Newsweek just came out with their annual list of America’s best high schools. On one hand, I really do love this list. Why? Because year in and year out it brings education to the front page of one of America’s most popular magazines. And as the old saying goes, there ain’t no such thing as bad publicity — just no publicity — and our country sure could use some extended dialogue about our schools. Particularly our high schools.
So thumbs up… especially for giving me an inferiority complex.
Though I checked the top 10, and the top 100, and the top 1,000, my own school wasn’t listed. (As Don Adams used to say, “Missed it by that much.”) So of course, before I dared to dispute the rankings, I decided to see how these rankings were determined.
Reading this made me feel better. Essentially, it’s a multi-page document acknowledging how preposterously subjective these rankings really are. Simply put, there is no “objective science” to evaluating a school. For the Newsweek piece, which is sure to make a big splash in Dallas, Texas, they arrive at their numbers through a formula called The Challenge Index.
Read the article for their explanation/justification/rationalization of why their Challenge Index has merit. Whether one agrees or not, it’s interesting to see their perspective on what makes for a school that deserves high praise.
They do raise one other point that certainly deserve a little bit of a chat though. As the article states…
Question: How can you call these the best schools or the top schools if you are using just one narrow measure? High school is more than just AP or IB tests.
Answer: Indeed it is, and if I could quantify all those other things in a meaningful way, I would give it a try. But teacher quality, extracurricular activities and other important factors are too subjective for a ranked list. Participation in challenging courses and tests, on the other hand, can be counted, and the results expose a significant failing in most high schools—SO far less than 6 percent of the public high schools in the United States qualify for the NEWSWEEK list.
As we face questions of merit pay, sanctions against those who are under-performing, blue- ribbon honors for those who do, the impact of socio-economics and community culture on a a school’s AYP and so on and so on, it’s easy to see why people get so down about their rankings. THEY ARE JUST SO DAMN SUBJECTIVE! I mean the fact that my school has a teacher who literally save a student’s life this year by talking them down off the ledge of suicide wasn’t given any points for credit by Newsweek. Go figure.
Ultimately, what our schools are supposed to do and what they being asked to do are, in so many ways, two entirely different conversations. It’d be nice to see Newsweek devote a sidebar to that, huh?
Congratulations to the schools that are on this list. Really, I mean it. It makes no sense to pull others down — we need to be hoisting more schools up. And for those who “missed it by that much” don’t worry, the thorny stick of NCLB will be coming to demonize you soon enough.
At my school, it has already arrived.