“We just bought a new house. It’s a nice house in a good neighborhood. But the big thing in our mind is the local school is really good.”
If I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a thousand times.
For most parents, one of the most important factors in deciding where to live is the quality of the local schools. So it’s not surprising so many Michigan parents are deeply interested in getting solid information about school quality.
Over the past three years, Bridge Magazine has been responding to that need by running our series, “Academic State Champs” around this time of year. It’s based on the notion that the title “Champion” should be applied, not just to leading football teams but to something far more important: school quality.
In today’s Bridge, you’ll find comprehensive school district rankings; 73 districts earned State Champs rankings. The top winners represent the top 5 percent of the 507 school districts across Michigan, including tiny rural districts as well as large metro ones, impoverished and more affluent, charter schools and traditional public schools. Our stories include an easily searchable database so readers can scan and compare the results.
Our research takes account of both school tests and student family income in developing a weighted ranking for Michigan school districts. The idea is that school performance should be measured both by raw academic achievement tests but also by the poverty level of students in a given district. It’s well recognized that family poverty has a big and damaging effect on student achievement in school.
But we’ve gone much farther. In next Tuesday’s Bridge, for the first time ever, we’ll designate Academic State Champs at the individual school building level. Using our searchable database, you will be able to compare how your individual school compares with literally thousands of other schools all across Michigan.
Our methodology and data analysis, independently developed by Public Sector Consultants, a public policy research firm in Lansing, take into account the impact of student family poverty by comparing how districts across Michigan perform compared with other districts serving families with similar income levels.
Our in-depth analysis this year is possible because we’ve crunched student data in more grades than ever, using test results from the state MEAP, the Michigan Merit Exam and the high school ACT. In past years, our champs rankings were based on testing across three grades; this year, we’re analyzing test results across in eight grades.
Mike Wilkinson, Bridge’s ace data reporter, who carried out much of the analysis for these stories, commented: “By going down to the school level, we can ask tough questions about why schools within districts show varying levels of performance, even after student incomes are taken into account.
“At the root of the analysis is the proven yet unfortunate correlation between student income levels and academic success. Poverty places tremendous – but not impossible – hurdles before the poor, ranging from neighborhood violence to hunger to changing schools often, hurdles that can impede learning. Our analysis plots school test scores and poverty levels (measured by eligibility for subsidized lunch, a commonly used poverty measurement) and then uses the results to predict where a school should be performing. It allows for more fair comparisons and acknowledges that a school with high levels of poverty may be a success even if test scores don’t match how wealthy districts are doing.”
David Zeman, Bridge’s editor, adds that “Bridge’s searchable databases allow parents to compare schools as never before, not only with others in their community, but with schools of similar student populations across the state. That’s pretty powerful.”
Powerful, my foot! The information in these stories is a real bombshell. It allows readers and parents to compare schools by geography, by student demography and by school type. You can check out the school down the street, across town or most places all across the state. And to give readers the full story, our reporting partners at MLive.com worked with Bridge to provide a brief video explaining the methodology behind our rankings.
Bridge Magazine publishes impartial, fact-based, detailed stories that are written and edited to be of everyday use to Michigan citizens. If you think your family members or some of your neighbors would like to receive Bridge online and free of charge, just send me their email addresses at email@example.com and I’ll arrange to sign them up.