Adequate yearly progress.
Just listen to those words.
Adequate. Yearly. Progress.
The words reek of low expectations and glacial change. The minimum you can get by with.
Yet, they form the standard by which public schools are judged in America.
Worse yet, there are a great number of schools in America that aren't even making "adequate yearly progress" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Far too many of them are in Augusta.
Seventeen, to be exact.
Federal law theoretically gives parents of students at "needs improvement" schools several options. In reality, there aren't many of them. They include free tutoring and the ability to request transfers to schools not on the list.
A headline in Saturday's Chronicle said "Parents are urged to learn options." And they certainly need to.
But transfers aren't automatic - meaning they can be denied - and they often don't come with transportation.
And in the case of Augusta middle schoolers, there is no transfer option: Every one of the 10 middle schools in Augusta is on the needs-improvement list.
They are, in short, trapped in failing schools.
So, as uninspiring as "adequate yearly progress" is, the fact is that a good number of Augusta schools are looking up at it, unable to reach it.
What a statement!
Ask yourself: In this kind of environment, is "adequate yearly progress" - that to which many Augusta schools are now aspiring - good enough?
Or does the Richmond County school district need to aim higher?
We would hope the Richmond County Board of Education, and its incoming superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden, will adopt the level of urgency commensurate with a school district in crisis.
But they're going to have to avoid the temptation to think like bureaucrats and insiders. They need out-of-the-box answers, because the box Richmond County students are in is running out of oxygen.
It's not enough to look to the federal law and to adequate yearly progress. The escalating "consequences" for under-performing schools under No Child Left Behind are hardly intimidating: after a decade or so, principal and staff might be fired. Big deal. What's happened to students in the meantime?
The real consequence of failing schools is a generation poorly served by the public schools and ill-prepared for a competitive global marketplace.
Fact is, "adequate" should be irrelevant. They need to aim for excellence in Augusta schools.
And they need look no further than their own Davidson Fine Arts Magnet for a model of excellence. As the community loves to boast, Davidson is routinely named the best school in Georgia.
How is that possible? That Augusta is home to some of the best schools in the state, and some of the worst?
And how can Davidson's excellence be translated to other schools?
Folks, when you've got 17 facilities on a list of failing schools - and all 10 of your middle schools - these questions should be of the highest priority. Every day that bad schools are good enough is another day that our children are, indeed, being left behind.