How Not to Pick a School

Brigid Schulte, via a reader:

We are a white, middle-class family. Our children attend our neighborhood public school, Mount Vernon Community School, two blocks from our house in Alexandria. The student body is 55 percent Hispanic, 22 percent black and 19 percent white. More than 60 percent of the children are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. More than 40 percent speak a language other than English at home. And the test scores, while passable, aren’t among the school district’s best.
It’s a school with the kind of statistics that can so unnerve some white, middle-class parents that they move to mostly white areas — or spend tens of thousands of dollars on private schools.
Last week, I held the PTA open house for parents of prospective students. I posted the announcement on our neighborhood e-mail group list. I received some enthusiastic responses from people who know parents with children already at the school. And I also got this one: “We are in the process of starting the research. I am plowing through the state website with the test results now so I will see how this school compares.” The writer mentioned two other schools she was considering, schools with more white kids and higher test scores.

The Civil Rights Project.

2 thoughts on “How Not to Pick a School”

  1. This is a terrific article. Everyone should read it. The following quotes are especially important:
    “Test scores are an indicator. But what are they an indicator of? The education of the parents and the wealth of the community. They’re not an indicator of how good the school is,” said Gary Orfield, an education researcher with Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project. “People move their kids from the inner suburbs to the outer suburbs on the belief that it’s going to help their test scores a lot. But being in schools with kids of different backgrounds with low test scores will have no impact on middle-class scores. And it could have a positive impact — fostering an understanding of society, being able to collaborate effectively across racial and ethnic lines. That’s the tragedy.”
    “Middle-class white professionals are the people who have the least to worry about, whose kids have the best connections, the greatest chance for opportunity and the best social capital,” Orfield said. “And they are most frightened by diversity.”
    That’s exactly what I’ve seen here in Madison. People move to the suburbs having convinced themselves that it has something to do with the quality of education when it really doesn’t….if people really cared about quality they would stay in the Madison schools. People are frightened by diversity. I know Ed will disagree, but given the demographics of our students, MMSD does a very good job of educating kids. Are there some problems and could we do better? Of course, and there are lots of us who continue to challenge the district to improve. We just shouldn’t forget that test scores are more a measure of the demographics of the student body than they are of the quality of the schools.

  2. A truly successful school district should be able to overcome socioeconomic status and provide academic success for all kids. That’s my definition of a “very good job.”

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