What ‘Good School’ really means
December 28, 2012 11 Comments
I was recently reminded again of my hopeless befuddlement over the entire concept of ‘Good Schools’. I was in a conversation about places to live and I mentioned maybe moving from to [city in a county that always shows up in top-10 or -20 of 'wealthiest counties'] to [other city a couple miles away in the same county & closer to work] wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
What was the response?
“No, no, you don’t want to live there! The schools are much worse. Much better where you are. Or you could move to [top 5 wealthiest county].”
Again: same county!
The more I think about statements like these the less I am able understand just what the heck ‘Good Schools’™ is supposed to mean. I mean, tangibly.
I know that I’ve never sat down and studied this whole issue of ‘school quality’ before deciding to live somewhere (because I’m a terrible parent, clearly), but I’m pretty sure that if I randomly sat in on like a third-grade class in a school in the ‘Bad Schools’ area I’m talking about vs. one in the ‘Good Schools’ areas, I wouldn’t be able to notice a dime’s worth of difference. Group activities to work on xeroxed worksheets. Random art on the classroom walls. Stuff about how recycling is good. Reasonably-energetic and conscientious female or gay-male teacher (aside from some of the older don’t-care-anymore teachers, who can be found equally in ‘Good Schools’). Doing dubiously-useful stuff on computers. Recess. Kid politics.
I know it’s been a while since I’ve been in school myself, but just what are the super-special amazing things going on in the ‘Good Schools’ that make them so ‘Good’? I literally can’t even picture it. Are they learning Algebraic Topology instead of Multiplication in their math class? Are they getting one-on-one editorial and career guidance in writing their first novels, instead of answering ‘compare and contrast’ questions about snippets of abridged versions of, like, Sounder? In science class are they writing turbulence-simulation iPod apps or building quantum computers instead of making posters of The Greenhouse Effect that show a big circular arrow going from the sky to ground and back?
Seriously, if you’re one of these people who believes in this mythical thing everyone talks about called ‘Good Schools’, could you please tell me in specific terms just what in the heck you are talking about?
The immediate answer I suppose is that a ‘Good School’ is just a school that performs slightly better (like 99 percentile instead of 97-98) on some boring aggregate statistics such as Average Class Size or Average Test Score Increase From One Year To The Next. Again, I have never actually bothered to look at such things (again: terrible parent), but I can totally imagine that the Average Class Size where I live is, like, 23.7 whereas in the Bad School place 3 miles away it’s 24.4. And similar for Test Score type measures.
The problem is, if that’s what people have in mind with this Good School/Bad School obsession, that’s just retarded! Seriously, you’re going to decide where you live based on some average statistics about schools you read somewhere? Averages are nice and all, and I can understand if the differences people are talking about were huge and material, but above some baseline threshold surely the idiosyncratic/personal attributes of your own kids, yourselves, your family life, etc., would dwarf any such Average Effect Of Schools. I mean, as long as the schools are above some baseline, why sweat it? That just strikes me as a totally silly and disproportionate way to make decisions about things.
Yet everyone seems to! Or at least, they talk as if they do. And I don’t actually think all those people are stupid. But I do think the ’23.7 vs 24.4′ model of the Good Schools/Bad Schools paradigm doesn’t add up. There is no way that can actually be the motivator. So what is it then?
To be frank, I think it’s just race. A ‘Good School’ is a school that has only a few non-Asian minorities; a ‘Bad School’ is one with noticeably-many of them. All these test scores and class sizes people pretend to be dwelling on (which make little sense on their own as important highly-sensitive measures of School Goodness) are just interpreted by parents/homebuyers as proxies for race. Probably correctly, too, more or less. In any event, there is often no other way for parents to get access to the data they’re really interested in, so it’s just as well to be using these stats. In fact, I may go ahead and look them up myself now.