How good are our schools? One way to answer this question appears in this month’s cover story. The method that we use, which was developed by a nonprofit organization known as Just for the Kids, is to gather data, analyze it, and establish a basis for an objective comparison. These rankings provide more information about the performance of individual schools than has ever been available before.
But there is another way to look at schools: not objectively but subjectively. This is the way most parents look at them. Do you have the feeling that your school is a place where your children can get what they need, whatever that might be? Does it care about their success? Are they learning what they need to know? Or are they falling through the cracks? If the answers to these questions are unacceptable, then it doesn’t matter to you where your school shows up in the rankings. Far too many families have been getting the wrong answers, not just in Texas but all across America.
The idea that schools fail us is not a new one. Plato lamented it. So did Leo Tolstoy: “The need of education lies in every man,” the novelist wrote in the 1860’s about his experiences as a teacher. “The people love and seek education, as they love and seek the air for breathing; the government and society burn with the desire to educate the masses, and yet, notwithstanding all the force of cunning and the persistency of governments and societies, the masses constantly manifest their dissatisfaction with the education which is offered to them… .”
I have spent enough time around public schools for the past thirteen years to know that what Tolstoy says is still true. The eldest of my three children graduated from high school earlier this year; a senior and a sophomore remain. I have been a PTA co-president with my wife and have served on the campus advisory council ( CAC) at two schools. As my kids were getting an education, so was I, of a different sort. I was learning about how schools really work.
It will take both the objective, data-based approach and the subjective approach to fix what is wrong with our schools. The objective way is critical because it provides a benchmark that indicates how much students at a particular school are learning—and