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How some of nation’s ‘top schools’ can end up on state’s ‘failing’ list

Today’s post is a modest expansion on something that turned up on Twitter: Three of the nine Minnesota schools that made Newsweek’s top 500 are also on the list of schools that are failing, according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Let’s pause to offer a wholesale shout-out to the Minnesota Progressive Project blogger responsible, who identifies himself or herself simply as Alec, a teacher.

Edina ranked highest on the list, at 76th nationwide; Mahtomedi second at 158; Lakeville North at 178; Century in Rochester at 210; followed closely by Eden Prairie at 213; St. Louis Park Senior at 248; Andover at 364; Apple Valley at 451 and Inver Grove Heights’ Simley at 478.

The losers: Century met 94.4 percent of the requirements for showing adequate yearly progress, but failed because not enough African-American students scored as proficient in math. The 1,500-student school graduated almost 99 percent of its mostly middle-class and affluent seniors.

Simley Senior High met 88 percent of AYP requirements but failed to produce passing test scores among Latinos in reading and special-education students in math. One-fourth of the school’s 1,100 students are low-income; its graduation rate is nearly 97 percent.

Andover Senior High in the Anoka-Hennepin district met almost 87 percent of AYP requirements, failing to produce adequate test scores from its special-education students. Only 12 percent of the school’s 1,600 students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches; 99.5 percent of its seniors graduate.

Leaders of some of Minnesota’s top-ranked school districts predicted results like these back when NCLB first became the law of the land. It was, they posited, just one more reason why the rush to pin more and more education policies on high-stakes tests was shortsighted at best.

Alec goes them one better: It’s also meaningless. Most schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress face an escalating series of consequences. But none of the three programs are at risk of suffering the financial consequences that accompany bombing out under NCLB. The law, which is up for renewal and by extension one of Congress’ hotter potatoes, punishes slackers by taking away Title I funds, which are not doled out to affluent schools.

I had given up looking at the lists of top schools and institutions of higher education that drive newsstand sales for the national glossies. Whenever I did, I’d wonder why the schools made the list. Best according to whom or by what measure? Best for all kids or just the pocket-protector set? Or, more typically, best for all kids or just the wealthy ones?

I can’t tell you how many precious hours I lost reading the agate type under the lists’ “methodology” headings. Did you know the U.S. News and World Report law school rankings are based in part on the number of volumes in schools’ libraries? I suppose the amount of good the graduates go out and do in the world is hard to put on a spreadsheet.

In compiling its list, Newsweek used to lean heavily on the number of students taking Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses and exams. I’ve written critically about this in the past, noting that Minneapolis’ Southwest High School has been a perennial winner because of this. Of course, up until recently Southwest was the only Minneapolis high school offering costly IB programming, which relatively few students do more than sample.

And I’ve noted that using a rubric designed to measure how well a school serves all of its students, U.S. News in 2008 named MPS’ Patrick Henry one of the nation’s top high schools.

Newsweek recruited a decorated panel of education policy types to overhaul its methodology: Teach for America Founder Wendy Kopp; Open Education Solutions’ Tom Vander Ark, onetime Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation executive director for education; and Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford professor of education, author of The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future” and campaign education adviser to Barack Obama.

The new methodology ranks schools using a formula designed to gauge a school’s ability to turn out college- and life-ready graduates. The new formula: graduation rate (25 percent); college matriculation rate (25 percent); AP tests taken per graduate (25 percent); average SAT/ACT scores (10 percent); average AP/IB/AICE scores (10 percent) and AP courses offered (5 percent).

Show yourself, Alec, and there’s a MinnPost yard sign in it for you.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Joel Gingery on 06/28/2011 - 02:58 pm.

    In his recent book, “Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,”
    Daniel Pink describes the three requirements for internal motivation: “…the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive – our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to live a life of purpose,” (autonomy, mastery and purpose). (p.145)

    The difference is significant. Take goals for example. Of the two types of goals, Performance goals – getting an ‘A’ in French class – and a learning goal – being able to speak French – only learning goals lead to mastery.

    The new formula to rank schools includes only performance goals. It encourages external motivation, carrot-and-stick reward-punishment behavior. Performance goals are good for solving relatively straightforward problems, but often inhibit children’s ability to apply concepts to new situations.

    Students with learning goals score significantly higher on novel challenges, work longer and try more solutions.

    “The science shows that “if-then” rewards – performance goals – not only are ineffective in many situations, but also can crush the high-level, creative, conceptual abilities that are central to current and future economic and social progress.”

    While I deeply respect Linda Darling-Hammond, the above criteria to gauge schools relies entirely on performance goals, not learning goals. These criteria tend to steer schools, teachers, students, etc., toward external motivation rather than internal motivation. You might imagine their affect on independent learning.

    This is not the only anomaly of our school ‘system,’ that steers it away from creative, independent, responsible, and thoughtful education. We must have the courage to look behind the rhetoric and evaluate the substance so we and our children can help create the education they deserve and require.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/28/2011 - 03:22 pm.

    Allow me to recommend a thin little volume from Heinemann ( by Alfie Kohn, titled “The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools.” It’s more than a decade old now, but still relevant, and at 66 pages, it’s not going to take a week to read. Not every issue raised by Beth’s piece will be solved in its pages, but several of the primary ones are addressed.

    I should add that good performance on standardized tests by students from middle-and-upper-class households should not surprise anyone at this stage of the ongoing debate over the value of testing. Socioeconomic status remains the single most reliable predictor of academic performance in almost any permutation, including that of the standardized test. The trick is to find ways to increase the academic performance of children from households that are NOT middle and upper class. Standardized tests do nothing to make that improvement more likely.

  3. Submitted by David Peterson on 06/28/2011 - 04:20 pm.

    Clearly there are many flaws in the NCLB system, it does speak to the issues surrounding the “best” schools in the state. What came first, the good teachers, or the good students or the good resources?

    Very cool to see Patrick Henry when the data shows they students who are less likely to graduate in the first place due to circumstances which are not measures in these other polls.

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 06/29/2011 - 09:13 am.

    Consider this perverse consequence of NCLB: Schools are rated by their WORST subset of students – even if it is very small. In what other area of society is that done? If there are three or four “bad” doctors within a medical system of thousands of doctors and nurses, would we consider that a “failed” institution? If an airline had one or two pilots who once piloted drunk would we judge the entire airline as a failure? If a law firm with hundreds of lawyers had one or two who were unethical would we consider it a failure?

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