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'We're No. 1?' That's something The Review has known for a while

Lake Oswego Rotary Club members have a lighthearted tradition at their weekly meetings called “Brags & Boasts.” For a small donation to the group’s foundation, folks can stand up and share some news that makes them proud.

The birth of a grandchild, a college graduation, an impressive new job for a son or daughter — all elicit $10 or $20 from parents or grandparents and the “oohs” and “ahhs” of their fellow Rotarians.

Rarely do they result in a standing ovation.

But that’s what happened recently when Heather Beck stood to announce that Lake Oswego had been named the No. 1 school district in the United States. The superintendent tossed $50 onto the table, former superintendent Bill Korach added $50 more, and the crowd rose to its feet.

Later that week, the Chamber of Commerce shared the news in an email to its members. The cable network MSNBC picked up the story. And so did The Review, in a Facebook post that garnered 5,859 views and 86 “likes” and was shared 39 times. But in the print edition of the newspaper, we only teased off the front page to a short news brief about the district’s selection.

And no one applauded that.

In phone calls, emails and questions asked face to face, folks wondered why we didn’t play the story more prominently and seize the opportunity to brag and boast about the district’s well-deserved accomplishment. And they were right to do so, because being named the best in the country is something we should celebrate in a big way.

But here’s the problem: We had never heard of “StartClass,” the company that decided Lake Oswego was No. 1. No one we talked to had heard of them, either. And so we did a little research.

Turns out StartClass is one of a handful of “online research engines” that mine public databases to produce a variety of interesting reports. At startclass.com, you can find out which law schools are most forgiving of low LSAT scores, which colleges have the most “noteworthy” alumni or which are the best-paying cities for real estate agents or IT professionals.

You can check out the worst-paying cities for police officers, compare college tuition and expenses, or look at graduate programs by discipline. And yes, you can find rankings for the best public and private schools in the country.

To compile its rankings, StartClass’s website says it “sifted through data from the U.S. Department of Education,” selecting the best district in every state based primarily on “student math and reading proficiency on state assessment tests, with a few other institutional factors considered as well (i.e. student-teacher ratio, student discipline, etc.).”

And that’s it. No other explanation of methodology, no reasons for why Lake Oswego was chosen over the Mendham Township School District in New Jersey or the Hillsborough City Elementary School District in California, which also scored 97 out of 100 possible points. Or why LOSD was one point better than the four districts that scored 96.

We tried to learn more from the study’s author, associate editor Nick Selbe, who graduated in 2014 from the University of Southern California, where he was sports editor of the college newspaper. But our efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

And so, with the credibility of the rankings in doubt, we chose to run a short story about Lake Oswego’s selection on Page A9.

Did we make the right call?

I think so, although I could just as vigorously defend a decision to run the story across the top of the front page. Because the Lake Oswego School District deserved the standing ovation it got from Rotarians. Those of us who live here know that we do indeed have one of the best school districts in the country; it’s why so many members of the community chose to move here in the first place.

Heck, all you have to do is read The Review every week to know that.

Just in the past month, we’ve featured stories about students’ scores on the new Smarter Balanced exams, which exceeded expectations and were among the highest in the state. And about a group of dedicated parents who are giving their time and resources to the Hallinan Improvement Project. And about the efforts of the Lake Oswego Schools Foundation, which raises funds to put extra teachers in more classrooms.

We’ve talked about the district’s three-year Strategic Plan, which focuses not only on improving instructional programs but also on the buildings that house them. We’ve featured student all-stars, poets and National Merit semifinalists. Student athletes who compete at the highest level.

Picnics and garden parties and concerts and more.

Every week, education reporter Jillian Daley writes about the students, teachers, administrators and parents who make Lake Oswego schools worthy of a No. 1 ranking. She paints a bright, colorful and detailed picture of a district that deserves a lot of praise.

Truth is, Heather Beck was right to brag and boast about her schools. She should also take a lot of the credit, because her open, honest leadership style and absolute dedication to the students of Lake Oswego has a lot to do with why the LOSD is as good as it is. She should be proud.

We’re proud, too. And as Lake Oswego’s community newspaper, we don’t mind acting like a cheerleader sometimes for the institutions that make this such a great place to live, work, play — or go to school.

But I think we also have a responsibility to do our homework, to rely on our experience as journalists to tell the whole story, and to use our news judgment to question the relative value of everything we cover — even if that means disappointing some readers with a news brief on Page A9.

We don’t always get it right. We could have played the StartClass rankings on the front page. And honestly, we probably could have justified the decision. But if this was a Rotary Club meeting, I’d rather boast and brag about the way The Review covers the Lake Oswego School District every day, in every issue of the newspaper.

To me, that coverage does a much better job of showing why our schools are No. 1 in the country. And I’d be happy to put $50 on the table for the right to say that out loud.

Gary M. Stein is editor of The Lake Oswego Review.


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