This is classic - she doesn't show up to the Public Forum: “Reimagining the Middle School Admissions Process in District 15”, but she has an opinion about it. I did have a good excuse: the first of two college graduations. I applaud everyone involved! and I will make every effort to attend and support all discussions on this issue. From the reports that I have read, there were many thoughtful and diverse perspectives of the effects of the current process and some options mentioned for possible models. I really like one possible option over the others and I want to tell you why.
Here are four options that were discussed, that might serve as models:
Admission Criteria: Performance Based: Grade ranking 45%, state scores, 45% grades, 5% attendance, 5% lateness. These programs are housed in schools that also have zoned or gen ed programs.
*used in District 20
This is essentially a tracked or gifted program within a regular school. This will do nothing to alleviate the students' anxiety of being chosen. There will still be favored programs that will skim the high performers, it will just give it a different name. The schools as a whole may be more diverse (socio-economically and racially) but like many g&t programs at district elementary schools, it is likely that the separate programs will remain primarily racially and socioeconomically segregated. These are the 'smart kids' - these are the 'dumb kids'. Really?!
Admission Process: Lottery - Goal of the school’s admission process is a diverse student body both culturally and socio-economically as well as academically.
*used by Charter Schools
In an ideal world, the same people apply to all the same schools and we have a diverse pool from the district, so a random lottery will provide a diverse group of students. The thing is that you can't control for popularity. Some schools will be popular and some schools will not (remember I said 'popular' and not 'worthy' - there can be a difference). The popular schools will have a pool of stronger candidates and the less popular schools will have a larger pool of struggling students, which will only grow as time goes on. There is no academic benchmark to stem this trend.
Admission Process: Controlled choice - consciously promoting cultural and socio-economic diversity within schools as part of the admissions process, benefits: African American and Latino students perform better when schools are integrated.
*being considered by District 1, currently used in District 13
This is a worthy goal, but difficult to control and I would like a couple examples of models where this has actually worked.
MY FAVORITE BY FAR:
Admission Process: Range of Learners -68% Read at grade level, 16% below grade level, 16% above grade level.
*used by high schools like Edward R. Murrow
I love this model. It is engineered academic diversity. It is also the most like the academic diversity that you would naturally find in a zoned middle school. The added benefit is that a zoned school has the homogeneous racial and socio-economic diversity that the immediate neighborhood represents and this model Does Not. You get the awesome diversity of the district. You engineer the diversity of achievement, so more schools present a worthy model for all performers. These schools will likely have Regents classes for the students on the fast track (that already exist at the popular middle schools - like the AP track classes like Murrow has). The high performers will not be segregated in the same building as in the Superintendent Program. They will be interacting with all the students in the building. Since not all strong readers are strong math students or artists or empathetic or athletic - all students will intermix in classes at many points during the school day and benefit from each other.
I think the trick is to attract a few strong academic kids to each school. Where they go, kids with other talents and strengths will follow, because every parent wants their child to have the opportunity to excel. Segregating the high performers, screws everyone else (and doesn't necessarily benefit them). A lottery or controlled choice program doesn't reward hard work and there are kids who rightly feel that their hard work should be recognized and want to be with other kids who are as focused as they are. If they feel that they can find 'their people' (academically) at any of the schools that they apply to, they may feel that they have more choices. The choice will not be so high stakes because you aren't being chosen for a 'special school' or program. High performing kids who got a bad break will not feel punished. Challenged kids will not feel like pariahs. You will be sorted into a school with the same opportunities that are available at all the other schools.
The problem with this district is not that there are not a very wide variety of worthy programs out there. D15 is loaded with superb and dedicated educators at a very wide variety of schools. It is that some are popular (and thus high performing) and many are not. Being popular is important at middle school and it is also stupid.
The differences of large or small, specific arts programs or language will always be with us and you will never take the 'I want to be with my friends!' calculus out of this process, but if the model is fairly differentiated and wide spread, we have a chance to take cherry picking the chosen children (and the 'everyone else is screwed') out of the process. Also, look at Murrow's racial and socio-economic diversity - they are living the dream. The high performers are not disadvantaged and the more challenged kids have the opportunity to access a wider range of opportunities.
I know that I am talking about an ideal world here, but we need to think pragmatically and not trade one high minded and unworkable model for another. The question is how to make schools equally popular, so the 'choice' loses its sting and everyone is given a chance to succeed.
And one last very important piece:
The choice has to be totally blind. The schools can NOT know how kids have ranked them, so that this ingenious algorithm can work the way the Nobel Laureates intended.