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Houston expert: Rethinking priorities at educational institutions

With a new year around the corner, students and parents will soon see school rankings released. But there's so much more to consider than what this data shows. Houston education expert shares his own innovative method. Photo via Getty Images

As a new year approaches, it is common to see various school rankings begin to appear in different studies and within various media outlets. Whether they're ranking colleges, high schools or even pre-k schools, these lists have long impacted the decisions families and students make.

That said, most school rankings are one-dimensional, therefore making them unreliable. The most common factor these classifications take into consideration is the rigor of academics and how they correlate to test scores and admissions. However, students are more than solely an academic statistic – they are artists, athletes and creative thinkers.

It is important, at any level, when considering a school to take into account nine key factors, not just one.

Navigating the selection process

There is a systemic issue with associating the quality of an educational experience to a school's name. Many rankings fuel this fire. Parents are often influenced to make decisions off of frivolous premises that deceive them into thinking one school is of better caliber than another. However, in reality, they are doing their child a disservice by not taking into consideration the many other factors that play into school selection.

Location

Distance to home or workplace is still a top factor in deciding which school to target. Although important to consider, many families tend to focus more on other factors aside from convenience alone.

Cost

The average private high school tuition in the Greater Houston area is $25,083 with annual increases on average of 4-6%. Tuition and financial aid play key factors when making the final decision and choosing which schools to add to a list. Final consideration for this is the cost vs benefit analysis.

Legacy

Studies suggest a "legacy" — you, a spouse or older child who previously attending a potential school — is one of the most popular reasons why schools get added to a target list. Although this is a legitimate approach, it is important to be cautious of not imposing a "legacy" onto a student.

Academics

The quality of education can be measured in rigor of classes, expertise of teachers, use of technology and class size. It is important to take into consideration if Honors, AP, and Dual Credit are offered, the percentage of teachers who have advanced degrees, the accessibility to laptops and smart learning devices, and smaller teacher to student ratios.

Athletics

If a student has an affinity for a sport and is genuinely considering playing the sport at a higher level, then it is important to find a balance between a school that has a strong program for that sport and the other factors on the list.

Social

There are three main social components at play in school choice: if students' friends are considering a school, or parents' own social circles influencing the decision, and the non-academic activities offered at a school. It is important to consider the clubs, organizations, leadership and volunteer opportunities offered as these help contribute to college applications down the road.

K-12 school v. 9-12 school

Some students must consider the adaptation curve for starting a high school in which other students had been attending since kindergarten. Due to this, families may consider 9-12 schools as the better option for their students since everyone starts from scratch.

Single-Gender v. Co-Educational

Deciding on the gender composition of a high school depends on a student's personality, confidence, personal preferences, and family values. Students can find success in both types of offerings, but girls especially may thrive in a single gender environment due to the empowering and confidence building structure of most all-girls schools.

College Preparedness

This should be the ultimate reason to go through a well-informed process for school selection. A school should prepare a student for standardized tests, college applications, and scholarship opportunities, and is the clearest cost to benefit factor to consider.

A new way to determine a student's path

In order to decide the best fit for a student it is time to discontinue the age-old practice of selecting an education based on rankings and subjective labels. It is time to usher in a new innovative approach that takes a look at the personality, values, interests, skills, and goals of a student and the various elements that make them unique.

At Firat Education, we run qualitative and quantitative assessments on students which are scenario-based and are used to identify what drives them, what gets them to the next level, and what excites them. This information then allows us to use a weighted scoring system that, dependent on each student, helps quantify the factors that matter most such as college preparedness, academics, athletics, and social.

Additionally, we look at their changing habits whether it be consistency in their values, their interests, and academic strengths. From here, we put it all together to formulate personalized scores that help prioritize the best fit for that individual student.

Utilizing this developed and dynamic approach to choosing a school is the first step in revolutionizing the way we approach schooling and spearheading a new age of innovation in education.

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Ibrahim Firat, is the chief educational consultant and co-founder of Houston-based Firat Education.

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Building Houston

 
 

Progress and feedback will help you reach your organization's DEI goals. Photo via Pexels

Houston is often touted as the most diverse city in the country, but with that comes the responsibility of making sure we are creating inclusive and equitable opportunities that reflect the communities we serve.

With the current state of our country dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as social and political issues, employers across the city have searched for the right thing to say and do to help their employees and customers during this time when personal feelings and beliefs impact the workplace more now than ever. While there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to implementing DEI across an organization, here are a few steps and considerations companies can take to ensure DEI is a priority moving forward.

Understand your audience

It's important to understand the perspectives of those you serve. Identifying your audience will help develop a DEI strategy that addresses concerns from multiple lenses. At Houston Methodist, we focus on our patients, employees and the communities we serve. Anyone building a DEI program needs to not only be cognizant of their audience, but also understand their needs in today's climate before spending time and resources to develop initiatives that will address those needs. Ultimately, this will help shape a more impactful approach to DEI within your organization.

Define success

When developing a DEI strategy, success may seem overwhelming or lofty. But, viewing success as progress will help your organization accomplish your goals in a way that employees and other stakeholders will benefit from in the long run.

Set strategic and measurable goals that clearly state what your organization wants to achieve through its DEI efforts. These goals need not be big at the onset; make sure they are attainable. Most importantly, it's critical to revisit your goals on a regular basis and identify gaps, and be willing to pivot, if needed, along the way so your organization eventually reaches its goals. At the hospital, we've developed a DEI dashboard for all departments in our hospitals to help us with setting those measurable goals. Once measurable goals are identified, a DEI scorecard will be used to identify progress for departments and our organization year over year. When people are able to easily track and see progress or gaps, it will make it easier to reach desired goals.

An organization can't be successful with any new type of program if everyone within the organization doesn't understand the importance of DEI in their department and within the company as a whole. Progress often starts with one person. Providing training to employees about the impact that DEI can have on their day-to-day work will help them champion that within the organization. For example, we've launched something at our hospital called "Together We Grow," a training program aimed at building a foundation for what DEI is by exploring everyday scenarios employees may encounter. This program first started with leadership and is now available to all employees within the hospital system.

Establish a timeline

Once measurable goals have been established, develop a timeline for accomplishing those goals. By selecting two or three goals that can be focused on over a particular time period (i.e., six months or one year), your organization can implement targeted programs and best practices to drive the success of DEI for a more long-term plan. It's ok if not every program is up and running within the year; creating milestones along the way will give your organization time to grow its DEI efforts and aspire to something meaningful for your employees, customers or community. The need for DEI doesn't go away, so it's important to continue efforts year-round with a growth mindset.

Evaluate how DEI holistically fits into your business

A DEI department, team or individual can't be successful if the work isn't aligned with the mission of the organization. It does not help if an organization has competing priorities, so DEI goals must be embedded in your organization's business goals.

Additionally, it's also important to have leadership set the tone for the rest of the organization to follow. Executive leaders that fully commit to the organization's DEI efforts and promote transparency, feedback and accountability for those programs will yield the most meaningful and lasting results.

Recognize your ‘why’

As a business, it's important to understand why DEI is important for your organization's success. You need to both be able to understand and articulate the business case for why diversity matters in your organization. Studies like this one from Boston Consulting Group continue to show a positive correlation between workforce diversity, innovation and overall company performance. The workforce is constantly changing and becoming more diverse, so making sure your organization is adapting to those different perspectives and taking into consideration why this work is vital to your employees, customers and your community will help turn DEI ideas into action.

For many health care organizations, health equity has shaped community engagement efforts and programs. Addressing health equity for racial, ethnic and social minorities in the Greater Houston area has been a priority for Houston Methodist for nearly 30 years, and this work has also informed and strengthened our DEI efforts in the communities we serve.

In conclusion, remember progress and feedback will help you reach your organization's DEI goals. For these initiatives to be effective, everyone within your organization must understand that each person plays a role in shaping the success of DEI efforts.

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Arianne Dowdell is vice president, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist.

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