What Makes a Good School?

In lists created by the state of California and news agencies across the nation, Miramonte continually ranks near the top. However, these rankings are usually based on test scores and academic factors, and never a full analysis of all the school’s properties. The answer to what really makes a good school cannot be found from a Scantron score, nor by the average GPA of its students.

At its most basic level, a school is a business whose customers are the children it is paid to educate. Therefore, like any other business, the most important factor in a school’s ranking should be its customer satisfaction. Looking at test scores, teacher to student ratios and percent of graduates can help give a general perspective, but without asking the students themselves, it is impossible to know if a school is as good as it claims.

There are many factors that go into making a product that people will buy and love, and it is no different with schools. Quality of teaching, homework load, cafeteria menus and extracurricular opportunities all play a part in the happiness of an individual student, but other, less obvious factors are also important to take into account.

A high school is a community, and the social scene in the community is integral to the happiness of its students. Schools should be putting more emphasis on making sure their students are well-adjusted and happy. Although administrators and teachers cannot get too involved in every detail of a student’s life, if letting things run their course interferes with learning, they should not stand back.

Students’ willingness to work also depends greatly on how engaging their teachers are. When teachers are enthusiastic about a subject and involve their students, the learning process becomes more fun and interesting. Boring lectures and standardized assessments may lead to good scores on AP tests and finals, but so much is missing in this process.

In today’s workforce, innovation and creativity are just as important as having the skills necessary to complete the job. A good school must prepare its students to be flexible, and when students are unhappy they are more likely to resist the efforts of their teachers to give them this flexibility.

The best place for high schools to look for examples of good schools is colleges. Unlike elementary and secondary education, students have almost unlimited choices in where they can attend college. It is the college’s responsibility to market themselves to prospective students, so they hype up attractive features like clubs, location and internship opportunities. They also want high retention and graduation rates, so they offer many services designed to keep their student body motivated and happy.

When students are happy, they will find it easier to work on projects or study for exams. In the short term, handing out hours of homework each night and repeatedly giving quizzes may lead to better scores on paper, but in the long run these things can have negative results. Stressed, overworked students have a greater likelihood of spending less time working in depth on projects and homework and instead resort to copying or only doing the bare minimum needed to pass.

In general, Miramonte has many qualities that could place it into the “good school” category. It is not perfect though, and there are changes that could make it an even better place to attend high school. Offering services like support counselors and a plethora of clubs are nice, but these services are worthless if students do not take advantage of them. Ultimately, no matter what a school does, it is the students who need to step up to the plate and take responsibility.

Unfortunately, federal funding and college decisions still depend highly on scores and performance indexes, and all schools are required to adhere to state and federal standards that leave little room for teachers to innovate. However, even in this stifling environment, Miramonte and other schools need to take a step back and remember that their primary focus needs to be individual students and their happiness.