Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Another School Ranking. The Same Old Story.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2016 at 2:24 PM

Here's yet another national school ranking reported on in this morning's Star with expected, if a bit eccentric results. A company,, founded by some Carnegie Mellon University students over a decade ago, has developed a rating system for all the public schools in the country, district and charter. Here's the national list, and here's the Arizona top 100 ranking. Some schools are missing, I think because the company didn't have all the necessary data.

The rankings are approximate at best. Any company that tries to rate all schools across the country has to be using a crude instrument that takes a few variables and crunches them into some kind of formula. uses factors like academics, health & safety, student culture & diversity, teachers, extracurriculars and sports to generate a number. High score wins.

But, crude though the rankings may be, they're pretty predictable. The Arizona top ten tend to be districts in high rent areas and charters with selective student bodies. Chandler Preparatory Academy in number one. It's part of the Great Hearts charter school chain, with schools parked in affluent areas which have a variety of ways to make sure they have select student bodies—except for one Great Hearts school in a less affluent area which, no surprise, isn't nearly as highly rated as the others. BASIS Scottsdale is number two, a school that the U.S. News & World Report's high school rankings left out because its student body was too selective to be included.

Catalina Foothills district comes in fourth. Other Tucson-area districts making the top ten are Amphitheater, Vail and Tanque Verde.

Here we have yet another ranking which reinforces the idea that "successful" schools have students who have been groomed for academic success by their socioeconomic status, and "less successful" schools have students who are lower on the socioeconomic ladder. What that's saying, basically, is that the students are more or less successful, not the teachers or the administration or the curriculum or the facilities. Unless, of course, you think that the faculty, administration and curricula at schools in high rent areas are vastly superior —emphasis on "vastly" — to those in poorer areas. They would have to be vastly superior to create such consistent disparities without a lot of help from the students who walk through the schoolhouse doors.

TUSD is number 34, just below the top third of ranked districts and charters, above Marana, at 41, and Sahuarita, at 49. Why is TUSD ranked comparatively higher than those other districts? Maybe the district is more successful than the nay sayers believe, or maybe the ranking system is such a blunt instrument that it can't be taken very seriously. Maybe it's a combination of the two factors.

Rankings like these are valuable for parents who want to live in districts where the families are affluent and the schools produce lots of students who end up at high-ranked colleges. That's why the rankings pages are sponsored by a real estate website. But they're worthless, even harmful, if they're used by education critics to say something about the quality of the staff and instruction. Anyone who asks, "Why can't TUSD at 34 or Sunnyside at 93 be as good as Catalina Foothills or Vail?" and blames TUSD and Sunnyside districts for their lower rankings is either misinformed about how education works or a politician with an agenda.

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