Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What's a failing school?

These truths I hold to be self-evident:
1. You can't fix a failing school by converting it into a charter school, replacing its administration with a new administration that had been fired from another failing school, or by testing until the kids go bat-crack crazy. (h/t to Ritchie for that expression!)

2. You can't measure a school based on tests that aren't taken seriously.

3. You can't reliably identify a failing school by testing because the criteria were so poorly defined in the first place and because the Law is looking from the wrong perspective.

4. The educational experience of a small fraction of one ethnic group doesn't represent the experience of all of the students in that school any more than my abilities as a teacher can be "averaged" with those of the loser next door and the PhD on the other side.

More:Why should the failure or marginal failure of one subgroup (a significant portion of whom passed) lower the boom on a school?

Looking from the top down, you can measure how the "school" performed, but each student has a different experience. This group may have done poorly because their particular teachers didn't "get" them or were stupid (someone has to fit the stereotype), but those other groups had a great education.

Same building. Same "faculty." Different teachers. Different families. Different education.

As any parent knows, there are good teachers and bad ones but far more good than bad. The bad ones just don't stay - if they do, there's a reason. What not everyone understands is that often it's not a matter of good and bad teaching but of good or weak connection between teacher and student.

If your kid is not capable of "meshing with" or learning from a particular teacher, you ask for a change of section. Every teacher will have kids who won't or can't learn well from them but who magically blossom with someone else -- but there's always a vice-versa. I know, for instance, that some students just enjoy being in my class -- for whatever reason -- and try to set up their schedules accordingly. Often, the older brother counsels the younger to take my class. Others prefer other teachers, whether for their teaching style or gender or height or discipline policy. Many either don't care or know enough to have an opinion. I don't take it personally.

You all have had the experience of sitting in an IEP, SAT, EST, 504, MVP, IPod, or faculty meeting and listening to the others complain about KidX. When it comes to you, you shrug and say "I've never had a problem with him. I called his mother and everything just worked out." Judging by the looks on everyone's faces, you've dropped a bombshell.

The real problem with NCLB is that an entire school feels the punitive effects of the law when as little as 2% - 5% actually experience the school environment that produced those low scores.

All schools have some students who receive a great education. Those schools have a majority of students who get a decent education. The school certainly hasn't failed them. All schools have the mouth-breathing, drug-using lowlifes who really need a life-altering experience before they have a life-ending one - why should the results of the latter reflect on the school of the former?

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