The Box of Shame

In case you didn’t know, dog shaming has become a thing.

Dog shaming is the practice of uploading pictures or video clips of our canine friends, typically with some sort of sign describing a recent negative behavior – perhaps chewing up our favorite pair of shoes, humping your house guest’s leg, getting into the trashcan, pooping on the bed pillows, or snagging a steak from the counter.

Apparently this poor fellow on the left engages in multiple activities worthy of public shame, hence the “fill in the blank” notice on his personal “box of shame.”

There are actual websites devoted to this endeavor (www.dogshaming.com); a few books have been written, and special youtube channels are devoted to cataloging these often hilarious images of dogs expressing either shame or indifference to their acts of destruction.

All in good fun, right?

Welcome to the club, Fido.

For many in public education, the box of shame is all too familiar.

For the past few decades, the practice of public school shaming by policymakers, education reformers, and pro-school choice advocates has evolved to an art form through the use of hyperbole, extreme over-generalization, artful rhetoric and cherry-picking of school data.  These entities use shaming to perpetuate their narrative that public education is systemically broken and that educators are primarily self-serving and dispassionate to the plight of children.

The latest edition of public school shaming is an article from the real estate site, NeighborhoodScout, an online database of U.S. neighborhood analytics created in 2002 by geographer and demographics specialist Dr. Andrew Schiller.

Using the highly charged headline, “Top 100 Worst Public Schools,” Dr. Schiller essentially employs an unproven and unsubstantiated statistical algorithm to rank American public schools based on (what else?) … student test scores in math and reading.

This article recently made waves in Oklahoma due to the fact that ten of the schools making Schiller’s “Top 100 Worst” are in our state – five in Tulsa: Central Junior High, McLain High School for Science and Technology, Project Accept (an alternative school for elementary school students), and Whitman and McClure elementary schools.

Neighborhood Watch claims to have created a patent-pending, first-of-its-kind “nationally comparable” method for rating public schools.

Since states use different academic standards and assessments to measure student progress and comply with federal accountability guidelines, the use of testing results to rank schools nationally has been illusive.

Well, that is until Dr. Schiller came up with his magic formula.

Schiller uses a comparison of state passing rates on selected assessments to disassociated passage rates of a small group of randomly chosen Oklahoma children on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to compute a factor which he then uses to align the results from every public school in America.

So simple, right?

Here is how Schiller explains it on the web page:

To make each state’s No Child Left Behind test scores for each district and school comparable to other schools and districts in different states, we subtracted the percentage of students in the state who scored proficient or better from the state-NCLB test from the percentage of students in that state who passed the NAEP, and used this difference (or gap) to align each school and district test scores across the nation. Then we ranked the school districts, and Viola! A curve that brings all districts (and schools) to a nationally comparable rating based on the all-important NCLB tests! This is a first time this has ever been done and it is patent pending! It is really fascinating, and it is exclusive to NeighborhoodScout!

Yes, Dr. Schiller, a highly educated man with a PhD in demographic research, actually used the noun Viola, a stringed instrument, to describe the magic of his formula instead of the word I assume he meant to use: Voila` (pronounced Wah-lah), which means “to call attention, to express satisfaction or approval, or to suggest an appearance as if by magic.”

Maybe he should have just gone with Ta-Da!

To label this exercise of ranking schools nationally using an unproven, overly simplistic, ignorant-of-context mathematical formula as simply irresponsible doesn’t go far enough.

It is reckless. It is immoral and unethical. It is wicked.

Let me be clear. I am not a statistician or professional researcher. I will leave a comprehensive review of Schiller’s methodology, results, and conclusions to those far more adept and schooled in this area than I am.

At the same time, I do possess a high level of healthy skepticism and am reluctant to accept broad conclusions extrapolated from minimal data that lack full vetting from the research community.

In other words, my BS meter is generally pretty accurate.

Grab a shovel.

Do you find it puzzling that 35% of the schools in Schiller’s Worst Schools list are from one Midwest city with a population of only 688,000: Detroit, Michigan. I know there are struggling schools there, but 1/3 of the worst 100? I’m guessing Dr. Schiller doesn’t own any property in Michigan.

It also seems odd that 82 of the top 100 are from only four states: Michigan (52), Ohio (11), Oklahoma (10), and Pennsylvania (9). There’s not a single school from 41 states in America, including Mississippi or the District of Columbia?

How about this? Of the five most populated states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Illinois – only one school in Porterville, California made the list. So, zero schools in Los Angeles, New York City or Chicago? Really?!

Let me set aside Schiller’s questionable statistical methodology and conclusions for a larger point. What is the purpose of this study?

Let’s remember this is a real estate website, operated by individuals who have ZERO experience or credibility in assessing school quality.

Schiller has made no effort to factor out any of the contextual factors which affect school and student performance – critical considerations such as generational poverty, unsafe crime-ridden communities, unemployment, lack of community support, absence of adequate health services, and inadequate school funding – just to name a few.

These findings also give zero credit to these schools for the positive aspects they contribute to children – music, arts, and athletics; food, clothing, and health care; positive role models in a safe, secure environment; access to technology and academic enrichment, and daily exposure to dedicated, loving, compassionate adults.

Instead, they profess to have created a magic formula which will produce an accurate ranking of schools based solely on a suspect comparison of school testing data.

For that they want a patent?

It is nothing more than a SHAM.

The sole purpose of false school shaming reports like this one is to discourage families from purchasing homes or property in any of the cities or school districts represented by a “worst 100” school and encourage them to buy elsewhere.

That’s it.

It won’t prompt federal, state or local leaders to increase funding or support of these schools.

It doesn’t provide any instructive feedback to help these schools improve other than “raise your test scores.”

It will make it more challenging to staff these schools with high quality educators since the premise of working at one of America’s “worst schools” is hardly inspiring.

Moreover, it will undercut the morale and spirit of the hard-working teachers and school leaders already working at these schools. It is a slap in the face.

Trust me, the folks who work at all of these schools know better than anyone the areas in which they are struggling. They are working hard every day to help children overcome the challenges of their lives and find success.  They don’t need to be shamed into working harder.

And, what about THOSE kids? Those kids who are almost exclusively poor, non-white, and often neglected and under-served by society. Children growing up in shattered, tenuous homes located in broken neighborhoods and communities.

What about them?

Many of these children are struggling with unfair labels and judgments as it is.  How does the “knowledge” that they attend one of the worst schools in America make these children feel about their own life experience, about learning in general, about their future potential, and about society’s support of children like them?

I can tell you this. The last thing any child needs is to be put in a box of shame with a sign, “I’m stupid.”

Come to think of it – even dogs deserve better than this.

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