What makes a good school?

Test score mania: Parents in Howard County should chill out a bit on buying public education.

April 07, 2000

NO ONE could argue with a parents' desire to provide the best possible education for their children.

Who needs a yacht or a country club membership anyway? Put the money into private school or an expensive house in the right school district.

But do we go too far? Are we running with too much urgency toward the "highest" test score images projected by, for example, the Centennial district and the realtors who work that field?

Houses there sell for up to $100,000 more than houses of similar quality elsewhere in the county -- sometimes before they're publicly listed.

The reason: Centennial's high test scores and its well-deserved reputation for providing an excellent learning environment.

The school's performance, though, should not be surprising. Given the price of an average house there -- in the $350,000 range according to one realtor -- the students are likely to be well-prepared and well-motivated.

What is, perhaps, more remarkable when you think of it is the performance of a school district such as Wilde Lake in Columbia, where the student body reflects the diversity of society, economically and racially, foreign and native-born.

A perceptive reader in Columbia wonders if there is a formula that would show how much less a home in Columbia is worth because her school district scored somewhat lower on the SATs than Centennial or some other good county school. (We know of none.)

One real estate agent, a graduate of Wilde Lake, sells Howard County schools in general -- but knows that Centennial sells highest. "The best of the best -- how can you go wrong?" he asks, as if there is no other answer.

Maybe you can't. But maybe you can't go wrong at Wilde Lake and many other Howard schools, either.

They may be offering a richer, more representative slice of American society -- lessons to be learned that don't necessarily show up immediately on test results.

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