Schadenfreude at Mann School

Opinion: Columns

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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.

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Reader Comments

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Between the lines  

Posted: April 13th, 2012 1:18 PM

So it's not that Mann School is better, it's that Mann parents are better: "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."


Posted: April 12th, 2012 1:34 PM

Is it true that the Principal resisted and/or outright denied special ed, special needs classes/students at Mann because of the adverse effect on test scores? Have it from a knowledgeable source this is true. If so, that's the real disservice ...tsk tsk...hubris indeed. And John...I don't hate ya pal so get over it...and never heard of any Mann "mystique" before either. But I have heard of Duke. Their football program sucks.

My two cents  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 10:53 AM

Truthis made an interesting observation. Lots of maneuvering at our elementary as well, by parents eager to avoid "bad influences." People teach their kids to exclude -- the opposite of an inclusive culture. Ironically, some of the most judgmental have the meanest kids too. We have much work to do if we are all to get along. As for test scores, it is absolutely possible to be a high achiever at a school that is not Mann.

Lincoln Student and Mann Parent  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 9:52 AM

STOP! As someone is AA, went to Lincoln (OPRF, IVY LEAGUE GRAD) and kids at Mann (moved away for 23 years) I can tell you all Oak Parkers are really good people. Lincoln just as great as Mann. OP'ers Generally open minded and FAR less snobby that the city, north shore etc. There are great kids at every school and A hole parents at all as well. Look at the quality of the person not race, income etc. We need to move on - do the right thing and be kind to each child.


Posted: April 12th, 2012 9:43 AM

I'd be more impressed with the Mann mystique if the school had more economic diversity similar to that of the other schools in OP and still managed to out test the rest of the village. Having high test scores in a very upper middle class area of town with hardly any economic diversity is nothing special imho. School performance is pretty much solidly correlated with higher incomes....


Posted: April 12th, 2012 9:19 AM

Defensive much? Hubbuch's column reads like an apology piece. If you choose a home in part based on what is rated as the highest performing school, that is a perfectly valid choice. This sickness in Oak Park where people are judged based on their alignment with the Village-approved Oak Park values is completely contrary to one of the values that is at least paid lip service: tolerance. As to Mann attitude, sure it is there, but that's the character of the NW corner of OP.


Posted: April 12th, 2012 6:32 AM

Many, not all, Mann parents like to pat themselves on the back for living in a racially diverse town. Nevermind that Mann is quite homogeneous. The ultimate goal is to test into all honors in high school thereby eliminating "the element" from the classes. True. Also true, if there is a child at Mann that is undesirable (behavior or the like) many parents will intervene so that their little darling is never in class with said child. Of course, the principal was part in parcel to all this.

Mary Ellen Eads from Oak Park  

Posted: April 12th, 2012 5:58 AM

I can't address the testing issue but it doesn't seem that the school executives had much of a choice in the outcome. I was surprised however to learn that the Mann district was whiter and richer than the rest of Oak Park. Has Oak Park resegregated economically and racially? Isn't that the antithesis of what Oak Park claims to value. Maybe students from other OP ele. schools should have access to Mann, to help mitigate the effects of this lack of diversity.

OP Rez  

Posted: April 11th, 2012 10:21 PM

John, I don't "hate" or even dislike the Mann district for being the whitest, richest and highest scoring area of Oak Park... but I have met a number of parents that openly look down on people from other parts of Oak Park, and have gone as far as letting their kids treat other non-Mann district kids with lesser degrees of compassion on the playground (yes, I've seen it). Is this everyone there? No, but there were more that a few. It's not a matter of race, wealth or education, but character.

@Read the article  

Posted: April 11th, 2012 10:20 PM

What would be the purpose of doing anything with the tests if the intent would not be to raise the test scores? Whoever was responsible wanted to make sure these tests counted and that is cheating. There is no other reason to alter any of the tests in any way.

Yes, do read the article  

Posted: April 11th, 2012 10:11 PM

That's not what Roberts said. He did say that he "didn't think" it was done with malice, but he said nothing at all about the intent to raise the test scores, which would obviously be the effect of the cheating.

Read the article  

Posted: April 11th, 2012 10:01 PM

Dr. Roberts hassaid "there was no malice or intent to raise test scores". What part of that is so hard to understand? There was a mistake in how the post test was handled this year, that doesn't mean that Mann cheats as a general rule. Sorry, that's just the facts.

Even more to the point  

Posted: April 11th, 2012 6:51 PM

Unfortunately you are mising the point. The reason that Mann continuously has high test scores is because they cheat. It just so happens they got caught this time.

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