It’s not the back and forth of different reform schemes that really gets me going, it’s the back and forth about high school rankings!
Last week U.S. News released its new rankings of American high schools, which include a methodology change: International Baccalaureate or “IB” is included now thanks to some data changes. The rankings are an outgrowth of a fun and lively debate that Jay Mathews and I have had for some time about high school rankings.
In particular, as Sara Mead and I wrote in this ES paper (pdf), this WaPo commentary, and as I wrote last year in U.S. News these rankings improve on Jay Mathews’ Newsweek rankings. While schools that overall are not doing a good job but nonetheless have a small core of kids taking Advanced Placement (AP) and IB courses can make the Newsweek list of “America’s Best High Schools,” the U.S. News list, which – full disc. – I helped develop, includes screens for overall performance and equity in addition to AP and IB pass rates.
This year Jay is making a change to his ranking method, a “Catching-Up” list for schools with AP or IB test passing rates less than 10 percent. It’s a start, but Jay and I still have a more basic disagreement about whether schools that are profoundly inequitable should be on a list of the nation’s “best” because they succeed with a small group of students. And while Jay argues back that the U.S. News list favors selective admission and affluent schools, in fact all kinds of schools can and do make the U.S. News list and the performance benchmarks are more meaningful.
One way to think about this is that Jay’s method focuses on successful classrooms while U.S. News focuses on successful schools. Perhaps if Jay and Newsweek made a few modifications and re-framed their rankings as America’s “best classrooms” rather than best schools we’d have no debate and could recognize some teachers accomplishing great things with students.