In my school district, we are very proud of our academic magnet programs and the high rankings they receive each year. Recently, Team Duval News congratulated the high school generally regarded as the county’s best for placing in the eighth position.

Except they didn’t. The Challenge Index is produced by the Washington Post’s education columnist, Jay Mathews. If you check his website, you find that the school is actually in the 26th position and another district high school placed higher in the 23rd position.

So what’s up?

GOT doesn’t know why the news release doesn’t agree with the actual rankings on the website. But GOT realizes that we are in challenging times for school districts and traditional public schools in Florida.

If you have missed what’s going down in Florida, you will find no better summary than this: Florida Really Is the Worst. The only thing missing is that Florida has also decided to allow public (but do we even know what that adjective means anymore?) universities and colleges to authorize charter schools. School districts will have to share their funds but will have no say over whether a charter is ready to open in their territory.

How do schools compete? They have to market themselves. If you’ve been wondering why schools need more money today than they needed decades ago when you passed through the classrooms, one huge reason is that schools, traditional, charter, and other, all need marketing budgets with lots of dollars for advertising.

Truth-in-Advertising laws be damned, everyone pushes the boundaries in this Darwinian struggle for survival.

(How ironic that the Florida legislature, determined to remove all mention of evolution from science classrooms, justifies their ongoing demolition of the public school system as allowing the marketplace to determine the survival of the fittest.)

Some puffing here, some misrepresentation there, shoot, the privatizers do it, don’t we have to fight fire with fire?

Image result for firefighting

Actually, firefighters fight fire with water.

There’s no better water in the public school system than delivering an outstanding chance to learn in the classroom.

The phony baloney is not needed.

When parents are asked, most of them say they think the school that actually educates their children is excellent; it’s only that those other schools are terrible.

But all those other schools also have parents who say they are pleased with the school and the education their children are receiving.

When do we realize that there are no other lousy schools?

As for the marketing, schools need to be full of integrity. Isn’t that the lesson we want to teach children? Character education has been around for a long time.

What do we model? Exaggeration, hyperbole, a little lie here or there is okay because it furthers an important purpose?

Eight does not equal 26.

Or do we show children that the truth is important and should be clung to? No matter how embarrassing it may be.

The challenge index for public schools? It’s not about how many AP exams are taken. The challenge is to turn out young adults with integrity who will change the world.

(And these days, our world does need changing.)

UPDATE: I contacted Jay Mathews, the creator of the Challenge Index, who confirmed that the ranking of 26 is the correct one for the 2019 index that he released a week ago.

SECOND UPDATE: GOT set off a minor kerfuffle in his district by this post. Go here for the rest of the story.

One thought on “The Challenge Index

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