Quality vs. exclusivity: Understanding Heights schools

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Photo Oct 21, 11 12 38 AMTen years ago, it was pretty easy to see the scientific flaws in the State of Ohio’s school ratings: no valid test samples, no comparison of pre-test and post-test, no time-series tracking of student results over the years, meaningless descriptions for the attainment levels—basically, no way of telling which schools were having what effects on their students.

Instead of scientifically based conclusions, essentially they said Panama is more effective than Canada because it’s warmer. Since that time, the state has managed not to fix those flaws, but to bury them under a hopelessly tangled mess of complexity that no one can decipher (while shamelessly declaring the system is easier to understand because they have affixed the “simple” grade ratings of A, B, C, D and F). Incredible. If it weren’t already 2016, you’d swear it was 1984 (George Orwell’s that is).

In the absence of reliable guidance from the state, though, how is a Heights resident supposed to understand the public school system? The first step in a place like this, whose schools serve a pretty diverse population, is to differentiate quality from exclusivity.

The easiest way for a school to get its average scores up is to limit the student body to those who are likely to score well. Private schools can do that by limiting admission and requiring incoming students to pass a high testing bar, and public schools can do it by being located in exclusive places where only families whose kids are likely to score higher can afford to live. Exclusivity makes the numbers look good, but isn’t there some virtue to being inclusive as well?

The Cleveland Heights-University Heights school system is not exclusive—it admits and teaches students coming from a wide range of economic, cultural, and educational backgrounds.

Young parents might wonder if such a setting would allow their own child to thrive, and the answer is certainly yes—particularly if the parents remain actively involved.

Heights High, for example, is more like a strong state university than a nurturing liberal-arts college in that there are great resources but it falls largely to the individual student to take advantage of what is available. That can help train students to be self-sufficient and to motivate themselves to identify and take advantage of opportunities, but it can also allow a quiet “get along” kid to sort of fly under the radar.

Often, parents and teachers can see that happening and work to engage the student. If that doesn’t work, we are fortunate to live in a place with a lot of fine school options—the public, private, and parochial schools each have particular advantages, and because our housing is relatively inexpensive, many families can come up with the means to try those options and find the best match for each kid. It’s not unusual for people to end up using a combination of public and private options.

Ultimately, the best way to find out about the public or private schools is to talk to families who use or have used them (not by reading online comment sections and not by overhearing gossip in the grocery store).

Our own two kids recently went all the way through the public system (Canterbury–Wiley–Heights High). One was a National Merit semifinalist, the other an accomplished musician at Heights and a much-awarded double-degree student at Ohio State. Both are college grads; one is working and living on his own in CH, the other is in graduate school in Finland studying genetic epidemiology.

Many of their peers who graduated with them are accomplished in a variety of fields. And sorry, it just doesn’t stand to reason to say every good academic outcome is because of the home situation and every bad outcome is the fault of the schools.

Student success usually requires strong parenting AND strong schools—and the student needs to be reasonably motivated, too. Since good results such as these obviously do not happen in a weak school system, one must conclude that the state’s ratings continue to fail in their obligation to provide relevant, actionable information.

Without a complete re-working of the methodology, the state might as well save all the time and money and aggravation expended on the report cards and just give the highest ratings to the districts that serve the wealthiest student bodies, because there is no better predictor of student scores than family income. See this recent published study.

If the state really wants to make a difference in the quality of education in Ohio—no matter what the income level of the students—then there’s an even more fundamental question to ask than why we don’t have valid tests and interpretations: What is the point of the report cards?

The primary effect and evident purpose of the state’s school rankings has not been to improve educational outcomes, but to encourage residential migration in pursuit of “good schools.” This is despite the fact that the tests produce valuable precise data about how individual students are doing in different subject areas.

Why throw away that value by unscientifically lumping scores together to make contests between communities? Why doesn’t the state instead use the individual test data to identify which students need what help in what academic areas, and contribute state resources (monetary or state-employed staffing) to help those students, no matter what schools they attend?

In other words, don’t use the test data to contrive a contest to pick winners and losers among communities—use it to help kids learn. THAT would be a responsible and effective use of test data, and an appropriate way for the State of Ohio to stand behind its stated commitment to education.

 

Comments

  1. Garry Kanter says

    So why do so many people in the CH-UH district continue to insist – at great expense to their neighbors – that grossly overspending makes a difference in the educational outcomes of our students?
    Please, vote NO on Issue 109.
    ———
    “Without a complete re-working of the methodology, the state might as well save all the time and money and aggravation expended on the report cards and just give the highest ratings to the districts that serve the wealthiest student bodies, because there is no better predictor of student scores than family income. See this recent published study.”

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