Bridge Rankings of School Districts

Bridge Magazine has released its annual rankings of school districts, public and charter, taking into account the income levels of families in the district as measured by free-and-reduced lunch rates. I am only posting this here in the interest of transparency. This ranking along with a similar one published each year for schools by the ultra-conservative “think tank” Mackinac Center do little to advance the cause of continuing to improve our public education system.

Each focuses only on limited test scores given to students one day each year which is not an accurate measure of overall learning, let along college and career readiness potential. Those of us grounded in reality not obfuscated by “multiple-guess” test scores know that many other factors in school and out of school contribute to the success of our children. As a matter of record, we have witnessed a number of students who have scored low on the annual ACT actually go on to major universities and not only graduate with baccalaureate degrees, but also graduate degrees in their chosen fields. We’re proud of them as well as every child who walks through our doors.

Godfrey-Lee ranks well against other school districts across the state with 80% or more of their students eligible for free-and-reduced lunch. This is the only filter provided by Bridge Magazine so I ran the chart and provide it, below. It depicts the 40 top districts ranked in order of achievement (or over-achievement as Bridge Magazine terms it) taking this particular demographic in account.  Godfrey-Lee ranks in the middle of this group as a district and 178th out of all 507 public school districts that have enough data to be included in this ranking.

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Remember, this is not a measure of actual achievement but how schools and districts did when family economics is factored into the equation. The Mackinac Center publishes a similar ranking but using the state’s ill-designed top-to-bottom list that comes out in August of each year. What is interesting is the difference in the line-up produced by each of these two ranking schemes, despite the fact that the state’s top-to-bottom list is a product of achievement scores. In that ranking, Lee High School comes out 12th best in the state and 3rd best in traditional public school rankings. The top-t0-bottom list includes not only achievement levels but growth as well. The Bridge Magazine only uses achievement levels. It also includes all of the high schools in the ranking which means a district like ours which is performing a tremendous public service by taking kids off the streets and giving them a second chance in an alternative high school setting, is penalized by combining the scores of the alternative school with our traditional high school. But then, public school districts have gotten used to the punishing (mis)use of testing and test scores to serve narrow interests.

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(Above) Mackinaw Center’s 2014 Michigan Public High School
Context and Performance Report Card (p. 5)

What neither of these rankings consider are a whole slew of non-school factors that have been proven to impact learning: Child poverty rates, infant-mortality rates, economic mobility across generations, social stress including rates of violent and drug-related deaths, births to teenage parents, immigration, family supports, abuse and neglect, family structure, education of parents, school supports including equity in revenue and spending as well as other school resources, average class sizes, teacher workload, and teacher preparation.

When a ranking includes all or most of these factors, it will be worth paying attention to as long as it comes with evidence-based recommendations for mitigating out-of-school while strengthening in-school factors.

Recommended: Complicating Poverty

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About David Britten

Retired U.S. Army Officer, former elementary, middle and high school principal, currently serving as a public school superintendent.
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