The story in last night's paper about Fort Wayne Community Schools' proposed building plans contains an important lesson about presenting and defending arguments. When you make a causal claim, like this,
Jeff Lackney, an educational planner and architect for Wisconsin-based Fielding Nair International, studied the link between the quality of education and older buildings. “If I was to generalize, there is usually a 5 percent lower test score in buildings with lower quality ratings.”
Locally, the numbers support his findings. Standardized test scores in FWCS, whose 53 buildings average 52 years old, fall 10 percent below the state average. The average age of school buildings in the United States is 40 years old, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.
Then you have to be able to account for the exceptions to the claim, like this:
But Kevin Brown, FWCS board member-elect, questions how the district can justify spending millions on buildings instead of learning.
“In the last 10 years, we've thrown over $100 million into high schools, and both schools are on academic probation,” Brown said, referring to renovations at North Side and South Side high schools.
Brown's exception is a tough one to answer. You might say, well, there are other factors in play at these schools, such as the poverty level of the students or the education level of their parents or whatever, but that would just further undercut your argument that building quality is so important. And if this whole thing is more complicated than we might imagine, with building quality and a lot of other factors at work, then you should have said so in the first place.