High-achieving, well-behaved students learning to code, reciting Shakespeare, engaging in debates about the validity of climate science or the merits of Columbus Day, and taking advanced courses in a welcoming atmosphere—if this is what you see when you’re walking the hallways, it makes sense to call this a good school. Many experts, however, see schools differently. To them, the impact of the teachers and curriculum on the school’s students is the most important thing. In line with this vision, experts and policy wonks tend to lobby for greater focus on student growth measures when holding schools accountable, while families care most about the overall proficiency of the student body. Who is right?
The debate between “growth” and “proficiency” generates a lot of conversation in the education policy world, but what appear to be irreconcilable differences can be resolved if we acknowledge that each metric maps to a valid view of school quality, and that both types of metrics can serve worthwhile, if distinct, functions.
The wonk’s perspective
We wonks—the policy nerds, bureaucrats, and legislators who argue about and, ultimately, design the school ratings formulas that determine whether the school down the block...