The myth of the "best school" busted. Glory hallelujah.


I have been sitting in my tiny office spinning with rage about the lazy conversations that I hear around school quality. Let me say right up front this blog is NOT about tweaking equity in admissions at 8th grade. I think schools are better when they are filled with diverse learners and students of every race and class. Period.

This is about something else: how people talk about the elite schools that everyone is focused on. I think that the underlying premise is false and until we understand the schools with a clear eye - WE CAN’T SOLVE THE ULTIMATE PROBLEM of “school quality” which is poverty.

READ THIS ARTICLE from Chalkbeat. It speaks the truth.
”But the findings do underscore a key misconception about why students who attend those schools do well. It’s not because the schools are offering something entirely unique; it’s at least partially because the process selects students who are primed for academic success.”

“In a 2014 study titled “The Elite Illusion,” Pathak and other researchers compared students who just made the cut to attend a test-in school in Boston or New York City and similar students who fell just short. (Notably, the Boston schools, unlike New York City’s, don’t rely exclusively on test scores for admissions decisions.)

The difference in test scores, including on the SAT and Advanced Placement exams, between the two groups was largely nonexistent.

Perhaps more important to parents and students is whether attending one of those household-name schools helps kids get into a better college. The answer, according to a separate study focusing on New York City’s specialized high school graduates between 1994 and 2013, is not really.” - Chalkbeat

Can we acknowledge, that while these schools are good, the reason that everyone thinks that they are the magic ticket is because they are filled with kids who are wildly successful and incredibly hard working already - before they even entered. These kids will continue to be wildly successful as long as they are safe and surrounded by decent teachers. The real trick will be how to create the support, expectations, and opportunities to bring kids who are struggling in poverty, to the place where they can achieve in the same way - at any and every decent school. It is intrinsic to this support, that they feel that with the same effort, they can compete as equals with kids from all backgrounds.

When parents say to me, “Just tell me where the best schools are.” I will not say, because I think ranking schools is fairly ridiculous (sorry US NEWS!) I can tell you where the popular schools with successful kids are. They will be the schools that have low chronic absenteeism. Generally they are affluent schools (but not always!), where the parents have the ability and wherewithal to get their kids to school on time every day. You can’t learn if you are not in school. Prek was a great initiative. The next great movement won’t be sexy. It is making sure that all kids have the support to simply get to school. The Citywide average chronic absenteeism at elementary school is 23% (38% at high school!). Most “successful” schools will have around 5-15% chronic absenteeism. I see many schools in poor neighborhoods with 30-50%. I am not blaming the victim. We need to find a way to support those families (chronic asthma, child care, transportation, safe passage and the expectation and understanding that achievement is possible), to give those kids a chance at real success.