By John Hubbuch
I suspect some people were disappointed that the Mann School test-tampering scandal was limited to a measly two staff members and only 25 individual tests. Like Duke basketball, Notre Dame football and hedge fund managers, Mann School is kind of easy to hate. That neighborhood is the whitest, richest and almost always has the highest test scores.
The other school neighborhoods can plausibly argue that success on these tests has much less to do with the quality of instruction and more to do with the fortunate confluence of money and expectation. The teachers and students work just as hard but get less credit because of the premium placed on the holy grail of test scores. In fact, given less prepared and poorer kids, these schools actually deserve more credit.
Mann School is a kind of Rorschach test for the Oak Park parents of young children — at least those who can afford to buy a home in the neighborhood. My three sons are Mann School graduates. My oldest son started at Longfellow, but as our family grew, we wanted to buy a four-bedroom home with a bigger yard. There were more homes that fit that criteria in northwest Oak Park, and the fact that Mann had the highest test scores was always brought to our attention by the Realtors.
On the other hand, we were aware that Mann was the least diverse neighborhood in terms of both race and income. So we had to decide between competing values, and went with Mann justifying our decision in part on the basis that we were doing it for the kids. So we weren't quite as liberal as we would have hoped to be, but, hey, at least we didn't move to River Forest.
Color me Diversity Lite.
The boys got great educations and everything turned out fine although I now believe it really wouldn't have made any difference where the boys went to elementary school in Oak Park.
I'm sure some of the conflict is presented to today's parents — some would never send their children to Mann because of its lack of diversity and hyper-competitiveness. For other parents, Mann is the only school they would even consider.
Of course, the fact that Mann has the highest test scores really misses the point. There is a lot more to a school than its performance for a couple of days in March on standardized tests that don't measure art, music, social studies, critical thinking, collegiality, caring, friendships, nurturing, love of learning, citizenship, character, happiness and passion.
Even more to the point, the school's test score has nothing to do with the individual child's test score. If the parents make the child and his or her well-being their top priority, and spend lots of time and energy helping them realize their potential, then I seriously doubt it makes any difference at all which public elementary school they attend in Oak Park.
So I recommend not wasting time hating Mann School, especially if you taped Duke's NCAA tournament loss to Lehigh.