A Reader Writes… (Latest School Rankings – Part 2)

In response to the post, “Latest School Rankings,” a reader writes.

“As a stand alone freshman campus, we feel the need to grow kids as fast as possible since we only have a year to see major improvement. The kids we have this year are not as strong academically as the year before, and sixty of our strongest incoming students (academically) were enrolled in a new Early College program, so we’ll be missing the strength of their scores as well. Yet, we still must deal with the bar consistently and systematically being raised. The sense of urgency has almost crossed the line and become a sense of fear.

I wonder if the argument of improvement will satisfy the state and community if the standard is not met even though we started with less and had farther to go. Probably not. There will always be diversity in the academic level of incoming classes as a whole, so progress must be dealt with regardless of the starting point. Failure to meet a set standard often does not reflect a lack of growth. But in the eyes of the public, it is taken that the educational system has failed to do its job.”

SC Response
Good post. Let me start with my opening statement to school boards with low performing high schools. The high school cashes the check that every school in the feeder pattern wrote. As I explain to teachers, student success is a relay race. Kindergarten must run their leg of the race at full speed and then pass the baton to first grade. First grade must run their leg at full speed and then pass the baton. This occurs all the way up to graduation. Every grade level that half-steps down stream, exponentially increases the difficulty of the work up-stream. As one LYS principal puts it, the worse case scenario in third grade is that the student is two years behind. The worst case scenario in tenth grade is that the student is nine years behind. In this case, the best the high school can do is become a remediation factory. For the high school to add value, the feeder pattern has to add value. Though a simple concept, this fact escapes most everyone in the system, except the staff that is left holding the bag. My personal pet peeve is the middle school staff that has scale scores drop from 6th to 8th grade and have difficult student populations not count for their accountability, yet act like they are beyond reproach.

But this is just one part of the issue that is impacting your campus. The other problem is the taking the cream of the crop for “elite” programs. This is where a district creates alternative programs for the motivated and affluent, leaving the poor and unprepared for the traditional high school to educate. This was my big issue with the small school movement a couple of years ago (and I’m a huge proponent of smaller schools). The brain trust and policy makers behind the movement seemed much more concerned with saving the students who reminded them of themselves, than actually improving the quality of education for all students. The more I pointed this out, the less interested they became in my expertise.

Now before you think that I’ve gone all soft, that is not the case. As Schmoker, Fullan, Schlecty, Brown, etc. point out, I’ve yet to visit a campus that does leave tons of potential on the table by continuing to engage in ineffective and inefficient practices. And most schools still spend an inordinate amount of energy sorting students instead of teaching them. But unlike our political and social adversaries, I believe that we have the capacity to improve and that public interest is more important than private interest. How’s that for urgency?

Think. Work. Achieve.

Your turn…

A Reader Writes… (Latest School Rankings – Part 1)
A Reader Asks… What to do Next

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