This week's Newsweek
cover story claims to rank America's top 100 public high schools. Curiously, its only criterion for rating these schools is:"Newsweek's Best High School List uses a ratio, the number of Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) tests taken by all students at a school in 2004, divided by the number of graduating seniors."
describes its tests-taken-over-grads statistic as "one of the best measures available to compare a wide range of students' readiness for higher-level work" but does not, to my satisfaction, explain why. The magazine also fails to explain why it did not take into consideration extracurricular offerings, after-school study programs, parent-teacher networks, use of technology, vocational offerings for non-college-bound students, and so forth. Newsweek
's statistic is also driven only by the number of AP/IB exams taken
and does not reflect how students actually performed on these tests. Moreover, because the ratio's denominator is the number of graduates
, a school's score rises if students who are not performing at an AP/IB level drop out before graduation.
I would suggest that Newsweek
's study says less about the schools themselves and more about whether schools' incoming freshmen enter high school prepared to take advanced-level courses. Magnets and other specialty schools have an obvious advantage in Newsweek
's ratings, because these schools have admissions standards and curriculae geared toward college-bound students. A student at one of Newsweek
's top-rated schools (School A) could possibly get a better education at a school that scored much lower according to the magazine's sole indicator (School B). School B could have excellent offerings for high-performing, academically minded students, while also making an effort to address the needs of students interested in trades or vocational education or lower-performing students who are willing to work their way into college, but who may never take an AP or IB course. But, because School B is committed to educating a more diverse student body, it would not make Newsweek
A top high school, in my mind, will challenge and meet the needs of all students regardless of their backgrounds, gifts, or interests.