One way to judge a school is to look at its test scores. Another is to look at individual student growth. How does one weigh factors such as student excitement about learning?
A Life Skill Center in Florida run by White Hat has been criticized and almost was not renewed recently. The Polk County school board voted to extend the contract by a year, but expressed concerns about the schools financial health.
Students and parents spoke at the meeting, and board members were swayed by the students' excitement about attending the school.
When I was in high school, I hated school. I did well on tests, both classroom and standardized because I was a compliant (mostly) student, but I never really liked school.
Now, here is a school board (not a charter school board, but a real live traditional public school district board) that voted to keep a charter school open mostly because the kids like the school. I can find lots of reasons for high school students to like a school that are bad reasons to keep a school open--easy courses, teachers that are nice, or free pizza. So, the question is how does one determine the value of student excitement? Fortunately, in this case, the student excitement seems to be about learning. As we all know, student engagement and enthusiasm is a big part of the learning process. So, I don't want to discount that factor. I simply am not sure how to measure it and it's value.
You see, I'm not sold on test scores, and I'm not sold even on individual student growth. It's not that I don't think those are important, but I don't think that they are the sole determinant of a good or even great school. A great school instills a love of learning that is lifelong. It's easy for me to think of those both peers and more recent high school graduates, who were very successful in their K-12 education, but gave up in college or even after entering the working world and simply stopped learning.
I like the idea of using student excitement as a measure of school "success," but am not sure how to apply that across various cases. Perhaps it must be, as in the Life Skills Center case, decided on an individual basis. Perhaps it's intuitive--something leaders have to sense. Perhaps it's something that you have to sense at first, and then judge by more objective measures once it's observed.
Certainly, the goal of most charter schools is to instill this excitement about being at school (at least that's what I've observed across the country). I hope it's also the goal of most non-charter public schools. But is it enough? Is excitement enough to justify keeping the doors open? For Life Skills Center in the Polk County School District, I guess we'll find out next year.