I’m off again on a short vacation, but I couldn’t let this paragraph escape at least a word or two. Over the weekend, Bill Gates was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. From the piece:
One of the foundation’s main initial interests was schools with fewer students. In 2004 it announced that it would spend $100 million to open 20 small high schools in San Diego, Denver, New York City and elsewhere. Such schools, says Mr. Gates, were designed to—and did—promote less acting up in the classroom, better attendance and closer interaction with adults.
“But the overall impact of the intervention, particularly the measure we care most about—whether you go to college—it didn’t move the needle much,” he says. “Maybe 10% more kids, but it wasn’t dramatic. . . . We didn’t see a path to having a big impact, so we did a mea culpa on that.” Still, he adds, “we think small schools were a better deal for the kids who went to them.”
Now, there’s lots to say about the “success” or “failure” of the small schools work done by Gates and others. And I know that Bill Gates has said that small schools offer more than just college readiness. But I suppose what I’d like to contribute here, or at least to push back with, is something like this:
Perhaps the metrics used to evaluate the effort were the wrong metrics. College attendance may not be the right way to measure whether or not small schools are good places for our children. We might want to investigate some other metrics and see how they tell us about the experience of students in smaller schools. I’d wonder about things like safety. Or the knowledge that students in a small school are members of a cohesive and human community. Were these students well looked after and mentored by grown ups who genuinely cared for them? Were they engaged in work that was meaningful and purposeful? Did what they did each day matter?
You can say those schools failed – but let’s make sure we know what your criteria are. The more someone1 is pushing to tell me what counts as a “good school,” the more I’m finding I’m willing to say –
Hang on. Wait. What do we want our schools to be?
And just what do you mean by failure?
I think those’re some of the kinds of questions that the folks who are organizing the Save Our Schools March are asking.
If I could be, I’d be there in Washington DC as they congregate to push for change. Perhaps you will be. Take good notes.
- “Like Bill Gates,” I want to say, but it’s not about him. Like anyone who wants to tell you what’s working or what’s not. Dig deeper. Ask more. [↩]