With all the various programs designed to recognize those who have been compliant with reformster requirements or those who have successfully offered control of their organization in return for Big Buck, are there any programs that recognize actual excellence in schools?
The answer is yes.
The National Education Policy Center is an invaluable piece of the great education debates, providing solid scholarship and a keen eye to cut through the baloney. Run out of the University of Colorado Boulder, these folks a dedication to truth, accuracy, and public education to the table.
They have harnessed all that into the Schools of Opportunity program, a program that seeks "to identify and recognize excellent public high schools that actively
strive to close opportunity gaps by engaging in practices that build on
students’ strengths, thereby creating engaging and supported learning
opportunities for all their students." Yes, look at that. Building on students' strengths instead of beating every square peg into a pre-determined round hole. And all students-- not just the worthy strivers and deserving few.
The project is directed by Kevin Welner, of the UCB School of Education, and Carol Burris, former NY principal and current Executive Director of the Network for Public Education. It is funded by the Ford Foundation and the NEA Foundation. And it will select a school that serves at least grades 10-12 based on the following criteria:
* Create and maintain healthy school culture
* Broaden and enrich school curriculum
* Provide more and better learning time during the school year and summer
* End disparities in learning opportunities created by tracking and ability grouping
* Use a variety of assessments designed to respond to students needs
* Reassessed student discipline policies
* Support teachers as professionals
* Meets the needs of students with disabilities in an environment that balances challenge and support
* Address key health issues
* Build on strength of language minority students and correctly identify their needs
* Wise use of technology, and access to internet and libraries
Does that not sound like a school you would want to teach at or send your child to?
Last year the program was piloted in New York and Colorado, yielding five gold recognition schools and eleven silver recognition schools. These were noted with a small flourish in the media, including recognition in Valerie Strauss's Answer Sheet blog. It will not make the school rich or famous, but it will give it recognition for doing the right thing in an age where recognition seems to come only for super-duper test scores or some sort of bogus "Best of" list based on bogus measures and run by amateurs.
States are also busy ranking schools based on all the wrong things (how much product did you buy from the College Board?) and soaking them in VAM sauce.
There are so many bad metrics out there, metrics that have nothing to do with the actual quality of a school, metrics that simply use results of bad standardized assessment as a proxy for everything we want in a school. It is great to see somebody recognizing schools that achieve actual excellence.
The application is simple, and anyone can nominate their school, including administrators, teachers and students. If you don't think your school is quite there, then keep an eye peeled for the results (I'll help) because the list of recognized schools will act as an exemplar for all of us, a chance to hold something up and say, "This-- this is what I want us to look like!"
Schools of Opportunity is a hugely valuable program, not just for the schools that are recognized, but for everyone in the ed biz who is looking for real examples of real excellence to follow while we all try to navigate our way through a field crowded with reformy baloney. Thanks, NEPC, for doing the heavy lifting and providing something we all need-- a guide to real models of educational excellence.