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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Houston-based health tech startup is revolutionizing patient selection for clinical trials

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On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

Houston nonprofit unveils new and improved bayou cleaning vessel

litter free

For over 20 years, a nonprofit organization has hired people to clean 14 miles of bayou in Houston. And with a newly updated innovative boat, keeping Buffalo Bayou clean just got a lot more efficient.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveils its newest version of the Bayou-Vac this week, and it's expected to be fully operational this month. BBP Board Member Mike Garver designed both the initial model of the custom-designed and fabricated boat as well as the 2022 version. BBP's Clean & Green team — using Garver's boat — has removed around 2,000 cubic yards of trash annually, which is the equivalent of about 167 commercial dump trucks. The new and improved version is expected to make an even bigger impact.

“The Bayou-Vac is a game changer for our program,” says BBP field operations manager, Robby Robinson, in a news release. “Once up and running, we foresee being able to gain an entire workday worth of time for every offload, making us twice as efficient at clearing trash from the bayou.”

Keeping the bayou clean is important, since the water — and whatever trash its carrying — runs off into Galveston Bay, and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. The improvements made to the Bayou-Vac include removable dumpsters that can be easily swapped out, slid off, and attached to a dump truck. The older model included workers having to manually handle trash and debris and a secondary, land-based vacuum used to suck out the trash from onboard.

Additionally, the Bayou-Vac now has a moveable, hydraulic arm attached to the bow of the vessel that can support the weight of the 16-foot vacuum hose. Again, this task was something done manually on the previous model of the Bayou-Vac.

“BBP deeply appreciates the ingenuity of our board member Mike Garver and the generosity of Sis and Hasty Johnson and the Kinder Foundation, the funders of the new Bayou-Vac,” BBP President Anne Olson says in the release. “We also thank the Harris County Flood Control District and Port Houston for their longtime support of BBP’s Clean & Green Program.”