Something’s Not Right Here

National Blue Ribbon Schools … supposedly the best schools in the nation.

And they have signs to prove it.  

Some even have Hollywood lighting … and others are really, really big. A few are set in their own botanical gardens … and a handful are bolted to walls.

The signs look pretty impressive … and mighty expensive. Being a Blue Ribbon School is hot stuff, right?

Not really. 

It’s education’s equivalent of the cheesy “Best Dad in the World” t-shirt. 

But that bit of bad taste doesn’t seem to stop the schools in my neighborhood from going through the application grind to get the designation … so they can pay for their own back-slapping sign.

What exactly makes for a Blue Ribbon School anyway?

“In 2003, the program was restructured … placing a stronger emphasis on state assessment data … and how data are interpreted and used … “

Whoa! Stop right there!

Nobody bothers with that data crap … except those who’ve made a career out of making numbers say what they want them to say. 

What matters in real schools of excellence are the kids … and the teachers. And sometimes a principal.

Know what else matters? An atmosphere of curiosity and discovery … and a sense of purpose everyone can feel. 

And warmth, too. Yeah. Lots of warmth … because nothing grows without warmth.

Too few ever speak about warm schools. Places where kids feel comfortable taking risks … and thinking daring things …

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and putting their imaginations to work.

Schools should be so warm that failure doesn’t hurt … because schools are built for trips and stumbles. And that goes for teachers, too.

But those things are hard to measure … so … as important as they are … they don’t really count …  not to these folks … because they can’t make a pie chart with that stuff … or a bar graph. Or point to a percentile.

The Blue Ribbon hierarchy also insists that schools show “ …how curriculum, instruction, professional development, and student support promote student success.”

Oh, boy!

That was clearly written by classroom exiles who’ve learned the secret jargon … the word-voodoo … that allows them to nod heads with other head-nodding know-it-alls. 

But they still can’t teach. 

So they were promoted to the state or federal level … where the most damaging educational stupidities are born. And they’re rewarded with fat salaries to make the task of teaching harder and harder for those who know how to do what they don’t.

Those are the same folks who dole out Blue Ribbons. 

About 15% of all the schools have this Blue Ribbon distinction … and I seem to live near all of ‘em.

It’s very important for the schools here to show off because … because that attracts the best and the brightest … and the richest. That keeps property values up … and supplies those schools with even more advantaged youngsters. The circle of life, right?

The schools have lots of money where I live.


My own community is the ‘poorest of the rich’ … we spend ‘only’ $20,000 per pupil per year. Our neighbors spend $30,000.

We’ve got Blue Ribbons schools galore … and billboards that kinda, sorta, maybe announce what schools shine … and what schools don’t.

But if you look closely at the numbers, well, it turns out that the assessment performances of these Blue Ribbon schools run the gamut … from high scoring to disappointing. And that’s why lots of folks are suspect of those signs. Think it’s more a symbol of playing the game than growin’ the kids.

I’m not so surprised because I’m was in that business … for a long time.

To me this Blue Ribbon stuff is like Oscar night … air-kisses galore … and glitzy press coverage for doing what you’re supposed to do.

Remember … these are the same geniuses who bought into Common Core. Then ran master teachers out of the schools… and ruined the profession. They made testing an ordeal … and  championed “grit and rigor”. Then turned kids off to books with ‘close reading’ … and ignored the importance of the arts.

They even made fun of fun … by vilifying recess. For six-year-olds.

And they’re deciding which schools are excellent?

They can’t do anything right. They can’t write curricula … they can’t make tests … and they can’t even properly score the bad tests they make. They say they know the formula that makes a great teacher  … but it changes every few months.

They’re also good at threats. 


They threaten to close schools … or to take them over. Then threaten to end summer vacation … and make the school day longer. They menace parents into complying … and bully teachers into silence. They even threaten to withhold school aid.  That’s right … they threaten you with your own money.

And schools want their approval? Something’s not right here.

Denis Ian

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