Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Education Week: What Do School Rankings Really Mean?

Education Week: What Do School Rankings Really Mean?
Funny that I should come across this article right when we are trying to argue a case for why FGCS should not have to conform solely to the school district's and broader dominant educational standard of 'best' school rankings based on test scores.

The article critiques the popular approach to listing top ranked schools based on indicators such as high SAT scores. Burney states, Attainment of “top” status can render schools complacent at best, and negligent at worst, regarding the learning of individual students...indicators such as high SAT scores are misleading as a key indicator of a school’s educational quality, because students from advantaged backgrounds tend to do relatively well, in part because they have access to hours of expensive test preparation, and ongoing intellectual enrichment from home.She questions how these schools can be considered the 'best' when their focus is on teaching to the test, excessive seatwork and perpetuating a culture that squelches students' love of learning and fails to teach skills to pursue productive & satisfying lives.

Top-ranked high schools provide a standard-size instructional hoop that many students jump through well enough. But does “well enough” warrant distinction as excellence, which implies high standards, innovation, and engaging, rigorous instruction?

Burney also reminds us that good teachers and quality instruction can vary more within a single school than across different schools...
We know from decades of research that student learning can vary widely, even within so-called “good” schools. The research tells us that the single most important school-related factor contributing to a student’s success is the quality of his or her teacher, particularly in a child’s early years. Research also tells us that, on average, the quality of classroom instruction varies more from teacher to teacher within any given school than it does from one school to another.

In defining what a 'top' school should really look like, she states:
... it would focus on the progress of each student, his or her performance, rather than attainment through compliant coursetaking. It would continually gauge student learning throughout the year, and intervene when work effort or quality seemed to decline, addressing issues of motivation and interest, providing the resources and instruction each student needed to learn at high levels. It would connect students’ learning to the world outside school, so that they remained engaged and enthusiastic. It would ensure that every teacher was a knowledgeable and capable teacher with the time, skill, and inclination to reach every student.

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