Home > Uncategorized > It’s the End of April… the Senseless Season of Rating High Schools

It’s the End of April… the Senseless Season of Rating High Schools

I wrote this post exactly a year ago and it is applicable today and probably will be applicable every year for the foreseeable future… and the last paragraph is especially relevant given the direction President Trump and the GOP are headed…. 

Over the past several days my Google feed has been full of articles like this one from Connecticut trumpeting the top 10 schools in the State. Having lived in various parts of the Northeast I look at these articles with bemusement because they prove what we already know: selective high schools, high schools located in affluent communities, and high schools that spend the most outperform any and all high schools serving children in less affluent communities who educate every child that walks in the door.

But human beings thrive on competition of all kinds and so we need to compare one school to another and revel in “victory” when our sports team, school, college, or corporation is rated higher than our neighbors and are especially “victorious” when they are ranked number one. But there is an inherent unfairness in rating public schools using metrics like student-teacher ratios, inputs– like the number of books in the library or computers available for students, or number of course offerings, or test results— like mean SATs, AP scores, and/or state test results. All of these metrics are highly correlated with the wealth and educational level of parents and have nothing to do with the ability of teachers to engage students or the climate in the school. They conflate selectivity and affluence with “quality”.

But the bigger question is this: why rank schools at all? The notion of ranking things is to provide “consumers” with information they need to make an informed decision. Choice, then, is implicit in rankings. And the existence of a “marketplace” is implicit in choice.

When cars are rated by speciality magazines like Car and Driver or generic periodicals like Consumers Report they do so on the premise that a buyer wants specific information about a specific kind of vehicle they are looking for in the marketplace. In doing so, however, they do not rank small, low cost compact cars against costly SUVs and declare that the costly SUVs are superior to the compact cars. Both vehicles can get you to the same destination but only some people in the market place can afford the expensive SUVs… and some people in the market place cannot afford any new car… and others cannot afford any car at all. The only people who care about rankings, then, are those who can afford and want a new car… and the ratings are especially important to those who can afford the expensive SUVs.

Market economics do not apply to a public good like education. EVERY child should be able to have the same opportunities for schooling, not just the children of those who can afford to live in neighborhoods where schools have the inputs– like the number of books in the library or computers available for students, or course offerings— that enable those attending to achieve the test results that yield the higher rankings.

Those who want schools to operate like the marketplace believe the “market” is a way to provide all parents with the opportunity for their child to attend “the school of their choice”. These advocates fail to see that the mechanisms they advocate, like vouchers, reinforce the economic segregation in place today… that is unless the vouchers offered are worth the price tag of the “most expensive SUV” on the lot. The bottom line is this: if the vouchers cannot underwrite the cost of a “any new car” some parents will be relegated to the used car lot and will only be able to afford dilapidated jalopies and we will be perpetuating the system in place today. And if a fair voucher system requires the infusion of huge sums of money, why not use that money to fund the system we have in place now?

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