Sunday, June 12, 2011

‘Back to basics’ is a false choice

School board member-elect Andrew Gorayeb’s concerns about Sisters students’ preparation for the SAT exams has sparked an interesting dialogue in Letters to the Editor, with more coming in the June 15 issue.

In a letter last week, Eugene Trahern asked,

“How can students who are near the top of their class in GPA be, to put it bluntly, mediocre at best on the SAT? The answer is that there is such a high emphasis on the arts program in Sisters, that the school district is missing the basics.”

In arguing that “math, science, and good writing skills need to be emphasized at Sisters, not art projects,” I think Mr. Trahern poses a false choice.

Note here that I have a dog in the fight. The Sisters Folk Festival, which I have been involved with for many years, has invested significantly in the creation of a music education outreach program, the Americana Project, and a guitar building program at Sisters High School.

Obviously, I believe in the importance of the arts in education.

I would argue that “math, science, and good writing skills” need to be emphasized at Sisters along with “art projects.” And, properly conducted, those art projects can enhance the learning of those basics.

For centuries the, the ideal of an educated person has been the “Renaissance man,” the scholar-athlete-artist-scientist. What a rich ideal to strive toward. David Crabtree, President of Gutenberg College, told a large assemblage at the proposed Sisters site of the college that he believes that higher education in the U.S. has become synonymous with vocational training and advocated passionately for the value of a liberal arts education. The students I met there impressed me as being very well educated indeed.

The answer to grade-inflation and weak performance on standardized tests is to go after those problems directly, not to tear down aspects of the program that are working well. What is wanted is more rigor in all areas, not a narrowing of focus.

In any case, it is gratifying to see so many people engaging with the question of what education in Sisters schools should be. I encourage them all to turn out to school board meetings, contact their school board members and share their concerns, their passions and their ideas. This district is small enough that, with a high level of engagement, we can make positive changes, despite dwindling resources.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. Jim and Everyone that has weighed in on this matter,

    I want to be very clear. I am an Aspire Volunteer. I work with 4 to 12 students each year on post High School plans (their future). In that capacity, I have spoken to many Deans of Admissions, Assistant Deans of Admissions and others. In many instances, a student with a high GPA and a low SAT / ACT score has been viewed as either attending an easy school or being unprepared for those tests. This is not a good thing. All I want to do is better prepare the kids that want to go to college so that they have as many options as possible. The SAT / ACT preparation is a simple fix. We can do it and we can do it for not much money. We just need to start preparing them during their Sophmore year and keep going through the fall of their Senior year.

    I didn't invent the system, but I am not silly enough to believe that it is worth my time trying to change a national college admissions system. I think my time is better spent trying to help the kids here in Sisters.

    That's it, I'm not talking about an elitist approach, not talking about doing anything at the expense of those kids that want to do something else after school other than college. It's just a simple matter of trying to help kids that want go to college. I work with lots of kids that don't have college in their plans.

    College is important (China and India are predicted to have more college graduates each then we will have people in our country in like 2020 or 2025). We need our kids to go to college. It's not for everybody, but it is important for this nation's future.

    I'd like to hear from other Aspire volunteers. They know what I am talking about.


    Andrew Gorayeb

  2. Good points but I have to disagree with the theory of starting the preparation in the Sophmore year. To really achieve consistently higher scores on the SAT/ACT's, I believe you have to start them in the late Grade School/Middle School time frame. Now, it has been a few years since my kids were in the Sisters Schools, but what I do remember was the moronic theory that our our kids needed to be set to a higher standard than other Districts (GPA) therefore to get an A, you had to get 91% may have been 92%), a B was 81% and so on ... You put our kids who get a 90% and the resulting 3.0gpa average against, say a Lake Oswego High School child that gets 90% and a 4.0gpa and now you really have a disadvantage !! I too have talked over the years to admissions offices to see how they view that situation and the answer, by virtually all were "we start our admissions with a GPA/SAT cull the first round and go from there" ... Hopefully someone will update me and let me know we have finally done away with that lunacy !!

  3. Who are the leaders? The ones who studied for the the test and the score, or the ones who studied for the knowledge and the understanding?

  4. Education is having balance in all things -

    The capability to read, write, and appreciate math leads to - in most cases - creativity. The Arts are very much reflections of the three basic educational skill sets.

    Less talk, more quality teaching and testing, build Character as well as Creativity.

    It can be a better world as a result.