I woke up this morning to an email from my principal "Stuy is #1." This followed a bunch of Facebook posts by friends and alums of a similar vein.
Of course, everyone whooping it up now was quick to say "all those rankings are meaningless" back when US News and World report ranked Stuy way down on their list.
We all know what makes a great school: great students. At least in terms of perception. Look at most of these lists and they'll be dominated by high schools that take in high performing students.
Truth be told, in many ways, Stuyvesant isn't a special place, but more on that down below.
In terms of the ratings and rankings they're meaningless but in a way dangerous. I see it at Stuy. Under the current administration AP is the word of the day. It's all Advanced Placement all the time. Why? That's one of the ways to rise up in the rankings. So are the school surveys which is why there's been more pressure to get those done.
My feelings? AP is all about making money for the College Board. I'm not a fan of "early college," I'm a fan of enrichment. I've said it many times - if a course is such that it can be mastered equally well by a 15 year old in 10th grade as by a 19 or 20 year old in college, well, it really isn't college level. High achieving, well prepared high school kids can do college level work in 11th and 12th grades but probably not in all subject areas. Sure they can memorize, ape, and mimic, but the depth of knowledge won't be there. Regardless, we should trust schools and teachers to do it right. Schools can roll out rigorous courses as good or better than AP. There's no real need for the College Board seal of approval. Look at Fieldston and other private schools as examples.
We've been teaching our own introductory CS class at Stuy for years. The entire team knows that it's far superior, at least for our students, than the new AP CS Principles course yet our principal keeps pushing the AP course.
I've spoken to a number of administrators from highly regarded schools over the past couple of years and all are pushing test scores, AP classes, and anything to get those rankings up.
So, there's a movement to make Stuy a generic school that happens to have high performing students which brings me back to are we number one or indeed are we special?
It certainly has a couple of things going for it. Great kids and a large size. The large size ensures lots of electives. Stuy is one of the few schools with a robust set of humanities classes, stem classes, multiple music groups, and more. That's important. When I sent my kids to Stuy a big part of the decision was due to the fact that they'd be surrounded by smart kids whose interests range all over the place. The kids come from all backgrounds. Also, my kids would be able to explore all of their current interests and maybe even pick up some new ones.
But then there's the other side. We have lots of electives and some are great but then, some are lousy. Just like any other school we have some amazing teachers and some garbage. For the most part, if you switched Stuy's faculty and administration with another school, you might lose a few special electives and gain a few different ones but by and large people wouldn't notice the difference.
Regardless, Stuy and all similar institution should be charged with something extra. We should be leaders in developing programs and sharing them with other schools. We should be developing experiences for our kids that are appropriate to their level of development, not being happy with high regents scores or the fact that we had a bunch of Intel semifinalists, many who probably would have accomplished similar feats regardless of the school they attended.
Kowtowing to the rankings kills that possibility. To reach the top of the charts you have to follow the book. If you want to lead, you have to write the book.
It would be silly of me to judge my success by how many kids pass the APCS exam. It's an easy test for them. I've worked hard not to create classes because I like them, but because they make sense for our kids. They sequence appropriately, and they give the kids opportunities and experiences that they wouldn't get had they not attended Stuy.
Unfortunately, since the late 90's I haven't had the luxury of a supportive administration that shared my vision. As the school and the system moves more towards the rankings you're going to see educational leaders more and more marginalized and finally eliminated.
So, is Stuy number one and is it special? As long as it's given the same type of kids it's had for the past 100 or so years, the kids will do fine. Is it really special? Well, unless it starts really think about what the kids need and deserve, maybe not so much.