Wednesday, May 11, 2016

TUSD's University High is Number One in Local National Merit Scholars! (and That Doesn't Mean a Whole Lot)

Posted By on Wed, May 11, 2016 at 11:02 AM

My "Take it with a grain of salt" graphic is getting a workout lately. I used it when Glenn Hamer, President and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said education is a big winner in the state budget. I used it again with a report saying district schools have higher graduation rates than charter schools. I should have used it when I posted about U.S. News & World Report's Best High Schools list which always puts BASIS schools in the top ten. Sometimes the claims are purposely deceptive (I'm looking at you, Glenn). Other times they're true but don't mean much. Caveat emptor, folks.

Today I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to the nine high school students in the Tucson area who were named National Merit Scholars out of a pool of 15,000 finalists. It's a genuine honor for each individual. All of them should be proud. Their parents should be proud. Their schools should be proud.

But separately and with less applause, I want to note where the students go to school. Over half, five out of nine, go to TUSD's University High. Four other schools have one each: Catalina Foothills High, The Gregory School, BASIS Oro Valley and BASIS Tucson North. That's a pretty spectacular showing for UHS and TUSD, especially considering that Catalina Foothill is the only other school district in the area with even a single student chosen. TUSD and UHS, pat yourselves on the back, take a quick bow and move on.

University High is a collection of the top students from the largest district in Arizona. If it didn't earn academic honors regularly, there would be something wrong. This year a toss of the dice gave them a National Merit bumper crop. If UHS drops to one or two Scholar students next year or even misses the list entirely, it won't mean the school has taken an academic nosedive. Likewise, the BASIS schools attract talented and conscientious students, Catalina Foothills serves the most advantaged students in the Tucson area and the Gregory School is a college prep private school where parents pay big bucks so their children get a quality education with a select group of students. It's no surprise that some students at these schools are academic superstars.

It's natural for parents with high educational aspirations to want their children to go to schools like these, and it's probable that students get a more consistently rigorous, academic, college-prep education than is offered at many other schools. But that doesn't mean they're doing a better job than other schools. My congratulations go to students, parents and staffs at award-winning schools, but my hat is off and my greatest respect goes to those incredibly dedicated, hard working, gifted teachers and administrators who choose to work with the hardest-to-reach students and manage to perform little miracles on a daily basis.

A don't-throw-out-the-research-baby-with-the-bathwater NOTE: The very smart, very savvy people at the National Education Policy Center regularly debunk bad educational research, but they also believe in paying attention to high quality research. I agree. The problem is, most of the research that makes it into newspapers and magazines is shoddy and manipulative. You have to look very hard to find good stuff, and even then, all "conclusions" should be considered works in progress.

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