Kitchen Table Math has a long excerpt of an Elmore article on high performing schools. Elmore says that many high performing schools aren't all that great. They are in wealthy districts where the parents supplement their kids' mediocre education with a lot of tutoring. Elmore said that a select group of schools in poorer districts actually have better practices.
Amy P sent that link my way, and these topics are often discussed by other moms that I know. I am not all that surprised and alarmed.
First of all, you should not rely on your schools to educate your kids. I spend a lot of time with my kids teaching them random things. If Jonah's doing his homework, I will be there in the room using the homework as a jumping board for my own lesson. If he does sloppy work, I make him redo it. I reteach the math lessons. We'll go up to the computer to look up a country in Africa. No school does this.
Secondly, the parents in the rich schools aren't all that upset. They can afford the tutors. The reputation of the school is enough to get their kids into Dartmouth. And that's all they care about.
Third, the schools, by whatever method, are getting the kids into college. My high school (ranked top five in the state) sent 90% of the student body to a four year college. The top 20% went to an Ivy League school. So, it's hard to get all that worked up about the average instruction in these districts. If I have to get upset about something, I choose to get upset by the 90% dropout rate in some schools in Philadelphia.
Still, Elmore's article and Catherine's commentary is interesting and worth a read, because it shows the limits of schools and the impact of money.
UPDATE: Harry at Crooked Timber says that these poorly performing, high performing schools are a problem. They eat up a lot of resources and neglect average students. Megan McArdle says that we should care because "those schools are often the model for schools in poor districts. The affluent assume that what works in their school district, for their children, must be what works, and vote, and donate, accordingly."