Any parent or educator knows that rating students and their schools is a big deal. State standards of learning, No Child Left Behind mandates, and independent websites all have their ways of evaluating the nation's schools and children. There are some valid reasons behind this. The schools in our country are in sad and sorry shape. Economic status has more impact on a child's future than any other factor. So public school rankings have emerged as part of an overall attempt to identify failing schools and help them improve.
So why are so many teachers and parents up in arms about testing? There are a lot of reasons.
The Inequities of Testing and Public school rankings
The fairness of testing, and extremely public school rankings, has always been a controversial topic. Advocates claim that it's the only way to keep schools accountable; and they say that the students who fail do so because they just are not ready to pass. Opponents of testing based public school rankings say that misses the point completely. If many students are not ready to pass it's because their poverty level schools do not give them the skills they need. And they claim that the rankings paint these schools in a bad light, which makes the situation worse. When fewer children choose to attend poorly rated schools the schools then lose money based on per puping funding. So what's the real deal?
Having taught in the inner city for years, the truths are not anything that anyone really wants to hear. Public school rankings give parents a basis for evaluating their children's school, and for making educated decisions on moving. Politicians also love public school rankings for gen interest because they can make the numbers fit their story. But no public school rankings can tell the complete story of inner city education.
The sad truth is that money buys education in a lot of ways. Parents who are forced to work two jobs have a lot less time and energy to devote to their children's schooling. Kids who parents are in and out of prison, on drugs, or living in the dangerous housing projects usually have other concerns above academies. And the best teachers often choose not to teach in the poorest schools because it's dangerous, supplies are scarce, parent involvement is minimal, and the schools often have a lack of leadership and vision. The public school rankings are often right on target in these situations.
Where Public school rankings Fall Short
Here's what they miss. Public school rankings significantly heavier on demographics and standardized tests. Standardized tests are one small part of the overall picture of a school and student's success. A school that does a great job educating students with special needs or English Language Learners will have far worse test scores than schools with small numbers of these populations. Public school rankings also fail to mark current progress, improvements and initiatives in a school. Changes in school leadership can also have a drastic effect on public school rankings.
While we should not throw public school rankings out the window, no one should rely on them 100%. We need a whole new public diplomacy on what good education is, and what it should look like in this country. When that finally happens public school rankings for k-12 general interest will be a balanced part of an entirely different conversation.