Hawk's Nest 2

Two years ago, when it became clear that the pandemic was going to cause major disruptions to schools, I started reading tweets, posts, and articles about how this might lead to major changes to the education system. Some were by people I actually respect.

However, I was very skeptical that anything, even a world-wide public health emergency, would substantially alter the way we do schooling in this country. There is just too much institutional inertia and the fervent desire on the part of just about everyone to get back to “normal” was too loud.

Although, many schools finally got one-to-one computing as a result of the pandemic,1 most evidence points to a return to the rock-solid status quo. Like the recent decision by local school systems to kill all opportunities for online learning.

And the fact that, after a two-year hiatus, Jay Mathews’ “challenge” index has returned.

For those unfamiliar with this annual farce (or who had tried to forget), the index is Mathews’ long-running attempt to rank the “best” high schools based solely on a single number. For each school he simply divides the “number of independently written and graded AP, IB and Cambridge exams given to all students at the school by the number of graduating seniors”.

That’s it. No other factors that might contribute to a student’s learning experience. Nothing about school culture, how many kids participate in music programs, whether they are successful after graduation. Not even how students scored on those tests he so dearly loves.

As is usually the case with his “challenge” index columns, Mathews’ attempts to justify his system using select quotes from supporters, bits of ancient history, and some fits-the-narrative anecdotes.

This year, he also adds a big wet kiss for charter schools (another favorite topic) by shunting any public school that might top the ranking off to a separate “public elite” list.

Anyway, the return of Mathews’ spring ritual glorifying standardized testing program adds more weight to my contention that the pandemic likely will not change anything fundamental about American education.

Especially our need to rank everything – and everyone.

The picture has nothing to do with this rant. Just a hawk in a nest on a wooden pylon above the Potomac River. I wish I had a longer lens. Happy spring everyone.

1. We’ll see how long that lasts when the new devices start breaking and the extra funding run out. Or am I being too cynical?