US News has a new ranking of American high schools out today. The list is here, my take on what it means and why it matters here, and here is a paper explaining the methodology (pdf). WaPo story here, local and regional here.
A bit of background. In 2006 Sara Mead and I criticized Newsweek’s high school rankings. First, in this paper and then we subsequently debated the issue of what makes a good ranking with Jay Mathews, The Washington Post reporter who developed the Newsweek method called the “Challenge Index.” I’m obviously biased (because I had a hand in helping come up with this new method) but think it addresses the problems that Sara and I raised to the extent they can be addressed (a) with the data available today and (b) in an inter-state ranking. And, it represents measures that are more aligned with what high schools are expected to do today. So, as the kids say, props to US News. This list also shows the power of the work that S & P is doing on education and why Schoolmatters is a great resource (and it shows why S & P’s Paul Gazzerro is such a badass in our field).
Basically, the US News method doesn’t abandon the college prep focus of the Challenge Index. Instead, it augments it with a couple of screens intended to ensure that schools under consideration are providing a good education overall to their study body, and especially to disadvantaged students, as well as good college prep.
There is a lot of data on this list but a few quick takeaways that jump out already. Rural schools are under-represented on the list, obvious implications for policymakers there in terms of college-prep courses like Advanced Placement. Charter schools are over-represented, that’s indicative of the number that are focusing on college prep for urban kids. And some states are over/under represented. Lessons there, too.
The fact that the top high school is a selective one will cause some to write off the whole list. But, while 1 in 5 schools on the list are selective, that means 4 in 5, including some schools with diverse student bodies, also make it into this elite company. And, there are selective high schools that don’t make the cut. So it’s a leg up but not a determinent. The distribution of high poverty – high minority schools on the list should at once offer us some lessons but also call attention to the scale of the challenge. In other words, it’s a list that does showcase some of the best schools out there but doesn’t sugar coat the equity problems that exist today.