Is the best good enough?

In a recent article, Jay Mathews described MATCH Charter Public High School as “one of the nation’s most successful inner-city charters.” Having spent last year in Boston, I got to learn a little bit about MATCH. While they have done impressive work creating academic gains with a challenging population, the school’s success is not unqualified. Specifically, a significant number of MATCH students drop out each year. Due, in part, to the fact that MATCH regularly retains students who are not on grade-level, students leave to pursue their education elsewhere. Those that remain at MATCH do relatively well, but what about the students that leave? 

(Note: Mr. Mathews’ article is about their teacher residency program – only tangentially related to my writing today)
I wrote to Mr. Mathews about this issue, and he brought up an interesting point: “When I say it is one of the best charters in the country for inner city kids, indeed one of the best high schools in the country for inner city kids, I am comparing it to the schools we have, not the ones we wish we had. Big dropout rates are a problem for everyone in those communities. I don’t think anyone, including the best charters, have solved that. Okay, they are in the same league with a lot of other schools on that one measure, but in terms of raising the achievement of  and challenging kids they can persuade to stay, they are way ahead.”
Mr. Mathews is right; however, I still think the conversation is being oversimplified. Should we praise programs that are the best available? Even if we know they’re not good enough? By simply praising MATCH without outlining the known significant limitations, don’t we avoid a true conversation about educational solutions?
Currently, many of the organizations being praised as panaceas work effectively for a certain type of student – those with some stability, motivation, and involved parents. By simply applauding their efforts, we ignore the fact that we continue to fall short in addressing the needs of so many of our students. MATCH does great work, but, depending on what you read, they lose as much as 50% of their freshman class before graduation. While their academic gains may be the best out there, is that acceptable? 
Mr. Mathews was open to the feedback, and he expressed an interest in continuing the conversation as we both learn more about promising programs being implemented across the country (I suggested he explore Big Picture Schools). In the end, I find it extremely important that we recognize that A solution for SOME kids is not THE solution for ALL kids. While any failing system provides “best” alternatives, we have a long way to go before the best is good enough.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Mark
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