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Dear Neighbors,

What's a good school?  And how do you know?

How you answer may affect where you choose to live, send your children, or teach.

How we answer as a state can affect the future of children, teachers, schools, and communities. 

There are a lot of ways to rank schools. 

This week Niche listed the "Top 100 Public High Schools in Massachusetts."  You may be surprised.

It's quite different from Boston Magazine's "Best Public High Schools in Greater Boston."

That's because both rankings include MCAS scores -- but also other things.  Both include graduation rate and sports.  Niche includes lots of other data, including diversity, and parent and student surveys on food, school culture and safety, administration, and other topics. 

And US News produces a ranking different from either of those, again largely based on test scores, with some adjustment for demography.

The Mass. Department of Education ranks schools and places them in levels based mostly on standardized test scores, which in turn correlate highly with parental income and education. This ranking determines which districts are in the "bottom 20%" or Level 3.
Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has the discretion to choose schools from among those at level 3 for drastic intervention, but he usually defends this decision with test scores.

Rankings that purport to measure school quality are very different, depending on what the rankers think school quality consists of.


The Board of Education is taking comments through March 9 on their plans to change how they rank schools. This is in response to new opportunities offered by the 2016 federal Every Child Succeeds Act. 

Here is a link to plan highlights, an executive summary, and the 121-page plan that will be submitted to the federal government.  The accountability section starts on page 15.  And the details are important.

You can offer your comments here.

Ranking systems may appear scientific, but they don't reflect what most people want in a school.

At a charter school gala, a trustee said he knew it was a great school because when he walked in he saw the children and teachers working hard and smiling.

When I ask people what they want to see their children learn, they say things like: love of learning, getting along with others, thinking for themselves, being creative, expressing themselves in writing and speech...


When our granddaughters’ school had a year-long redesign process, parents and teachers chose as our themes: Joy, Excellence, Creativity, and Openness.


When the Mass. Business Alliance for Education asked business leaders what changes they wanted to see in schools, they asked for more emphasis on applied skills and less emphasis on teaching to the test.

Are there better ways to judge schools? Is it even meaningful to rank all the schools in the state on a single dimension? Why do we need to rank schools at all? 
Do it yourself!
A few years ago, Holy Cross professor and Somerville resident Jack Schneider created a "Dream School Finder," published in the Boston Globe.  The tool allows you to weight available data and then rank schools according to your own values.

What you told me
Last year, I reported on responses by readers of this newsletter to a poll about how to assess schools, and compared them to a national poll.

I'll be writing soon about how some districts are trying new ways to measure school quality and student learning. Meanwhile, let me know your ideas.
Copyright © 2017 Committee to Re-Elect Pat Jehlen
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