphazard, inconclusive discussion dragged on — to the confusion and dismay of listening parents. Instead of a clear recommendation based on the likely impact on students, several principals shuffled through an inconclusive discussion of options.

Thankfully, the board resisted the rush to a decision.

We wish board members would’ve had the foresight to do that back when they were debating whether to sell Frontier Elementary School. That hasty decision resulted in a sharp rise in elementary school class sizes, despite evidence that small classes in the primary grades yield big benefits. But never mind: Back to the current dilemma.

The various proposals either required investing $1 million in more classrooms for Payson Elementary School to retain the K-2 configuration or shifting grade levels around. The idea that seemed to upset parents most involved shifting fifth-graders to the middle school.

Unfortunately, board member Jim Quinlan’s suggestion that the district consider a shift to a K-8 model got short shrift. In study after study, school systems that rely on two or three years of middle school prior to high school report lower test scores, more discipline problems and higher dropout rates. The shift to a middle school model has proven a disappointing failure nationwide — and Payson schools should abandon that model.

Clearly such a shift would have major consequences. The district can’t make such a decision in a week or two — with a lame duck superintendent.

So we’re all for the Band-Aid approach. Do whatever it takes to get through the next year, while the district finds a new superintendent. Then seriously consider what alignment will benefit students. An overwhelming body of evidence argues for small class sizes in the primary grades and a shift to a K-8 model.

So muddle on for the short term, so we can make the right decision for the long term.

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