What Makes A Good School?


One scene doesn’t tell the story of a film.

One test doesn’t tell the story of a school.

Yet test scores are often the sole determinant when evaluating the worth of a school in the eyes of politicians, administrators and the public. They are used to raise property values. A school that ranks highly on standardized tests is like gold to a real estate agent. It seems though that testing is the approach to education that those who know the least about education prefer the most. They favor it because it is easy and quick. To convert student learning into a number takes minimal effort from the powers that be. It’s much easier to crunch numbers and construct data walls than it is to engage with the messiness and complexity of learning. The problem is that test scores do not accurately portray schools (or student learning). At best they provide a narrow glimpse. A snapshot in time over a limited period. So if test scores aren’t the most effective judge of a school’s success, what is? How do we honestly measure the quality of a school? We all instinctively know what makes a good school. It is often abstract and intangible. It is often the little things. We walk into a school and we just know.

In an effort to compile some legitimate indicators of a successful school, here are some questions to ask ourselves. This is by no means a finished list. I’d like to continue to add questions throughout the year. What other questions do you think should be included on the list?

Do student and teachers enjoy going there?

Are the students challenged by their work?

Do the students learn skills as well as facts?

Does the school keep up-to-date with advances in learning & learning technologies?

Are high expectations of the students matched by high expectations of the staff?

Does the school community extend beyond the school?

Do students get to think about, interact with and seek to change life outside of the school walls?

Are students encouraged to think for themselves?

Does the school have a sense of fun?

Are aspects like wonder, curiosity, adventure and resilience actively encouraged and celebrated?

Are morals and values focused on and exhibited by all members of the school community?

Are social and emotional aspects of school life discussed/addressed in an open, positive way?

Do students have the opportunity to be responsible for something and make a difference?

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