Loving lists and rankings as we do, recently AL.com ran two articles showing the Alabama high schools with the best and worst ACT scores.  See them here and here.

Did we learn anything we don’t already know?  Nope.  Once again we have a stark reminder that if you have good students who come from  homes that value education and invest in their children, you get great school performance.  It’s the lesson University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban has taught for years.  He’s built the nation’s top college football program by consistently recruiting the best players in the country to his football team.

In the last 10 years, one national recruiting service says Saban had the No. One class seven out of ten years.

But the public, politicians and even some in the education community WILL NOT FACE REALITY.  So the mayor of Montgomery says if we will just replace the local school board and bring in charter schools, everything will magically get better.  Senate pro tem Del Marsh says if we will take money from public schools to give vouchers to private schools, our problems will go away.  Even interim state superintendent Ed Richardson compared scores at Montgomery’s LAMP magnet high school to those at Lee high school to try to make a point by comparing apples and oranges.

The second highest ACT scores in Alabama came from Mountain Brook High school.  They averaged 27.3.  Why?  As much as anything because 85 percent of the residents of Mountain Brook have either an undergraduate or graduate degree from college.  On the other end of the spectrum, only ten high schools have a lower ACT average than Vigor in Mobile’s Prichard community.  But only ten percent of Prichard citizens have one or more college degrees.

The best measure of understanding both school and student performance is poverty, more specifically, the percent of students who get free/reduced school lunches.  Of the 1,051 students at Mountain Brook high, NONE get free/reduced lunches.  Of the 622 Vigor students, 463 get free/reduced lunch.

When you run the numbers on the 20 top ACT high schools in comparison to the bottom, you see that the collective free-reduced rate for the top schools is 17.8 percent, compared to 73.1 percent at the other end of the spectrum.  But we continue to ignore this 55 point gap and act like one size should fit all.

It’s ridiculous.

And speaking of ridiculous, let’s look at our old friends the Alabama Accountability Act and A-F school report cards in relation to the ranking of schools by ACT scores.  Again, we find the info they churn out is totally worthless.

AAA requires that each year we declare the bottom six percent of all schools in the state are “failing.”  Common sense then says that the 20 high schools with the worst ACT scores should all be failing.  But what does AAA have to do with common sense?  Of the bottom five,  AAA says that only ONE of them is failing.

What about the A-F school report cards that claim we have 103 F schools in Alabama?  Surely all the bottom 20 high schools must be an F.  Well, not exactly,  Only five of them are.  On the other hand, all of the 20 top high schools must get an A.  Again, not exactly.  Only six of them got an A when scores were handed out last February.  And according to A-F, Grissom high in Huntsville, which is only outranked by five schools in the state, is ranked a C.

As David Mathews points out in Is There A Public For Public Schools? we will only make significant education progress in some places when we understand that community building and education go hand-in-hand.

That is the real lesson of looking at rankings of ACT scores.  Unfortunately, those who cry the loudest for education change don’t make the effort to understand what numbers tell us.