What makes a good school?
What makes a good school?
There are numerous factors that go into deciding what makes a school good, including the staffing of the school, the area of which the school is in, and the amount of money that the school has available to it. It is possible that two people commenting on the same school could have contradictory views on whether or not that school is good. Everyone’s high school experience is at least slightly different from everybody else’s, which causes these differences in opinions in what makes a school good. The viewpoint of which that person views a school also affects how they view the school. For example, a person judging a school for the Department of Education for New York State might look at a school differently than a parent of a student at that school. Often times a school is said to be good or bad based on statistics, such as test scores, graduation rates, or college attendance. Although there will be differences, there is usually a large majority that decides one way or the other, when it comes to determining if a school is good or bad.
The two main factors in determining a school’s “value” are staffing, which includes teachers and administration, and funding. It is very important to have highly qualified teachers teaching students. How can students be expected to learn what the curriculum calls for them to learn, when the teachers themselves need an education in what they are teaching. Such was the case for Jacob, an African American junior from the South Bronx of New York City. In the letter, “Postcards from America,” from Letters to the Next President, Jacob says, “I’d like a teacher who really knows math and knows how to teach it.
All through high school, I don’t think I ever had a teacher really qualified in math. When I heard there was a Math Regents test, I knew I wasn’t prepared. So I left. No Diploma.” This is a very sad case because the failure of his teachers in not knowing the material they were teaching caused him to drop out of high school and give up a chance for a much better life that graduating from high school and possibly going on to college would have caused. A good school will have highly educated and qualified teachers, who enjoy what they are doing, and want to see their students succeed. The fact that some schools don’t offer this leads to another potential problem in schools.
One of the first things that needs to be looked at when teachers are found to be doing an inadequate job of teaching their students is to look at the school’s administration. They are the ones responsible for hiring the teachers, and also for making sure that the teachers are qualified for the positions that they are placed into to teach. At my former high school, there was one particular physics teacher who did a horrendous job when it came to teaching his students. This particular teacher also worked as an engineer and would come into school and instead of teaching the class about physics, would either have the students do paper work for him that related to his engineering job or would send the students to the library for meaningless assignments.
It is the administration’s fault for hiring this physics teacher and for allowing him to create a bad educational experience for his students. However, as a good administration should do, once the problem became evident, they dealt with it swiftly and forcibly. The problem was brought up to the school board, and the physics teacher was denied his tenure, effectively ending his job as a teacher at the school. This incident just goes to show that for a school to be considered good, the administration has to make sure that the teachers it hires are good teachers, and that they also need to keep tabs on those teachers once they are hired. An administration cannot be afraid to take action, when action is necessary.
Teachers and administration are also very important when it comes to the climate of the school. They are responsible for making sure that the school is a safe place for students to learn. Another letter from Letters to the Next President, entitled “Why We Need Public Education,” by John Goodlad, states that one of the most important expectations that parents have about school is that their children will be safe while they attend. It is the responsibility of the teachers and administration of the school to make sure adequate rules are in place and that students follow these rules to ensure their safety. These rules have to be enforced fairly, though, and not be more lenient for some students and stricter for others based on race, ethnicity, or for any other similar reason. Although funding, which will be discussed more in depth later, sometimes makes it difficult, teachers and especially administration needs to make sure that the school is well maintained and is clean, as well.
One example of an administration failing to do this, although it probably has more to do with lack of funding, comes again from the letter, “Postcards from America,” where Sarafina, the daughter of migrant workers in California, attends school at a school where there are “no seats on the toilet and not enough paper in the bathroom to clean yourself.” Sometimes, it is just the small things like this that can cause a school to be considered good or bad, although this school most likely had many other problems to go along with the lack of seats on the toilets and lack of toilet paper. As stated before, this exact example is probably better suited to show a lack of funding, which is also a very important factor in determining the value of a school.
Funding for schools might be the single most important factor when it comes right down to it. Very rarely would a person find a poorly funded school that could be considered a good school. The amount of resources a school has affects many different aspects of a students education. The reason funding could be considered more important than teachers and administration is because funding often determines the quality of teachers and administration a school has. A school with a lot of money can afford the very best teachers to educate the students. In sections of New York city where funding for schools is very low, a person can become a teacher with little or no training.
A person would never see this in the suburbs, where resources are much higher for schools. Teachers that are hired by these schools are most often education majors coming out of college that have had much experience in education related classes. Once again, the letter “Postcards of America,” provide us with proof of the differences in funding that schools receive. Ashley St. Pierre, from the Bronx, New York, writes, “I just learned that schools in the suburbs receive something like $16,000 per student, compared to our $8,000 per student.” This just goes to prove that a school receiving half as much money as a counterpart can in no way afford the best teachers available.
Another aspect of funding, is providing the necessary tools for students to learn. These can be as simple as pens and pencils, paper, and adequate textbooks, or more technologically advance things such as computers, microscopes, and adequate technological facilities for science classes. It is a fact that in today’s world, students must learn to use computers and be comfortable with using them. A good school has the funding to provide students with computers at school and also the resources to help students learn how to use them. At a poorly funded school, if they are lucky enough to have computers, they are usually old and not abundant. Such is the case of Derrick Attakai who attends school at Little Singer Community School, located in northeastern Arizona in the Navaho Nation.
In the letter “Broken Roads and the Great Mother Earth,” from Letters to the Next President, Derrick states that when given a research project students have to wait there turn at a computer in order to do their research due to the limited amount of computers the school has. His school also uses old textbooks that are falling apart. He also says that the lack of certain tools like microscopes causes the teachers to not be able to help the students out as much as they would like to. A good school should have enough good computers to allow the students to do research and learn how to use the computers effectively and efficiently, without having to stand in line for them.
Another area of education that funding affects is the curriculum itself and the after school curriculum, with things such as clubs and sports. A good school should have a wide variety of courses that it can offer, as well as different levels that those courses can be taken at. Honors courses and AP courses are a must to challenge those students who may find regular level classes boring and unchallenging. A good school must also allow for those students who may fall behind their peers, and need special attention in the form of inclusion classes and special education classes. Good funding also allows for a wide variety of electives to be available, which help to keep the students interested in school by allowing them to take classes that interest them. At my former high school, numerous AP and honors courses were offered, which I participated in.
These classes allowed me to not only expand my knowledge and look at things from a different perspective, but they also gave me the opportunity to get a head start on college, with college credits being “made available,” depending on how well you do in the class. After school clubs and sports are also very important in a student’s educational experience. Without funding, however, only certain sports can be offered, if any at all. The wrestling team at my former high school had many participants, but due to a lack of funding there is talk that it could be cut in order to save money. The same can be said about clubs, where students get a chance to expand their boundaries and find things they are interested in. It takes money to operate these clubs and after school activities in order to keep them free, and when there is a lack of funding, these activities are many times the first to go.
One common topic that I found upon reading Letters to the Next President, and A Letter to Teachers, was that there are many people out there who think that a common characteristic of a good school is that a good school teaches students about the civic duties that go along with being an American. These include things like voting and being good citizens. One example of this from Letters to the Next President was in U.S. Senator John Glenn’s and Leslie F Hergert’s letter entitled, “The Civic Mission of Schools,” where they say schools should, “Lift up the civic purpose of education and the important role schools play in developing citizenship, knowledge, and skills.” Vito Perrone also mentions a similar idea in A Letter to Teachers, where he states that “there is an ongoing concern in American society about low levels of active citizenship in communities and limited turnouts in elections.” A good school should encompass all this, and help students to become better citizens and better Americans.
I believe that the best judge of a good school is those who are most directly affected by that particular school, which would be the students. Unfortunately, students don’t really get too much say in this. I would have to say that the next best decider on whether a school is good or not would have to be the parents because they can best judge how well their children’s’ educational experience is coming along. If the parents are actively involved in their children’s’ education they should be able to look past scores and grades and see what kind of education the students are actually getting. The other deciders, I feel, look too much at test scores, for example, New York State and college admission offices. These deciders take a look at specific tests which can be considered biased and unfair, and not the overall educational experience that students receive. There is much more to a quality education and a good school than test scores.
In conclusion, there are many things that go into determining what makes a good school. Not all schools out there can meet all the requirements I have laid out, but there are some. The fact of the matter is that it all comes down to the amount of funding a school receives. A person would be hard pressed to find a good school in the inner city, where school may only receive a few thousand dollars per student. In suburban areas, where student expenditures are in excess of ten to fifteen thousand dollars, a person could find numerous schools that could qualify as good schools. Teachers and administration are also an important part of a good school, and there isn’t a school out there that could be considered good that doesn’t have highly qualified and educated teachers. The sad fact is that there are many more bad schools and far fewer good schools in this country than there should be, and this needs to be fixed.