You want the top or the bottom? America's bunk bed educational mentality.

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.

Views: 36

Comment by Jessica Eitzen on January 22, 2010 at 7:48am
My school definitely looks to the bottom. All of our programs we've implemented are designed to benefit our lowest students.
Comment by Cassy Holzhauer on January 22, 2010 at 9:06am
I think that my school would fall into the category of looking to the top, as evidenced by the entrance exam required to get in. My experience though is that even if students pass the exam they might have come from a less rigorous public elementary school and struggle once they get here. As a private school, it is also a smaller setting and those students who need more attention can get it easily. Also, since it was the choice of their parents to make the sacrifices to pay tuition and send them here, there is very often a high parental involvement in the student's education. With a variety of tracks for math, science, english, and history students can challenge themselves in their strengths and maybe get extra help with their weaknesses. It is truly a very encouraging and optimistic community where everyone, faculty, staff, administration, and parents care deeply about the education (of both academics and character) of these students.
Comment by Alan Sitomer on January 22, 2010 at 9:45am
Cassy, I want to send my daughter to your school! Sounds like a really great place.
Comment by Michelle Kepple on January 24, 2010 at 10:32am
Alan, thank you for this thought! I have noticed that majority of the public schools don't nurture the 'high' students enough. I feel that there should be a way to evaluate our schools more appropriately. Districts should recongnize how many students increased their learning rather than how many students are now 'on level'.

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