What Makes a Successful School?
Today I had the opportunity to visit Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, OH. I was excited about my trip because they are one of the top high schools in the nation. They are an urban public school that constantly graduates their students, gets them into 4-year colleges, and has a thriving alumni association that produces millions of dollars in donations. They are a very successful school. ..or are they?
Just to give you some background on the school. As I stated above, they are a public school and they don’t turn any student away…who qualifies by scoring the 70 percentile on an entry exam. They have grades 7 through 12. Feel free to look more at their statistics about their demographics on their website. The last 3 years they have had at least 550 students take at least 1270 AP exams, and have had at least 80% of them get a 3 or higher, which is a passing score.
On the surface you would love to send your child to this school if you solely based it on the number of graduates, and success on AP exams. However, you might have a different opinion if you actually visited. Now, before I go any further, I am no out to bash the school, the staff, or the students. I’m just wondering aloud if they are truly successful.
In my opinion, the school is a product of our flawed education system. Before the principal took us on our tour he warned us that we would not see innovation in his building. He said we should expect to see kids sitting in rows and teachers in the front, lecturing. I am very glad he warned me, or else my jaw might have just hung open my entire visit.
The best way I can think to describe what I saw when I walked through the halls is that it was like being teleported to a school that taught like it was in the 1940s, had technology from the 1980’s, with students from 2011. It was quiet honestly one of the strangest experiences I have ever had. I felt like I was in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. Where the entire movie takes place in a village that looks like its from early colonial America but it’s really (SPOILER ALERT) a walled in town in modern time.
In other words, I saw exactly what the principal told us we would see. I saw students in desk as teachers spoke. No more than 2 or 3 students spoke or were called on while I was in the classrooms. We walked into one classroom and I started to get excited because he was in the back of the room working with students. He saw us walk in and immediately apologized for not being in front teaching because he had lost his voice. The librarian gave me false hope when she talked about working on class projects with the teachers and then asked a student to bring us the project he had been working on. The student then produced a piece of paper with an outline. The librarian and principal were very excited about this “project”.
There were also some things I saw that I really liked. The elective steel drum class I saw put on a great show. They also allowed teacher leaders to help decide on the school’s budget. They have a plan in place to begin to add technology and they currently students to use cell phones before/after school and also during lunch.
Basically, the things I saw outside of the classroom I liked. What I saw in the classroom was boring, traditional, and disengaging. However, I cannot blame them for being proud of their school and what they have accomplished. I know I would be if I worked there. We have built an educational system that defines success as being able to do well on test and go to college. Everything they look at tells them they are being successful but are they? Can a school that allows all their students to dress differently but be taught and assessed the same way be successful? Can a school that requires all of their students to do at least 2 to 3 hours of homework at night be considered successful? By today’s standards, the students are producing exactly what society says they want from them, but are they producing what society needs from them? Are they a successful school?