Future Shock!


Doc Brown needed “1.21 Gigawatts” to get Marty to the future.  I only need a few hundred words to do the same to you.

During the summer of 2012, a specific Arizona charter school will have state testing scores published in the newspaper that will demonstrate a 100% passing rate!

I know what you are saying.  “How does he do it, with scarcely a gigawatt in sight and no Delorean?”

Because I like you, I’m going to let you in on the secret: It’s nothing more than simple statistics and a little bit of basic math.  Mix in the right question, and you’ve got time-travel.

The charter school that features so prominently in my predictive powers recently opened to much fanfare and high expectations from both its parents and teachers.  In the rush to enroll, many students from our high achieving community were swayed under the promise of a more rigorous education.  And, next year’s numbers will prove its excellence.

Or will they?

I did some data-mining.  Dangerous, I know, but I wore a helmet with a light, and everything is safer with a helmet and a light.

I examined the testing data of just students who had taken AIMS and had been withdrawn for the purpose of enrolling at the charter.   100% of those students“Met or Exceeded” the state’s academic standards.

That’s right.  Every one of them passed.

Guess which students are likely to do so, again?

What I found was not surprising.  Those enticed by such promise were families who are incredibly interested in having their children be successful in school and value education enough to give up free transportation and other amenities to not “miss an opportunity.”   They are to be commended for caring, but should also be cognizant that they are a new “target demographic.”

Let me frame it another way.  The children from the public school that fed the charter were already at 100% when they left. 

This is not about the quality of any of the schools, and I suspect the charter will likely become a fine institution. Behind those numbers, the instruction may prove both rigorous and challenging.  But, the testing information won’t tell us anything more than we already knew:  high performing kids relocated and helped to make another school high performing.  Shocking, indeed.

What really matters, however, are the questions we will ask of our data, and the judgments we make about the quality of any school and its teachers, the day after the numbers are splashed all over the Arizona Republic.

And, here is where my real prediction comes to fruition, and it’s not about the 100%, it’s about emotions and reactions.  On a bright and sunny Arizona morning in August, moms all over Scottsdale will be calling each other buzzing over the charter’s performance.  At 5:00 a.m., phones will vibrate on night stands across the community.

“I’m sorry!  I know you’re still sleeping, but did you see the scores?”

As the day wears on and the news spreads, some who stayed in the neighborhood school will even wonder if they should have left.  Did they make a mistake?  Did they miss their opportunity?  Across the street, however, their neighbors with the slightly dented night stands and run-down cell phone batteries will smile and take comfort in the proof that the data provides: they clearly made the right choice.

However, statistically speaking, the numbers will not demonstrate that anything will have changed for those children, and the data alone will not tell any story of note.

future-shock-2It’s not easy being a parent, and now there’s one more reason why.  Much like automobile shoppers in the emerging car market of the 1950’s who wandered wide-eyed into attractive dealerships, parents have become consumers, but instead of for cars, they are shopping for the shiniest of schools.

And, the modern day salesmen across education are lining up at the doors with a suit and a smile.    But much like Biff could have told you after chasing Marty through the town square, even beautiful new 50’s era cars can end up smelling like manure.

In two weeks, your resident Doc Brown will put you back in the DeLorean, strap the dog in the front seat, and take you back to the future.  This time, however, we will look at how education consumers can learn to ask the right questions and not just kick the proverbial tires.  

Please note: No real charter or public schools were harmed in the making of this post.



Mike Lee

Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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