Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The discussion that matters isn't about a lobbying group's PR efforts.

In Providence, it's April break - no school this week for public schools, with the same true for many (all?) surrounding districts. Hope that some of you are not reading this because you're off doing something super fun with your kids. Me, not so much - owning to my month of unusual travel in March, it's a regular work week, with my kids dispatched to various vacation camps, relatives, play-dates, and schemes of self-amusement. This strategy, such as it is, is working out fairly well so far, and allows the opportunity for a quick look back at last week...

...when RI-CAN released a set of school rankings for Rhode Island's schools. Some folks thoughtfully objected to the methodology of and strategy for the rankings, particularly:
I share their concerns and strongly oppose such rankings for the very reason that I strongly oppose any attempt to sum up a student or an educator using a limited set of data, particularly high stakes standardized test scores. RI-CAN's attempt to represent schools with that same limited data misrepresents the necessary complexity of the process of understanding whether and how schools are serving students and their communities effectively. Conversation about gains in education at every possible level need to be based on thoughtful consideration of meaningful and multiple measures employed in ways that enhance learning, growth, and improvement.

And as the Learning Community statement points out, Rhode Island already has Information Works! a strong and more complex data system. If you want data, use that and as you do, resist any urge to assume that there's necessarily a best and a worst. Instead, use your judgment. If you're able to move from one neighborhood or town to another in search of a school that will serve your child well, you need to put in the time to do the real work. Know your child's needs, hopes, dreams, proclivities, and abilities. Visit schools. Talk with multiple current parents and (if possible) students. Consider what value you and your family can add to a school community. Resist anything--a fancy list, hearsay, an isolated incident--that invites you to think that you've really learned anything meaningful from it alone.

And know above all that a school that, by the light of one ranking system, may seem inadequate may instead be serving students similar to your child very effectively. That's certainly the case for our family's experience with the schools that our children have attended. That RI-CAN publicly states that the schools that my children attend are substandard says more to be about the limits of RI-CAN's understanding than the schools themselves, and masks the real complexity and urgency of the fact that many schools and school systems serve some kids well and some not well enough.

Okay, enough. The discussion that matters isn't about a lobbying group's PR efforts. The discussion that matters is how we will to make every school in every neighborhood a powerful, effective, and joyous place for teaching and learning for every child. Onward. 

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