Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership

Lists of the “Best” Schools?

It looks like Boston magazine has published it’s “exclusive” and “proprietary” list of the “best” schools in the area. There’s a laundry list of problems with thinking so simplistically about schools. Rankings like this are what they are — calculations based upon a certain set of measures (but not others).

Flikr: AlaskaTeacher

We have to be careful about what we infer from each measure, the measures as a bundle, and the ones we ought to pay attention to but aren’t noticing. For example, what happens for the kid that struggles? How much is this list really about socioeconomics? In what ways do students learn to care for others or to value justice? There are “highly ranked” high schools where it is possible to graduate having studied Shakespeare’s works all four years or one work (e.g., Romeo and Juliet) four times.

Better yet, here’s some research by some colleagues at The University of Texas about the influences of context and organizational social capital on schooling.

When Consumer Reports provides a list of the safest care seats, we get a sense for the criteria that were selected as important, why, and how they were calculated. That sort of thing is a lot harder to do when it comes to describing the qualities of a good school. My wish is that Boston Magazine had been more judicious in applying their skills and more forthcoming about their limitations. To have the ear of the public is a great gift, and it should be treated with greater solemnity.

My hope is that your comments will continue where I must leave off — there are about a zillion holes easily punched into this thing, but my other deadlines don’t allow me to indulge. What else does this sort of list fail to account for? How does it differ from other forms of accountability? Do these sorts of “proprietary” lists serve a meaningful function?


One comment on “Lists of the “Best” Schools?

  1. Virginia Rangel (@redjetta82)
    September 9, 2012

    In my opinion, it would be worth asking them for their data and then running a basic regression model to see which factors actually matter the most in predicting their ranking. It’s kind of hard to tell from just eye-balling the list, but I imagine that most would correlate pretty well with SES. For example, things such as the number of AP classes offered and the number of activities or clubs is pretty strongly related to family SES and to the amount of resources a school has: it’s hard to have lots of clubs if the school can barely pay for basic technology. I’d be interested to see what factors mattered the most; interested, but probably not surprised.

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This entry was posted on September 9, 2012 by and tagged , .