Tuesday, May 25, 2010

School Boards to Parents: Talk to the Hand

The Rochester Community Schools board of education has determined that high school senior class valedictorian and salutatorian honors are no longer fashionable.

Moreover, class ranking - a designation which facilitates college admissions and scholarship awards - has also been given the boot by Rochester's school board.

Perhaps there's a good reason for their determination to abolish academic
ranking districtwide, but none of the current board members has been willing to explain their rationale to this parent. (Despite 2 trips to the podium and two detailed written communications.)

The sad fact is that community members who ask questions that challenge the prevailing position of the sitting board are given a stone-faced stare and a "Thank you for your comments" from the assembled dignitaries of Rochester's own "Mt. Rushmore".

Mind you, Rochester's "chosen ones" are not unique in this approach. I've attended plenty of board meeting in other districts, and it's the same story.

School boards tend to view parents and taxpayers as ATM machines, from which they can make withdrawals at will. Yet they offer nothing in return - certainly not meaningful answers.

So long as parents and taxpayers tolerate such dismissive arrogance from
public officials, local school boards will continue to practice "school
business" as usual.

Background on the valedictorian / salutatorian / class ranking issue can be
found here

Watch this short 90-second video, then tell me what you believe the
Rochester school board is trying to "communicate":

School boards claim they want to hear from you.

Go ahead.

Step right up to the altar and talk to their hand.


Edgar Bergen said...

Was that a still shot at the end of the video? I didn't see their lips move when they were supposed to say "Aye".

Normally, it's the ventriloquist who's lips don't move.

Too funny!

Charlie McCarthy said...

Watch it!

Out of Order said...

When did "balancing" student recognition become a board priority?

How about balancing the budget?

You have Got To Be Kidding said...

They didn't really approve this did they?

What could they be thinking?

Anonymous said...

A school system that doesn’t internally weight honors and AP classes leaves itself wide open to the spectacle of multiple valedictorians based on GPA alone.

This is a shallow approach to awarding academic honors. Some students with high GPAs understandably avoid the challenging academic road under such systems – they follow where the decision-making adults lead.

This suggests that a more comprehensive mechanism for evaluating top scholars is in order such as reviewing ACT / SAT scores, National Merit recognition, AP Scholar status, cumulative 8-semester GPA status, etc.

Whether the school district chooses to accept it or not, earning a 4.0 in AP Calculus AB represents an entirely different level of scholarly potential than earning a 4.0 in community communications.

Sorry if that sounds too harsh.

Yet if a school district’s leaders are unwilling to honor academic talent and effort by officially acknowledging it for what it is, you must accept that you will have vals and sals who may not be your most talented.

This policy change by the 2010 Rochester board of education smacks of some sort of score-settling compromise, which like most of these compromises effectively translates into gray policy mush as opposed to anything substantive or pro-active which benefits the district's high school students.

This action certainly does nothing to further Rochester’s need to establish a stronger, deeper academic culture in its high schools.

And that’s one reason why many Rochester parents opt for high schools that do.

Mike Reno said...


Actually, the board did make some good moves and implemented SOME of what you suggest. The last blog entry I made outlines the proposal, which recognizes and honors students that have a collection of achievement, including GPA, ACT scores, and AP participation. All good stuff.

One of the suggestions that they poo-pooed was adding weight to rigorous AP classes, and then calculating class ranking, vals, and sals based on that ranking.

Our board, which claims to value communications, has remained completely silent on why they eliminated class rank, vals, and sals.

They did say that they didn't like weighting because they wanted a well-rounded student... not too heavy on the academics. 4 AP classes is more than enough.

(I'm not making that up, by the way. That was said at the board table, and all of their heads were bobbing.)

Finally, you are SO right that this serves as yet another example of why parents choose non-public schools over our district.

In Rochester, 17% of the students that live within the district make that choice.

Our district has SO MUCH potential... good teachers, supportive parents, great infrastructure, technology, etc.

It all gets squandered by these kinds of board decisions. Grrr....

Anonymous said...


I did read your description of the district's new honors designations but the whole thing feels convoluted and contrived.

If they're willing to specify criteria and come up with their own Rochester-style titles, why not retain the traditional ranking system, which has tangible value in the real world?

Makes it seem like Rochester is afraid to designate an academic MVP.

As you've pointed out, the kids lose with this one.

Board blunder.

Donna Gundle-Krieg said...

I don't think schools should have this designation anymore.

My daughter is a finalist for valedictorian at a local well regarded private school. There were ten candidates with the top GPA, so they have turned it into a contest. This contest includes subjective and political areas such as essays, interviews and outside activities, and "voting" by the peers and teachers.

Another problem is all the finalists had tons of outside activities and comparing the school newspaper editor to someone who donated 1000 hours of community service outside the school becomes unfair. The process was painful and stressful for all involved.

I believe in rewarding academic excellence, but when it turns into a political and subjective game it is not right.

Mike Reno said...

Hello Donna... thanks for the post.

Why did they turn it into a contest?

If multiple students have an equal (weighted) GPA, then they should all earn the distinction of being "top-in-class".

(And by the way... I think there is good reason for some of the more rigorous, highly competitive schools to skip ranking. If there are many students taking rigorous schedules, and doing well, you might find a really top notch student being pushed down lower in the rankings, and that that lower ranking might mischaracterize their achievements. Rochester doesn't have that problem... less than 40% of its students pass all four of the ACT college readiness benchmarks.)

Absolutely Certain said...


Your post proves that public ed- has hardly cornered the market on lousy administrative decisionmakingn though you must admit, yours are in a league of their ownm

Honestly, where do they find these geniuses?

A valedictorian is by definition, a member of a graduating class with the highest academic ranking.

Not the highest ranking senior who can compose a gut-wrenching personal essay on demand.

Not the highest ranking senior who has the best aptitude for growing out his sideburns.

And not the senior who can eat the most hotdogs while juggling flaming batons on a tightrope over the Detroit River.


I believe school folk are timid about making and defending objectively derived judgement calls. It runs counter to ed- school relativism.

After all, "All students are gifted!"

Deb said...


I worked my tail off to finish in the top 10 in a class of 450 students back in OH a very long time ago. I made the mistake in ninth grade of getting one C, not realizing that my highschool grade point was cumulative and that it mattered. I spent the next three years getting pretty much all A's so that I could finish in the top 10. Each quarter I moved up in my ranking and finally, my last quarter I took the #10 position. I was driven!! Without a ranking--WHO CARES!

Competition is what makes this a great country.

What are we really doing and teaching our kids???

Glad to move to MN and be done with MI! I'm sure the publics there will be as nutty! Still very much considering private schools so I can sleep at night:)

deficio reor said...

The board is being irresponsible (and rude) by not sharing their thoughts.

But what about the administrators? What sort of curriculum person would allow this?

It's sad that the board would rubber-stamp this sort of thing. But it's REALLY sad that the administration would even propose it in the first place.

Yawn said...

Rochester's administrators serve up what the school board expects.

Reams of feel-good policies that they can stamp 7-0.