While we hope for more and better particulars from Ruel Reid, the headmaster of Jamaica College (JC), we welcome his approach to public accountability and recommend the principle to other head teachers.
Indeed, we suggest to Mark Nicely, the new president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), the teachers' union, that he robustly promote the system to his members as part of his efforts to rebuild the credibility of the JTA, so badly tattered by its seeming willing acceptance of the abysmal performance of our schools.
Jamaica College, fashioned on the concept of the old English grammar school, is more than 200 years old. It used to be an elite school of top performers.
But like Jamaica's education system, more broadly, while access widened, standards, over the past several decades, declined.
Recent analysis, by educatejamaica.org, of the 2012 outcomes by Jamaican students in the Caribbean Examinations Council's (CXC) secondary-schools exams placed JC in the lower quadrant of performers.
Only 29 per cent of JC students passed at least five subjects, including math and English, at a single sitting in those exams. In other words, 71 per cent of the school's students did not perform well enough at CXC. (Passing five subjects is considered the minimum to matriculate to higher education or to qualify for 'decent' jobs.)
JC's performance under educatejamaica.org's criteria was not far off from the 39th position among high schools it occupied in a more rigorous 2004 study by Dr Dennis Minott of the teaching-learning organisation A-QuEST. The Minott study was before Mr Reid arrived at JC and discipline at the school had collapsed.
Despite bristling over this latest report, we appreciate the essence of Mr Reid's response. He has publicly announced performance targets for each subject, with the aim of 100 per cent passes in all by 2016. These criteria were apparently set four years ago.
MORE DETAILS NEEDED
Among the things Mr Reid has to clarify, though, is whether the concept of the fifth-form cohort, on which he measures passes, includes all the students who enter JC at first form. This kind of tracking, which formed part of Dr Minott's analysis, provides a measure of how good a job our schools do at retaining their students. Mr Reid must also indicate whether JC screens out students in an effort to enhance its exam passes.
The need for these clarifications notwithstanding, Mr Reid has provided us with a basis for judging JC's, and his own performance, over the next four years. He can be held to account.
Other principals should want to do the same. Many, as is often the position of the JTA, argue that schools like JC have well-to-do patrons and substantial endowments to help provide the resources with which to finance their success.
Performance targets need not be the same across schools. These can be weighted for the financial resources available to schools, the performance standards of students who join from primary schools, and other relevant factors. The bottom line, however, is that schools must be on a trajectory of improvement.
An incentive, the quality of output of our schools, measured significantly in exam results, should be part of the basis for remunerating teachers.
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