While I was away for a few days, an interesting conversation took place between Jay Matthews, author of the Washington Post “Class Struggle” blog, and Pat Bassett, head of the National Association of Independent Schools or NAIS.
The exchange grew out of Matthews’ earlier column in which he accused private schools of hiding data that parents need in order to make informed decisions while calling for more transparency from the private schools:
Matthews is a “school ranker.” Bassett is not.
I get where both men are coming from and I applaud Matthews for trying to give his rankings some nuance by creating what he calls his “Challenge Index.”
It’s a worthwhile read that I won’t recap here. I certainly recommend it:
However, I think Matthews misses the fact that private school is as much about creating an environment in which a particular type of student does well as it is about academic rigor. This is what we call “school fit.”
What school is the best for a particular student? It’s the school that can meet the student where he/she stands on the day they arrive and grow the student the furthest from that point until their last day at the school.
For some students, that may be a school loaded with science and math classes. For some students, it may be a school with strong performing arts. For other students it may be a school with a robotics program. For others, it may be a competitive lacrosse program. The list goes on.
Data points can’t tell you what each student needs in terms of his/her education.
Here’s my recent anecdote to add to the conversation.
I know a student- a thirteen year old eighth grade boy- who’s not doing as well as he could be in school- not failing, just not achieving like he might.
The reasons are complex, but many grow out of the fact that he’s in a large junior high school where, recently, much of the teacher hiring has been done on the basis of academic credentials rather than a teacher’s ability to reach and communicate with junior high school students. Several teachers have come and gone. The classes are large and he receives little direct interaction/direction/feedback from the adults.
Change of scenery- the same student in an independent school classroom- with a much smaller classes and lots of direct interaction with the teacher (veteran junior high school teachers) performs much better.
This boy does better when the adults interact with him- providing feedback and direction.
The type of school that best fits this student isn’t to be found in the data.
I suggest that Matthews, turn to a simple question that we tell families to ask every private school admission office as they work through the application process:
“What type of student does well in your school?”
Think about all the different kinds of schools and all of the different kinds of students.
This question, and the subsequent answer, can help a family move further in choosing a school for their son or daughter than virtually any point in a data field.