Pictured: Not my school

I have never been under the illusion that it would be difficult to find me if someone combined the desire to do so with a decent amount of time, this website, and some small ability to search for clues. I have never named any school I’ve worked at and rarely specifically name my district, but I’ve never hidden the fact that I teach middle school and frankly there are only a limited number of middle schools to search through. Finding my name would be a touch trickier, but my teaching license– which is under my real name– is public information, and many schools post staff lists. I have always figured that, given that making myself impossible to dox is probably impossible, I would make it require a bit of legwork and not worry about it too much beyond that. I’ve never said anything here that I wouldn’t stand behind were my name attached to it, frankly.

That said, occasionally shit gets specific enough around here that my inability to talk about it without giving too much away gets on my nerves. My district is going through a spate of consolidations and closings right now, and … well, lemme see if I can find this comment real quick.

I do not understand why my local newspaper’s website even allows comments, frankly, because every article and I mean every single fucking article will generally have one or two spam comments about working from home and one or two blatantly racist comments from the same three or four local Nazis and nothing else. Like, there are clearly people who spend a substantial portion of their day reading articles on this site and then leaving racist comments. It’s like a job. So I was surprised to see this comment, which goes on in a similar vein from here, and is from someone who is at least trying to be fair.

The thing, though, is that bit about the students being a “normal mix of average, below average, and above average.” I’m going to leave out the word potential, because I do genuinely believe that all of my kids have potential even if they either choose to or are unable to rise to it. And this is always a tricky conversation to have, because I don’t want to look like I’m shitting on my own students. But my district’s schools, particularly at the middle school level, are not normally distributed; not remotely, and it’s not just because of the neighborhoods the schools are in either.

Because, see, we have a middle school honors academy, and if that’s not bad enough, the honors academy is the biggest middle school. I have talked about this before, but not for a while; honors schools are great if you are looking at the individual student level for benefits. But they are toxic to the overall community of the district they’re in, because they hoover up the top (making up this number) 20% or whatever of students from each of the other schools at their level, and then those schools are expected to perform at the same level as they were when they had those students.

You see the problem here? Let’s imagine that Honors Academy houses 50 students that otherwise would be students at my school. Chances are that of those 50, 45 are going to be passing their standardized tests. Those 45 would still be passing their standardized tests at my school. I promise you, the teachers at the honors school are not any better than the teachers at any other building; first of all because I know a lot of them and second because I know how the hiring process works, and it’s not like you need any sort of special training or a number of years of experience. The staffs are functionally the same. Those kids, provided with competent educators and no massive family crises, are going to pass their tests. And good for them! They can take classes with other like-minded students, probably have fewer disruptions and quite possibly less violence at their school than at ours, and they’ll do just fine.

(Certain kinds of disciplinary issues are less prevalent at the honors school, which is to be expected to some extent. Fascinating thing, though, is they have a much bigger problem with drugs than any other middle school, so read into that however you like.)

The point is, one way or another, those 45 kids would still be passing at my school. But they’re not. They’re passing at some other school, and instead I’m expected to produce average or better results– because no school can ever be below average, even though that’s mathematically impossible, all of our children must be above average– with the bottom 80% of the students.

In other words, if we were to get the same results they got, or even close to them, it’s because we’re doing a better job.

Sadly, we are not. And does the state care? No, not one whit. We are expected to pass X% of our students, period, and if we don’t, it’s our fault, even though they have literally stacked the deck against us by siphoning off a substantial number of our kids to this other school.

What do you think that does to the culture of the building, by the way? And forgive me for pointing out something that’s probably obvious, but the fewer examples of success the kids have around them to see, the less reason they have to be successful, and the kids who do care about their grades find themselves in a small and shrinking minority.

So, no, sir, the students are not a normal mix. The students who are most likely to pass standardized tests are all concentrated in the same place. And that is absolutely 100% on purpose.

You want to improve the rest of the schools? Close the honors academy.

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

3 thoughts on “Pictured: Not my school

  1. So wait, this Honors Academy is part of your district?? I’ve never heard of this before. Honors kids start getting separated out into different classes in middle school here, particularly for math/science/english. But they’re all still in the same buildings. This is wild.

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    1. Yes. It’s a whole ass separate building. Some schools still have honors tracks but without those kids they’re rarely able to move at the speed they’re supposed to.

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