What You Don’t Know About Your School Can Hurt You
I had coffee with a friend a few years ago and the subject of a local elementary school came up in conversation. “Our principal said (insert school name) is the best school in the district,” my friend claimed. Okay, I’ll bite. Best in what? I knew that the academic ranking of that particular school was the worst in its district. By every measure deemed by the state to be an important indicator of success, this particular school ranked at or near the bottom. So how was it that the building principal could make such a claim? More importantly, how is it that the rank and file of parents sending their children to that school bought the notion that they were the best – even though published building-level report cards stated otherwise?
I think the answer is that parents want to believe their neighborhood school is the best at something. Our national competitive nature demands it. In the upper grades it may be sports – but in K-6, parents want to believe that their children are getting the best possible preparation for the world that awaits them. Not only are the futures of dewey-eyed progeny at stake, but home values and neighborhood bragging rights are, too.
And school administrators can plant the illusion of excellence simply by creating their own definition of greatness (e.g. we are the best in: square feet per student, jump rope competitions, raising money, etc.) and parents, taxpayers, homeowners actually start to believe it – because they want to believe it. Which is why I hold little hope in the results of true academic assessment – and international comparisons – driving real change in our schools.
“If parents do not know, they will not demand, as consumers, a high quality of educational service. They will just say the school my kids are going to is as good as the school I went to.” Andreas Schleicher, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (coordinators of the PISA international assessment)