Education, Random FYI's

Unique Insight Into Schools? Um, No.

Here we go again.

Mere weeks after Newsweek ranked the high school in the district in which I live one of the America’s Top High Schools (see this post for the breathless details), I am notified by my community’s Facebook page that the district’s two elementary schools, Moharimet and Mast Way, made the top 10 (#6 and #5, respectively) of Niche’s Top 50 Elementary Schools in New Hampshire as reported by our local television station, WMUR. (See WMUR’s list here and the full set of Niche’s rankings here.)

While my district’s community page accrues the requisite number of Facebook “Likes,” I immediately start digging. Because I find it strange that the district that my children attend–while home to a great many wonderful educators, but also home to an administration that tried to prevent my husband and I from opting our children out of state-wide testing, as well as home to manilla envelopes that sit in our daughters’ backpacks almost always bursting with corrected worksheets at the end of many a marking period–is ranked so highly on the list, when the district in which I teach–home to a learning community that has devoted itself to educating the whole child in an inquiry-based environment (using as few worksheets as possible!)–is ranked 130th (in the bottom half of the state).

I begin my investigation by focusing on the company that compiled these rankings–Niche–itself. On its About Us page, Niche describes itself as “one of the largest content start-ups in the country.” (Whatever that means.) In the description of their K-12 division, they write that this education-based division offers “unique insight” into schools, both public and private, across the country. “Students and parents can explore millions of reviews and rankings and compare educational outcomes across schools and districts,” they promise.

Great! Educational outcomes are what I–what every parent–is looking for, right? Information about a school and its teachers that can help one understand what a student might learn, might experience, there?

Here is what Niche’s “comprehensive assessment” of the “overall experience” the public schools in NH includes, using the following three uniquely insightful factors:

Factor #1: Academics (contributing 50% to a school’s overall grade). Includes the percentage of students in a school who demonstrated proficiency (or above) on state-wide standardized assessments, a “District Academic Grade” (which itself also includes as part of the grade proficiency rankings on state-wide assessments), and a school’s student-teacher ratio (not to be confused with average class size).

Factor #2: District Overall Experience Grade (contributing 30% to the overall grade). This includes the Niche Academic Grade for a particular school (see above) along with a whole bunch o’ results* from surveys given to a school’s student, alumni, and parent population. (So clearly, schools that have fewer transient families and a greater number of folks who are likely to 1) read a survey, 2) complete said survey, and 3) return said survey to the appropriate party have the advantage here. FYI–I never encountered such a survey in the 10+ years I have lived in this district.)

*Minimum of 11 “unique respondents” required for each district.

Factor #3: Student-Teacher Ratio (contributing 10% to the overall grade). This is the same student-teacher ratio calculation that is included in Factor #1, Academics; again, this is not to be confused with a school’s average class size.

So let me try to break it down for you: these rankings are not based upon any meaningful pedagogical factors–like whether a school’s teachers treat students as fellow learners or as empty vessels to be filled–but largely upon performance on state-wide standardized assessments, performance on those same state-wide standardized assessments (again), survey results of people who read, completed, and returned said surveys, and the ratio of full-time teachers to students (including special education teachers and the like, who are not included in calculations of average class sizes).


That is some unique insight into our public schools, there.



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