Schools Monday: Everybody Loves Report Cards
Ok, they make some kids groan, but somewhere deep inside, many of us crave report cards. How else to explain the penchant adults have for issuing report cards in nearly every aspect of life? Long after we've left school for the last time, we're busy concocting report cards to measure how our employees and managers are doing at work, how our politicians rate, how good local restaurants and shops are at their chosen tasks, and, of course, whether our local schools are up to snuff.
Other than schools themselves, nobody churns out more report cards than the vast industry of analysts, reformers, watchdogs and consultants who hover around the nation's schools like flies on waste. Do such report cards dispense revelatory truths about how our schools are doing? Not really--most often, they confirm what we already know, and yet they are often useful for the same reason that school report cards are such an enduring aspect of education: Give something a grade and suddenly, the institution or individual has a basis for comparison, an incentive to improve, and something to gripe about--all good things.
So, without further ado, today's report cards:
A new study by the D.C.-based Alliance for Excellent Education tells us that just 15 percent of U.S. high schools are responsible for nearly half of the nation's dropouts. The group dubs these troubled schools "dropout factories," which is a nifty device for winning a bunch of press coverage, and indeed that's what's happening here.
The District of Columbia's public schools, it will shock no one to learn, fare poorly by this measure. A depressing three of the 12 high schools the study measured in the District fall into the lowest possible category--schools in which the number of seniors is 60 percent or fewer than the number of freshmen four years earlier. This, according to a Johns Hopkins University study on which the report card is based, is a powerful indicator that these schools will have painfully bad graduation rates. (By comparison, nationwide, about 70 percent of students graduate from high school; for black and Hispanic students, that drops to about 50 percent.)
Be slightly wary of the D.C. numbers because so many kids in inner-city schools move around so often that enrollment figures aren't to be trusted. But the bottom line is nonetheless clear: The schools in question (in Washington, that's Ballou, Woodson and Bell Multicultural high schools) are simply not retaining enough students to even have a shot at graduating an acceptable portion of their kids. And several other D.C. schools are just barely above that very low minimum number.
Over at Education Week, another study assigns grades to the nation's states and the District on everything from teacher accountability to early childhood education, and, once again, as you'd predict, the District comes out at the bottom. Indeed, at the very bottom, scoring a D+. The very best grade in this accounting went to New York state, followed by Massachusetts and then Maryland. Virginia was just a few spots below Maryland, well into the top quarter of states.
In the various sub-categories in this report card, the D.C. schools do almost universally poorly, scoring an F in K-12 achievement, F in college readiness, D+ in keeping kids in school. But wait, there are a couple of bits of light, including a B+ for our relatively stable economy and workforce, and an A for the system's standards. (The study says the D.C. schools are no good at assessing how kids meet those standards, but at least the standards themselves are ok.)
Yet another study, by Achieve Inc., affirms that finding, noting that while the District started later than many other places and has a very long way to go, the D.C. schools are starting to align their high school standards with the expectations colleges and employers have for young people who come their way, and the city is planning to hold high schools responsible for producing graduates who are ready to work in college or at a job.
What these report cards don't show is whether the District's schools are making progress on all these goals at the classroom level, or only in the ambitious plans that tend to fill the shelves in administrators' offices. And all such education studies lag reality by quite some time, so none of these reports take into account whatever changes--good or bad--the new Fenty-Rhee team has produced in their short tenure at the helm.
So, what good are such grades? Again, just like the report cards on which my teachers used to try to get away with a single sentence of comments (do we all show great promise if only we would apply ourselves?), what's important here is incentive--the power of public shaming.
Coming soon to a blog near you: Report cards on the report cards.
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