Friday, January 6, 2017

What Really Defines School Quality?

Photo credit: Justine Warrington




And it's not about the percentage of kids on free or reduced lunch.


School quality has been a big topic for decades and there seems to be no quick and easy answers. We all usually agree that school quality metrics involve test scores, graduation rates and parental involvement. School districts can also be affected negatively by non-educationally related issues such as school board in-fighting and administrative and organizational negligence. This could threaten the school district's accreditation, which can cause potential residents of an area to not consider the area. DeKalb County School District nearly lost its accreditation because of something not related to its quality of education. This is an example of adults not putting the children and what they are tasked with first. 

Both of my parents were educators (teachers and counselors) and dinner time was often peppered with talk about the board this, mr. so and so this. I enjoyed listening to this "teacher gossip" especially when it would touch on principals and teachers I knew. When faced with going to high school, I thought  I would attend the high school that the majority of my middle school friends were attending. My mom wasn't going for that, so I found all kinds of reasons why I didn't want to go to the school I was zoned to attend. Finally I pulled the bad school card. I would never forget what my mom said in response to this. 

"There's nothing wrong with that school, they have a lot of good teachers and low test scores don't mean that the kids don't know anything." Years later, when I had children of my own, I remembered my mom's declaration when fussing and haggling over where to move. My older kids attended private school until they were at the middle school age and eventually both graduated from Stephenson High. I have a daughter currently at Towers, who attended Bethune before that, she's maintained great grades at both schools.

I used GreatSchools.org before moving a couple of years ago. I found its user interface simple, but looking deeper into the metrics going into the 1-10 rating system, I found the percentage of free or reduced lunches, racial composition and standardized test scores were parameters used in the ratings. I'm not sure if whether a child getting free or reduced lunch has any bearing on the quality of the school in educating said child.

When doing research on the accuracy of GreatSchools.org, I found comments from parents around the country coming to the conclusion that GreatSchools.org ratings may not accuratley reflect the actual quality of the school. Several years ago on a popular real estate site, a parent detailed his search for a good public school and was dismayed after seeing the chosen school rated as a 3. He visited the school and was impressed enough to enroll his kids anyway and both he and the kids absolutely love the school.

What makes a good school is parents making the schools accountable and schools making the parents accountable for the child getting the most out of their learning experience. Of course, the child must be accountable by listening and doing all of their necessary tests and school work. In the better performing schools, principals, teachers and parents maintain constant communication with each other when there are negative changes in the student's grades. 

I've never been an educator but I know it's not an easy occupation, but If you are an educator that is not emotionally vested with teaching, get into another line of work. Students need their teacher, principal and all support educational staff to be at 100 percent. I've heard a teacher mumble under her breath about not liking working in this county. My mom  used to say that there were many dedicated teachers and then there were the ones who liked the idea of not working during the summer months and getting paid more than actually teaching.

If you are a parent who is not involved at all in your child's education beyond getting him or her ready for school or dropping them off at the bus stop, please understand that you may be setting your child up for possible failure. Sure there are many children that are doing great in school in the absence of much parental involvement, but if your child is not doing good in school and if you're not as involved, understand that it's not all of the school's fault.