Kentucky's new 5-star rating system for schools provides a simple comparison that's easily understood.
But like most simple explanations, it doesn't tell the whole story.
The ranking is based on results from K-PREP achievement assessments last spring. It provides a mass overview of the entire student population. Quality education and learning is a much more individualized process.
Every child arrives with a different temperament, unique interests and particular learning style. Family background, home stability and the value placed on education by parents are key factors not revealed in the star system. Peer pressure and sense of identity also can be critical factors in learning.
Lots of students succeed in struggling schools and failure occurs in premiere institutions of learning. A high-achiever could be sitting right next to a student who struggles with the same textbook and lesson plans.Teachers and administrators are different in their abilities, too. Their skills, efforts and training -- even when applied effectively and earnestly -- won't always prove to be fruitful with every individual student.
All that's said to make the point that education is a highly individualized process. At various times, society has approached it as a process akin to a factory assembly line or as an experimental laboratory where techniques, methods and styles are tried out in hopes of discovering some elusive outcome.
When it's your child or grandchild in the mix, you want only the best, not experiments that might not yield an expected outcome. Very few taxpayers are willing or even able to pay for the individualized programming and attention necessary to ensure all schools have 5-star outcomes.
Aiming for the stars is a noble objective and this system will result in parental pressures and priority changes that motivate improvements. It also points out achievement gaps that indicate areas where special efforts are needed to ensure students move forward with their peers.
Ultimately, it's not the number of stars that matters as much as the shining connections made in the classrooms at the individual student level.
The Department of Education is providing an understandable measure of comparison but it's based on one snapshot from a single assessment. It's not the sole yardstick by which to measure performance. Don't put too much confidence in a high ranking or be too discouraged by a lower one.
Quality education happens every day in local schools. As teachers, aides and administrators map out improvement plans and parents provide support, encouragement and discipline, learning will occur.