By Matthew Mingle
In an ideal world, school quality would be measured by assessing how closely each school’s reality matches the ideals of the Whole Child approach to education. To start, these questions, aligned to the Whole Child tenets, would be answered:
- Does each child enter the school healthy? Does each child learn about and practice a healthy lifestyle?
- Does each child learn in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults?
- Is each child actively engaged in learning and connected to the school and broader community?
- Does each child have access to personalized learning and support from qualified, caring adults?
- Is each child challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment?
Each of these questions can lead students, educators, parents, community members, the press, and policymakers down a variety of meaningful paths of inquiry. Such analysis requires far greater time and effort than merely looking at easily quantifiable information like standardized assessment proficiency, graduation rates, attendance, or student/teacher ratios. While these things are important parts of the complete school-quality portrait, they are far too often considered in isolation, leading to lists that purport to definitively “rank” schools.
In an ideal world, we would move beyond this neat and clean approach to challenge ourselves to measure whether we are really providing all students with pathways for meaningful options for college, career, and citizenship. This is a common refrain in mission statements and stump speeches, but the quality of schools should be determined based on how well they live up to this laudable goal. This takes time and a willingness to listen to everyone involved in the operation of the school, from the youngest child to the person cleaning up the stadium after a football game.
In an ideal world, we would measure schools by their ability to offer students well-rounded educational programs and services. These programs and services should not only include rigorous academics but also health and physical education, art, music, world languages, civics, athletics, extracurricular activities, digital citizenship, service learning, career and technical education, and so much more. School quality should be based on more than just the results of ESEA-mandated standardized assessments in literacy, mathematics, and science.
In an ideal world, we would check in with students five years after graduation. Are they healthy? Are they happy? Are they good citizens? Are they engaged in meaningful work or study? Did their school experience inspire them to make the world a better place on their own, when we were no longer watching? After all, our mission in schools is really all about preparing our students to no longer need us.
Together, we the educators can and must be unwavering in our attempts to turn the discussion of school quality back to the Whole Child. Then and only then can we be sure that school quality is being measured by what matters most—how well students’ needs are being met every day.
Matthew Mingle is the director of curriculum and instruction for Madison Public Schools in New Jersey. He is the president-elect of New Jersey ASCD and was a member of the ASCD Emerging Leaders class of 2011.