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A Focus School?

By Ryan Moonka

        What if countries were ranked athletically by comparing the top 30% of athletes with the bottom 30% of athletes? In other words, this system would compare the Olympians with the backyard baseball kids. And what if the 10% of countries with the widest gap had to completely revise themselves?

       This is the analogy Oakland Schools Superintendent Vickie Markavitch uses for Focus Schools. Focus Schools lay within the 10% of Michigan schools with the widest achievement gaps between the top and bottom 30% of students. While the Focus School system is intended to improve schools statewide, it is flawed.

       The greatest flaw with the Focus School system is that it encourages sameness amongst all students. But high schools don’t work that way; all high schools have exceptionally bright students and poorer performing students.

       Andover’s Principal Durecka explains, “If you were to take our top [30% of students] and bring them down, then we wouldn’t be a Focus School.” He continues, “The intentions [of the state] are not to create an environment where everyone is the same but I think that’s what the law is doing.” The law encourages schools to maintain as small a gap as possible, which in some cases means spending very little time with the talented and more time with the struggling students.

       Another flaw with the system is that a Focus School isn’t necessarily a poorly performing school; it’s a school with a large gap. This means that schools that perform very well still have to under ago the reforms that come along with the Focus School designation. Durecka describes, “If you’re all low achieving, you aren’t a focus school. If you’re all in the middle, you aren’t a focus school. But when you get this [large enough] gap, somehow it’s a bad thing.”

       According to the Michigan Department of Education, Andover was within the 79th percentile for all public schools in 2011-12. In other words, Andover is a better school to attend than most other high schools in Michigan. Yet, because there is a large educational gap between its top and bottom students, it must institute reforms to address the gap.

       As of right now, Andover’s Focus School designation has led to mixed reactions concerning the merger next year. Principal Hollerith mentions, “It’s not going to affect the merger…. For both schools coming together, it’s concentrating on bringing up the achievement levels of students that really need it the most.” However, the Focus School designation does stand for at least four years. Therefore, whether or not Bloomfield Hills High School becomes a Focus School is most likely  the state’s decision.

       If BHHS does start as a Focus School, that will most likely deliver a blow to the academic structure that is already being developed by the district. Bloomfield Hills students perform better than average every year, so the state needs not worry about the academic gap Andover has.

       The state should look at each high school individually, as opposed to using arbitrary statistics to determine which schools need help. Instead of schools with large achievement gaps, schools with low graduation rates should be targeted first.

       As for now, Andover is stuck as a Focus School, leaving the future classification of BHHS questionable. Perhaps the state will reconsider the whole Focus School concept. Until then, Andover will be known as an undeserving problem school.

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