What really makes a good school “good”?

education, schools, connecticut schoolsIt seems a little weird that schools within the same state are labeled “good” or “bad” when the standards for qualified teachers are the same throughout the state. It’s not like the “bad” schools are full of incompetent, poorly educated teachers—often, these schools get the teachers fresh out of college who are taught all the latest methods, and I would think that most new teachers are eager to make a difference.

Could one of the biggest factors in whether or not a school is “good” have nothing to do with the school itself? Maybe it’s who goes to the school—the students and their families.

Most people want their kid to attend a good school. A lot of parents are willing to pay a premium for this. People who care about education tend to be well-educated themselves, or grew up with parents who cared about education. This education leads to a higher average income, which gives parents a choice to live in more expensive, more desirable towns.

Well-educated parents may be more confident in their own teaching abilities too, making them eager to help their kids with their schoolwork.

When a town gets a reputation for good schools, it attracts parents like those mentioned above. The whole town, on average, cares more about education, thus producing better students.

As a side effect, demand for housing in the town rises, attracting (possibly more educated) higher-income parents. Even people who don’t have kids in school prefer to make their home where there is a good school.

Meanwhile, let’s look at the less desirable towns with lower-performing schools. Overall student test scores may be lower because a higher percentage of parents in the town don’t speak English as their primary language. Imagine teachers trying to keep up with those “good” schools when the only time their students speak English is in the classroom. Or, lower income parents may have to work long hours, or maybe they just don’t feel equipped to help their kid with their schoolwork.

So, if schools are worse or better because of parents and students, what does this mean? If the school functions better anyway, what difference does it make? Having focused students and supportive parents makes a classroom operate better, so why worry about this situation?

The problem lies outside the school—where towns and state governments are constructing policy. Approaching policy and funding decisions from a “the school is the problem” standpoint results in bad policies like standardized testing and teaching methods, which can exacerbate problems for certain school systems.

Can you really use standardization to “fix” a “bad” school when it may only be “bad” because well-educated parents who care about schooling and can afford to choose where they live pick an already good school over a lesser one?

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