My wife was talking to some mothers the other day about public versus private school. She's worked as a K-2 teacher in both settings for years and as I listened on, something she said really caught my ear.
Overall, she believed, administration at private schools were all about teaching to the top. Push it, set a rigorous pace and work your best students long and hard. That was the mantra. The rest will catch up -- or at least follow along. Kids in private school, that's what they do - top work. And this is what parents expect.
In public schools, she notes that it was all about the low end kids. Get them caught up. Raise the bottom. Sure, work to serve the middle and the high but the "top kids" they were not the ones who were to get the oomph
. The ones who lacked the most were the ones that were supposed to be offered the most.
Private worked one way; public the other. Quite telling indeed.
--Which is right?
--Can both realistically be done?
--Can a school raise the bottom while simultaneously teaching to the top?
--Can a school teach to the top while simultaneously raising the bottom?
Theoretically, lots of folks -- especially people running for some sort of political office --will say both can be done. But in practice, I am not sure I really see it accomplished all too often.
Me, I do believe -- like my wife -- that most schools choose and, whether it's resources, intentions or merely the nature of the beast, it's rare to find a campus that accomplishes excellence at both ends of the scale, for both the top and for the bottom. (Maybe excellence is too strong a word. Simple okay-ness might be a better word choice.) They either, as a campus, really do well by the top kids or, as a campus, spend a heck of a lotta time working to serve the "low" kids.
And doing that well is hard enough. Few of us really knock it out of the park on this front... or rather, I should say, not enough of our schools do.
And so, the question is, top or bottom?
Well, if you look at the way that NCLB rewards a school's test score data, it's a no brainer. Elevate the bottom and you are rewarded. That's where all schools get the most bang for the buck. Seek out the lowest achievers and make them higher achievers. Do that and your scores go up.
Have the top kids perform at an even higher level and... you really will not see much of an increase.
Now Arne Duncan seems to realize this and has thus put forth Race to the Top. It's a GREAT notion. However, unless they change the formula of evaluating our academic institutions, we'll still see more schools look to the floor before the ceiling.
Which groups gets most of the dialogue around your campus?
You want the top or the bottom? Welcome to America's bunk bed educational mentality