Monday, March 26, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I am not one of those homeschooling moms who is philosophically opposed to public education. I personally attended public schools from 3rd through 12th grade and feel that I received a decent education. There were certainly things that could've been improved, but on the whole I feel I learned a lot and was well-prepared for college.

Therefore, when we began checking out schooling options last fall for our DD, we started with our neighborhood public school. We live in a nice upper-middle-class suburb on the San Francisco Peninsula populated mainly by highly educated white collar professionals. The median family income in our town is over $105k and only 1.8% of the households fall below the Federal poverty line. The following are the demographic characteristics of the neighborhood public school:

47% Asian
46% White non-Hispanic
5% Hispanic
3% Black

Parental Education:
Graduate/Professional Degree 30%
Bachelor's Degree 43%
Some College 18%
High School Graduate 9%
High School Dropout 1%

Percentage Students Receiving Free/Reduced Price Lunch: 6.5%

Given the school's demographics, I would personally expect the school to have very good standardized test scores. Obviously, there will be a certain number of students at any school who are not going to test at grade level because of learning disabilities or limited English and so on. Still, I would expect in a town such as mine the percentages scoring "proficient" or "advanced" should be in the mid 80's. Instead, almost 1/3 of the kids are below grade level in English and almost 1/4 are behind in Math.

At first, I thought that the English scores might have been artificially depressed by the high percentage of recent Asian immigrants in our town. So, I looked at just the scores of the White non-Hispanic kids. Much to my dismay, they were even *lower* than the overall school averages.

The most telling statistic is that when compared to 100 other schools in California with similar demographics, our neighborhood school scores in the bottom 20%!

Standardized test scores aren't the sole determinant of a school's academic quality, of course. They do not measure whether students are actively engaged in learning. They often promote a dumbed-down "teach to the test" mentality where creative assignments are sacrificed in favor of "drill-and-kill" rote memorization. However, they do provide an objective assessment of certain aspects of student learning. When there's a large gap between where a school ought to be given its demographics and where it actually is, that's a huge "red flag" in my book!

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