Home > Uncategorized > Musing on school rankings

Musing on school rankings

June 9, 2013

In my youth here in Delaware, the schools were simply ranked by performance, probably based on some national test. Everyone knew which were the “best” schools and districts. Moms and new brides consulted that list when doing their house-hunting. Now, it is pretty hard to figure out where the best schools are. We have different schools for different things, and buses crisscrossing the county willy-nilly. When I tell people my son is going to Dickinson, there is a visible gasp. But Dickinson has the right programs for him, and I think public perception is lagging behind reality.

It is hard do find that ranking list now, and maybe it doesn’t really matter anymore. The DOE performance pages are fairly impenetrable to casual readers. The white suburban population of the 1960s was very homogeneous and had similar schooling needs, so maybe the ranked list made sense then. But now we are trying to educate all different kinds of kids in the same system.

Our answer to that was various forms of choice, which turned out not to be such a good idea. Before, we had the corrosive idea that ‘To get a better education, you have to move to a different neighborhood.” But now we have replaced that with the equally corrosive idea that “To get a better education, you have to move to a new school.” So we started building White Flight Academies like CSW and NCS.

Why not build the high-quality programs we want inside all our neighborhood district schools?

The answer lies in transparency. Speaking as a Red Clay parent, we aren’t using our powerful new data to find out objectively WHY and HOW and WHEN students are failing. As a consequence our experts have no idea how to design instruction and intervention to prevent failure and assure success. They are just winging it, folks.

And Red Clay’s secret union/District meetings to design policies on instruction and what happens in the classroom are closed to parents. So the two main sources that might be able to inform us on improving education – data and parents – are unwelcome in the very meetings that are supposed to do that.

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  1. June 9, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Perception is lagging with Dickinson. I would use it today, but my decision of choosing a high school was 5 years ago.

    Here’s my experience with high schools: There are four tracks – AP/IB/Cambridge, Honors, Regular classes and special ed. It is very important to make sure your 9th grader starts on the correct track. You do know that many districts offer tests over the summer to determine placement. Yeah, I found that out late with child #1 and had to play catch up!

    Basically, there are different schools in one high school, and you have to familiarize yourself with them. A high school that doesn’t “perform” well due to high poverty may have an excellent AP/Honors program – a program far superior to a high school with a “superior” rating. We really need to stop relying on these ratings. They’re merely the tip of the iceberg.

  2. Citizen
    June 9, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Well said. Yes, let’s put the desired programs in our genuinely public schls, to re-invigorate them. Down w/White Flight Academies!

  3. June 9, 2013 at 9:45 am

    And notice how charter schools always compare themselves to high poverty, struggling high schools and remain silent on public schools in the Brandywine and Appo school districts.

    And looking through the school profiles… Red Clay needs to keep working. Yeah, they’ve focused on Dickinson – and I sincerely commend them on that, and am pleased with Red Clay’s school board, overall – but it’s no surprise that AIHS is, at present, the only viable HS option in RCCD. I remember when RCCD’s previous superintendent admitted to “Taking his eye off the ball”. The ball was Dickinson and McKean. Yep, he actually said this. What were we paying this guy for? So the RCCD school board has work to do, and I don’t envy them. What they’re dealing with is the hubris of past RCCD school boards (late 90’s/early aughts) and previous superintendent.

  4. June 9, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Dickinson’s turnaround is hardly a done deal, and in any case it is an outlier in Red Clay. Red Clay has no process to replicate it. The Dickinson leadership team undertook a fundamental reexamination of their values and processes and implemented solutions based on that, which is rare. Few if any other schools have the leadership to do that kind of self-analysis, even if the solutions they come up with are not the same as Dickinson’s (although that wouldn’t be a bad thing).

    Turnarounds now of course must follow one of the three RTTT models (retch). If the District wants to succeed they must find a way around that and allow grassroots turnarounds to happen (if the school leadership is capable of it).

  5. Citizen
    June 9, 2013 at 11:24 am

    The DOE data pages disaggregate school & district data by income, ELL, race, etc. This would be very interesting to compare. Which schls do best with our poor kids, non-native speakers, minorities? It’s not rocket science to get decent test scores out of the English-speaking middle class (as the WFA’s do).

  6. June 9, 2013 at 11:31 am

    I think the best performance stat offered is “percent meeting standards,” right? Not very satisrying. Is there some way to compare raw scores of DCAS or something else?

  7. Citizen
    June 9, 2013 at 11:34 am

    By the way, side note, but this knocked me out. Go to Kuumba’s web page and click on Parent Handbook. Scroll to Parent Involvement, pg. 16. Read: “each family is required to complete 30 parent volunteer hrs per schl yr. The volunteer log is kept at the front desk for sign-in.” And if one disobeys this, what happens–anyone know?

    Tough for single moms, that’s for sure. Even my older children’s private schl makes adjustments to volunteering expectations for single parents. ( in their schl, significant volunteering reduces tuition; but in any case, it’s a private organization!)

    This is quite diff. from the stmt on Kuumba’s homepage about the Parent Commitment Form (“encouraging” 10 hrs of volunteering per yr).

  8. Coolspringer
    June 9, 2013 at 11:34 am

    “Why not build the high-quality programs we want inside all our neighborhood district schools?”

    This is such a fundamental question. I am a huge proponent of sticking with your local school and making it what you want and need it to be, as a community. As opposed to abandoning it to other forces and running after the opportunity that sounds more impressive at a dinner party – that shows you’re a savvy player who dodged the TPS bullet of doom. Whatever.

    Yes, ratings are meaningless to me at this point. I am confident that my child is thriving academically and socially in a school that is failing on paper. Maybe if I valued the test more as a meaningful metric for every child (I don’t), or maybe if the go-to ranking sites like GreatSchools weren’t still utilizing DSTP data (they are), I’d feel differently. Probably not, though.

    The reason we have not done a very good job of turning around corrosive public perception and habits are many and some are complex, but if these are indeed OUR schools, it’s ridiculous that we haven’t had (or seized) the freedom to do just this! I feel a turning point coming, however. Utilizing an urban school, you don’t tend to get a ton of interested from affluent members of the surrounding community, but I do see that changing little by little. We see more diversity and neighborhood kids each year, usually in K. I have heard uncertainty from parents with children in private or name-recognition programs, who don’t feel they’re getting what they need, and are feeling the lack of community connection as they drive their kids way across town or into the suburbs for school. Most are not ready to head back, but I know of at least one family with a slightly older child that is ditching a gifted program for our decidedly un-gifted (on paper at least!) neighborhood elementary. They just feel like it is time. And the more of us that put our feet down and demand our local schools be what we need, the more this will catch on. I think people are growing tired of the choice rat race, most just need to feel reassured they are coming back to something that’s not in ruins…which can be a tough argument to make right now. But staying is as much of a choice for some of us and leaving would be – and I know quite a few people who are very proud to have made this choice.

  9. Coolspringer
    June 9, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Mike O. :
    If the District wants to succeed they must find a way around that and allow grassroots turnarounds to happen (if the school leadership is capable of it).

    Agree 100% with this!! This is exactly what we want for our school – our leadership is capable enough and needs the autonomy to do this, but the struggling schools are given far LESS autonomy in so many ways.

    Every school should have a leader that is qualified to craft a unique and grassroots plan to keep their school strong. They need to empowered and heeded, not systematically ignored and robbed of resources when they are on the right track.

  10. Coolspringer
    June 9, 2013 at 11:40 am

    pandora :
    And notice how charter schools always compare themselves to high poverty, struggling high schools and remain silent on public schools in the Brandywine and Appo school districts.
    …it’s no surprise that AIHS is, at present, the only viable HS option in RCCD. I remember when RCCD’s previous superintendent admitted to “Taking his eye off the ball”. The ball was Dickinson and McKean. Yep, he actually said this. What were we paying this guy for? So the RCCD school board has work to do, and I don’t envy them. What they’re dealing with is the hubris of past RCCD school boards (late 90′s/early aughts) and previous superintendent.

    If I currently had a 9th grader, I’d personally feel better about sending them to Dickinson than AIHS right now. My nephew is headed to McKean [*gasp*] and I think that’ll be a better fit for him as well. AIHS is not what it used to be. Perhaps it, and other historically glory-crowned RCCSD schools like it are the new balls to keep an eye on…

  11. June 9, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Looking over the list here, I was reminded that “back in the day” we did invest in our public schools and actively searched for high quality programs to fit inside the only existing option we had…

    Most of those students, are today’s sharpest bloggers, doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professional people.

    Point is: we know that system works. Just no one gets filthy rich off of it, seems to be the only thing that model has going against it.

  12. John Young
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