What Makes a School Good?

Today we have a visitor on campus. Bill Northrup with the International Center for Leadership in Education is observing and gathering information on our campus. His mission is to gather information from The Academy to add to data already compiled from the Center’s study of Model Schools. The purpose is to improve the best practices and leadership at The Academy while accumulating more data to be shared with other schools – the hope is to improve education as a whole.

He has toured the schools, spoken with administrators and facilitated teacher and student focus groups. His visit today has brought up the topic of what makes a school good? Is it test scores, student opportunities, and/or community support? What about critical thinking, differentiated learning, collegiality?

I find it interesting that with all the buzz about NCLB and holding educators and schools accountable for students success, a recent Gallup Poll reported that, “68% of people said they knew nothing or very little about the 2.5-year-old education law, and 55% said they didn’t know enough to form an opinion of it.” With education in the news so often, I found this statistic somewhat shocking. 20/20 also reported in a recent broadcast entitled Stupid in America, “A Gallup Poll survey showed 76 percent of Americans were completely or somewhat satisfied with their kids’ public school. ” I don’t understand the inconsitency; school districts are always in the media for low test scores, poor attendance and/or low graduation rates. Rarely is a report showcasing high achieving or innovative schools and school districts reported by the media; however, 76% of Americans are happy with their public schools. It just doesn’t add up. Are the schools good or is it simply a case of parental denial?

So, back to the topic… what makes a school good? I would like to think that a good school produces students who are excited about learning. Students who are prepared to take the next step in their education or career. Teachers who enjoy their profession, are dedicated to continual growth and make their curriculum relevant to the students. But how do you measure these attributes of a school? Can you gauge how good a school is by looking at data and touring the school? I am not sure. I am convinced The Academy is a good school. I have visited other schools and spoken with teachers from around the nation and I am proud of what we are doing. Does that make The Academy a good school?

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2 Comments on “What Makes a School Good?”

  1. Defining a “Good” High School and Why The Academy Is One

    Before one can determine what makes a “good” school, one must first decide what the purpose of a school is. More particularly you must decide what the purpose of high school is. Unlike elementary school, high school has no definable set of skills or knowledge that should be taught to everyone. This is precisely where the national and state standards miss the mark. Much of what is tested, and therefore much of what is taught in high schools, is of little or no value to a large percentage of the students.

    By the time students enter high school they have a notion of where their talents and interests lie. The purpose of high school is to give the individual student the set of knowledge and skills that will best serve his or her future success. That set of knowledge and skills is different for each student and therefore the desired outcomes of high school education are at the polar opposite of standardized testing.

    High School is a time for a student to build on his or her strengths. It is a time to set a goal for the future commensurate with those strengths and his or her personal interests. It is a time to explore specific future directions and to launch the student toward a successful future.

    Those of us who know The Academy know that it is a great school because it does precisely these things. But that brings us to the question of measurement and improvement.

    Politicians and many businessmen like measurements than can be expressed numerically. They particularly like an assessment to come down to one number so that schools can quickly be compared. Numbers also provide the illusion of objectivity.

    The is a measurement, often used in business and industry, which could be explored to effectively evaluate a school. That measurement is customer satisfaction. The customers for a high school are its graduates.

    The questions to be addressed in this kind of evaluation system would include;

    How well are the graduates succeeding?

    What part of their high school education has proved most valuable?

    What was missing in their high school education that would have been valuable?

    A well designed system that carefully tracks graduates and seeks there feedback would provide both evaluative information and improvement information for a school. It would establish best practices for achieving the objectives of a high school.

    The first assessment would need to take place one year after graduation. This would primarily measure how well a school has launched its students based on their current employment and education status. It would also provide improvement feedback.

    The same population would be contacted and assessed at a later time, perhaps three or four years after graduation. At that point you would begin to get a picture of how well the high school has provided the students with the skills and knowledge for continuing success. Here again the customers can provide valuable information for improving the school.

    Over time, as the number of graduating classes grew, this system would provide ongoing evaluation and feedback that would give each school comparative data, trending data, and constant improvement.

    John K. Brown
    Retired Educator

  2. astephens Says:

    I appreciate your viewpoint on this issue! It is so unfortunate that as educators so much creedence is given to standardized testing. So many educators feel trapped in a vicious circle of sorts because they may or may not agree with standardized testing but they are held accountable for their students’ scores, so many teachers feel that they must make testing their focus in class. And when testing is the focus of a class, many students lose interest because they do not see the relevance of the information they are being taught.

    One of the reasons I appreciate The Academy so much is because of the specialty areas. Even though students are still required to take and pass the TAKS, they are at least able to study in a career specailization they are interested in. This helps motivates students and allows them to begin to see the relevance of their education.–>

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