Oh joy: Thomas Jefferson tops all other high schools--again
Here we go again: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., sits atop yet another list of the nation’s best high schools.
This is, in fact, the third year in a row that U.S. News & World Report has determined that Thomas Jefferson is the best high school in America, based on a process the magazine concocted. It is essentially derived from standardized test scores of various kinds for different populations of students.
As if test scores alone determine the quality of a school. Sigh.
There is no question that Thomas Jefferson is a standout school. It has top-flight programs in math, science, technology, the humanities, arts and social sciences, and to top that off, wins a fair number of sports titles too. Kids endure a tough process to gain admission to the magnet public school in Fairfax County.
But the very best in America? There isn’t a school that is just as good? And, besides, as I’ve posited before, for whom is it the best? The best for competitors in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search? The best for math whizzes?
The magazine says it looked at 21,786 public high schools in 48 states and Washington D.C. Schools in Oklahoma and Nebraska were not eligible because the magazine said there wasn’t enough data to complete a statewide analysis.
Perhaps U.S. News should have said that Thomas Jefferson was the best school in 48 states.
California had the largest number of schools that earned recognition, 110, followed by New York’s 53 and Texas’s 50.
To be fair, the methodology for the high school list makes somewhat more sense than the one U.S News uses for its college rankings.
The biggest factor in the college rankings formula is a subjective measure in which top college officials are asked to give their opinions of other schools’ reputations. No kidding.
For the high school ranking, math and reading standardized test scores in each state are used to determine the number of students in each school who do better than the average student.
But each state has its own assessments and its own grading scheme. Besides, average test scores don’t tell us how good a school is, but rather about the family income and education of the students’ parents.
Kids who come from wealthier, well-educated families generally perform better on standardized tests than kids from poor and poorly educated families.
I’ve written before about other lists of “best” high schools. My esteemed colleague Jay Mathews does an annual Challenge Index, which used to be published in The Washington Post and is now published by Newsweek.
He rates and ranks schools by a single number--the college-level test participation rate, calculated by dividing the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests—college-level exams given in high school—by the number of graduating seniors.
Jay says this is the best way to show how well schools are challenging their students. His results are different from the U.S. News rankings.
Forbes magazine does its own rankings too, and there may be others as well.
It gets tiring having to repeat this, but it is worth repeating: No school is “best” for all students because students aren’t all the same.
What makes a school successful is how well it meets the needs, abilities and interests of each student.
Thomas Jefferson would probably not be the “best” choice, for example, for someone who is intent on becoming a musician. It might not be the “best” choice for a brilliant writer who can’t reason out a geometric proof, or for someone who wants to spend high school reading as much literature as possible. Nor would it be right for kids with learning disabilities or anxiety issues.
I’m sure that U.S. News thought it was doing a real service with its list, and did not in any way compile it to satisfy the American fascination with “best of” lists in order to sell a lot of magazines.
| December 11, 2009; 11:05 AM ET
Categories: High School | Tags: high school rankings
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