I’ve watched the support for a high school that fields a state championship football team. It’s a pleasant support to watch. I see conflict about a teacher showing an R-rated movie about the life of Frida Kahlo in class – some want punishment for the teacher, others write of the teacher’s quality. I have to admit – if I wanted to pick a painter with more controversial components, Kahlo gives a lot more options to get excited than most. Bisexual, Communist, an easy topic for disagreement – yet the disagreement demonstrates that we care about our schools and students.
I guess the question boils down to what we want taught and what we would rather keep concealed from our community’s adolescents. It looks like pride in the football team gets great support, and a film about a bisexual, communist Mexican artist gets folks picking sides. I’m challenged in understanding high school football – but I’ve watched men who were fifty years old reliving a game they played against each other 35 years earlier. Eureka’s high school football players get something out of the sport. It has value. Likewise, there is value to learning tolerance. Whether we’re part of a large group enjoying the school’s success in football, or picking a side in favor of showing or suppressing a movie about Frida Kahlo, we’re taking an interest in the school. But we may be on the wrong topic – a good, even a great athletic team doesn’t correlate with good or great academics. And showing a controversial film doesn’t correlate with good academics.
SchoolDigger provides rankings of all of Montana’s schools – well, most of Montana’s schools. When I got on the school board at Trego, the school wasn’t ranked . . . but it was also down to 4 or 5 students, depending on when you did the count. Last year, with Covid, the testing didn’t occur. Still, we have some data available.
When I searched Lincoln County High School, I read “SchoolDigger: Rank 113th of 137 Montana districts.” The chart below that statement shows that, back in 2013, Lincoln County High School rose into the top half of high schools.
If the average is 50%, the chart shows that Montana is not making the average, and LCHS performed dramatically below average. Staying with the percentages makes the scores easy to understand – and remember, the performance of all students has been compiled and averaged.
The numbers are extreme. Only in English do LCHS students approach the state average. Go back up and look at them. These kids are my neighbors. They aren’t morons. Our schools are allowing them to be left behind. I’m not looking at national norms – just comparing LCHS with the state average. When I began teaching at Trinidad State Junior College, I learned a vocational education mantra: “If the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught.” For some reason, our students haven’t learned.
We take pride in a state high school football championship. It feels pretty lonely to be in the group that reads of the LCHS rank on academics – nobody has mentioned it to me. Still, I would much prefer to see LCHS ranked number 1 of 137 Montana districts on the SchoolDigger page.
I’m not asking folks to petition the superintendent to punish or exonerate a teacher for showing an R-rated movie. Not when the high school rank is 25th from the bottom. The lowest fifth. I am suggesting we press the board, the superintendent, the principal, the teachers, the guidance guy, to take a first step – LCHS needs to rise from the gutter to the curb. The step after that can be reaching the state average. After all, they have surpassed that goal 50 miles to the south.
I don’t know how long it will take before LCHS can rise to showing even mediocre performance on SchoolDigger. The past couple of rankings are based on how students perform on the ACT in their junior year. Every student takes the test. A half-century ago, it was like the football team – the students taking the ACT were self-selecting. Now, regardless of your beliefs about college placement exams every student in the state takes the same exam,
SchoolDigger shows that we pay $9,347 per student to achieve this ranking. Whitefish pays $10,756 to be ranked third. If LCHS could miraculously jump to third place just by raising the budget by 15%, I’d say “DO IT NOW.” It is probably a part of the solution – we have to go down the list to 58th place Billings’ Skyview high school to find a lower $9,158 in per pupil expenditures. Still, I believe that the first change is attitude – and a state athletic championship doesn’t offset this level of tested academic performance.