Saturday, August 30, 2014

Strangers Bearing Gifts

Social media was abuzz yesterday with word of a newly-released ranking that Ellicott City and Columbia ranked 3 and 8, respectively, as best suburbs for education in America. As a local blogger I received an email from the creators of the ranking, Movoto, along with a link to their article. My first response was: How did they choose? And, who are they?

It seems that the reponse of most other people was: Woo hoo! look at us! We rate!

Is it possible that we are getting a bit sucked into top ten rankings and click your town to supremacy contests these days? I wonder.

So, to answer my questions:

How did they choose?

  • Student-teacher ratio
  • Money spent per year per student (bolding mine)
  • High school graduation rate
  • rating (based on test scores for the area)
Who are they?

This is Movoto. They are a real estate company. The ranking appears to be a function of their blog. I don't really know anything else about them. I am not here to cast aspersions. But I would ask that folks actually look into the background of groups handing out rankings before accepting their accolades.

If you read the article you will see the words wealthy, affluent, spending, money. Close behind? Test scores, test scores, test scores. Possible conclusion--buy into these affluent suburbs and you will be a part of these high-ranking school systems.

The biggest and most reliable prediction of school failure is poverty. Conversely, higher test scores correlate with higher incomes much of the time. This is why Ellicott City ranks above Columbia--Columbia has a wider spread of household incomes. So what is this ranking really celebrating?

Yay! We have money! We bought expensive houses! Our kids will make the school system look great!

I have been a part of many conversations recently where residents are fed up with schools being defined by test scores. This is not what excellent education is really about. Included in that frustration is the knowledge that realtors reinforce this specious definition by steering families toward affluent areas and away from many Columbia neighborhoods based on test scores alone.

I love our schools. We have incredible teachers doing wonderful work every day. We have beautiful children to challenge, support, inspire. That is worth celebrating.

We don't need a pat on the back from a real estate company. We're bigger than that--aren't we?



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