Rankings important -- but at what cost?
Updated: March 17, 2012 8:10AM
It would be hard not to know about the drug probe issue that has been going on at A.E.Stevenson High recently.
Initially at least one suburban-focused daily newspaper buried the first story on the bottom of page four, a move that brought at least one reader to write to the editor, questioning why something of that importance wasn’t on page one, as is often the case with problems at other local schools. I found his point salient, and would add that while most schools have PR methods in place, SHS is a master at this. Even reading the press about the situation, many remarks were made from sources reiterating the high standing of the school, while details about the investigation were sparse, officials noting it as a private school matter.
But let’s be frank. Whether or not you believe that the problem was glossed over so as not to reflect badly on a school that has worked hard for national recognition, it is a problem that every school struggles with. Matter of fact, I’d guess that most of this activity still goes on today, at every school, and while occasional public airing of the problem may temporarily stifle it, sooner or later the wheels begin to turn once again.
Does it detract from the efforts of each school to try and achieve higher goals? Perhaps in some ways it can. But in spite of what is undoubtedly a common problem around this area, we still have an abundance of top notch, high-achievement schools. What concerns me sometimes is the conflict between that recognition of achievement and whether it causes a mindset to downplay these problems as they come up, rather than face them head-on, publicly, so that we can all be part of the solution. Awareness is crucial, and it was amazing to me during my time in Parent CATS at Libertyville High School just how much in denial some of us can be about teen problems like substance abuse. Are we just clueless Pollyannas? Or do we worry that our much-sought-after rankings will be affected by acknowledging and addressing these difficult and messy issues?
I don’t think high schools can be solely blamed for that potential conflict. In a recent article, a well-known college in California accepted the resignation of an official who admitted falsifying data in order for the college to appear at the highest possible ranking in US News & World Report’s list of America’s best colleges. Matter of fact, the news report documented several colleges nationwide that find ‘creative’ ways to achieve higher rankings. And of course the trickle-down effect goes to the nation’s high schools, who have students that want to get into these colleges, often at least partly based on their rankings.
To take it one step further, local middle schools now have to spend a good chunk of time preparing their students for the high school placement tests, in order to yes you guessed it, place their students high enough to fit the standards of the high school.
Now please don’t misunderstand, I’m certainly not saying achievement goals aren’t important. I’m only tossing out for consideration the possibility that we’ve become so obsessed with good numbers that we’ve sacrificed other important lessons as a result. What’s your take on this?
Send email to Pat Lenhoff at: email@example.com .