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Ranking the Schools


In a recent article, high school English teacher Mary Tedrow argues that magazine rankings of the "best high schools" in America only serve to reinforce the worst aspects of our educational culture. According to Tedrow, such rankings simplify the definition of success in learning and create a counterproductive winners-and-losers mindset. What really needed, she says, is a broader discussion about what "constitutes a successful high school graduate" and how best to nurture students aspirations and originality.

What's your view? Are magazine rankings of schools constructive? What effect do they have on teachers and students? How would you define school success?


Brilliant piece, Mary. The only additional observation I would make is that education policy-making and commentary are dominated by those who were winners--and cannot fathom what it's like to be one of those who sees the writing on the wall and drops out of the game early.

These ratings are mostly just showing the US that there are pockets of (for the most part) very wealthy parents who provide extra classes and stimulation for their youngsters in a very competitive environment. The school systenm then rewards these children by allowing these special children into those schools. Of course these childen provide the scores to put their schools at the highest rank. Are there lessons for other schools that didn't make the list? Sure, encourage great teachers like the ones at Thomas Jefferson to come to teach in their schools. Provide the funds for extra connections to the adults in their community as mentors and provide a competitive environment that encourages success in life-long learning. Are we willing to provide this environment for all of our children, not just in the wealthiest suburbs?

I am sure the vast majority of comments will support the Tedrow article as do I. As an administrator of a school that 'made' the list, it saddens me to know that commercialism and capatilism are the true values embraced by our society. Just as the BCS has found out this year, there is no true #1 team, but there are many who achieve and succeed at high levels. We should embrace success at every level and share with all.

In my view,Tedrow is right.
Was Prof Dershowitz of Harvard running up the twin towers with a fire hose to help save anyone? I'll bet he scored real high in his SATs.
Every neighborhood in the country has its goals for its school. If the parents and teachers can sit down and hire the right principal and admin who will help them reach those goals, and the three work together with the students to achieve those goals, then that school is successful. If the kids have to sit in a school forced into testing to meet the "No Child will Go Untested" goals to satisfy the Kennedy-Bush mandate and qalify for federal money, then the child is being asked to meet two sets of goals--a USA and a World race for the top goals.
These goals may not be compatible with what is best for the child or for the world. Politicians are held accountable by monied interests not by children's interest. For the most part, I am guessing here, the children of congress and the president don't go to the schools of America that have to meet the NCLB goals.
So, what is the issue here, if the school is in a community where the families all work at the coal fields or in agriculture and or live in the community being held hostage by international market-driven plant closings, it is hard to test them on NCLB goals written for the upper middle class and aspiring Harvard-prep-school-class, college-attending students.
For schools in those poverty trapped, one industry trapped, or currently almost-no-hope areas/pockets of America, the tests are unreal and do not measure anything related to or known to the test-taking children or even known to or relevant to the adults in the communities administering the tests.
Does a kid who enters Harvard know what it means to "walk the beans"? Not. He thinks they come from a can. Poor city kids raised on asphalt and ocncrete believe that mile comes from a plastic bottle. The kid from Livingston County IL or the Mississippi Delta will know that "walk the beans" and be able to explain it by operating a successful cotton field or bean field and feed his or her family.
If there is to be accountablity, then local school parents, teachers, and students should be in on the writing of the tests and the tests should be written at three levels.
First Level: world and international (i.e. International Baccalaureate--languages, world cultures/geographies, great literature, world philosophies and histories, peace for mankind, math and science);
Second Level: state and regional economic, geographic, political factors, along with state heroes, history, artists, musicians, writers, local leaders, etc. and
Third Level: the local level such as home town geography, weather, economy, customs, how to survive day to day, home building and care, family life and negotiations, neighborhood solidarity and pulling together, inter-neighborhood rivalry and principles for dealing with these real tribal factors in life like race, ethnicity, religious differences, frictions and street wars, and personal health care, attention to the earth and climate, and caring for one another.
The NCLB federally mandated tests in life can not ignore the Maslow hierarchy of needs and pretend to measure where a child was, where he is now and where he is going by national tests that do not touch base at all three equally important levels.
Essentially, every one of us comes from a tribe which is based in some geography and historical custom and family. Our situations/origins have their up sides and their under-bellies. These are the matters teachers deal with every day in their schools and classrooms and after school with the parents and neighborhood leaders. Maslow's bottom row needs are smack-dab in the middle here.
Perhaps if we watched and taught students to handle these here, and NCLB were to test for these at these levels, and then follow up to give credit for these here and now, then many international situations might/could be avoided later--in their generations of leadership.
Real teachers deal with Maslow in the neighborhood. DC test writers deal with mid air.
Today, there seems to be no connect.
When a teacher looks at a national test and does not see his children's needs, personness, or academic accomplishments reflected in the tests, the teacher thinks rightly that the test is leaving out the Third Level (community strengths & goals) I mentioned above. If a fed ed expert from DC would look at a test that an expert teacher in say the Harrisville/Westfield WI would give to measure his students, the DC ed leader would say that the test does not measure the DC expert's needed emphasis. The Westfield Teacher would say it does.
Both could be correct, but in today's atmosphere, the teacher would lose.
A National Testing Service, to be valid, in my view, has to measure at three levels and report the findings in three levels; these then need to be reported in the news magazines at all three levels.
I have taught at one Top religious based HS in Chicago that does not recruit in the African-American community. I know teachers at a second so called top religious based HS in Chicago that brings in only top college prep kids, a so-called "select" school. They both test top in the national magazine-like rating systems.
I would not send my child nor refer any others to either of those schools today. What they teach in their every day existence is that minority children are not welcome--53 years after Brown-v. Board of Ed. They are not part of the "in-group" in certain religous leadership circles.
Top public schools and many suburban schools do the same with their "select" school programs.
But, guess what? These schools test extremely well. So they score high in the First level. Whoopee!!
However, by their exclusionary life style, they score in my view at the bottom in not only stated American values but in the stated values of every religious faith on the face of the earth.
NCLB tests and best HS Ratings don't measure these serious flaws.
Tomorrow morning, when you or a colleague start up your John Deere or jump into your police car to take care of the serious situation immediately in front of you, call up Yale or Harvard or one of writers from the NCLB testing services and have them send over a sub to handle the situation for you. Right!
The tests are very narrow in what they measure as student age intelligence. Isn't there a move today to recognize other areas of intelligence? I think so. Maybe someone should inform NCLB and city downtown school administrators.
In sum, recognize what Maslow was trying to say to us; test all children at all three levels and evaluate at all three levels; bring the teachers, parents, and neighborhood leaders into writing the tests at the third level. Then, give prizes to the top test takers and all the test takers who score well at all and at each of the three levels that should be graded.
In the meantime, let us recognize the tests for what they are, a fair but faulted start toward testing only at the first of (at least)three equally important levels, and a skewed system that tells us that Harvard kids are brighter than farm kids or in-city scholars who stay at home in their local colleges to study, go into the services, or work.
Bob Keeley, Chicago teacher
(Sorry, no big titles)
[email protected]

I have no idea how a school that was taken over by the federal government, is located in one of the most depressed and unsafe areas of Pittburgh PA and that was as of this year closed completely down made it on the list for best schools (Duquesne junior/senior High School). Once I saw that the list was useless!

Rankings are only as good as the ethics of those doing the ranking and the criteria used to rank. Learning is messy. Creativity, passion and self-direction and other skills needed to be successful for the 21st Century are often not even part of the equation.

We have to ask ourselves. Are these top ranked schools preparing kids for the world of work today or their future?

Watch this video and ask yourself this question-
Is it the responsibility of a school to prepare a student for his future? If so, how do these top ranked schools measure up?

Once again, we need to focus on the metric we are using to measure the outcome. Outdated metrics- outdated results.

The good thing is actually not a good thing ,and the bad thing is actually not a bad thing becuase everything has a lot of aspects . Ranking is good for some schools ,but ranking is bad for some other schools . What is good , what is bad ? No one knows , Couple of years ago , people think the developing of ecnomic is good ,so they build a lot of factories . Now ,they know it can cuase the gree house effection .
Awarding actually is a kind of punishment .

Performance on a well-constructed examination is strongly indicative of subject matter proficiency. The intelligence of a student who has received a poor math education is not tested when he is asked to solve an algebra problem on a math test – the quality of the student’s math education is being tested. Anyone who is under the impression that a math test is a measure of social skills or that a math program is intended to teach social skills needs to be disabused of that notion. The same holds true for English, science and the rest.

What is wrong with working hard to attend a selective college? I fail to see the harm in getting a great high school education, assembling a great resume and then, having failed to win the Harvard lottery, being well prepared to enter another university.

The tragedy of our education system is the poor education so many of our students receive. The most recent data from the California State University system shows that for entering freshman, over 36% are not proficient in math and over 45% are not proficient in English. http://www.asd.calstate.edu/proficiency/2006/Prof_Sys_fall2006.htm

My children attend a high school that is in the top 100 on one of these lists. I am not concerned about the futures of our graduates who apply to Harvard and settle for another college. I am concerned for the 70% of the 11th graders enrolled in Algebra II who are not proficient in the subject. The averaging process used to create rankings and lists hides the fact that there are students in these high performing schools who are not doing well. Focusing on the “moral bankruptcy” of students who want to do well for the love of money is focusing on the wrong problem (if that is a problem). The real problem in public education is high school graduates who are unprepared for college. Taking measures that address the “problem” of high achieving students will reduce the rigor of education to the detriment of all students. Note the article about Texas high schools in this on-line issue of Teacher Magazine.

I commend readers to the EdWeek transcript of October 4, 2006 in which Denise Clark Pope and Herbert J. Walberg provide a more balanced discussion of this topic.

I ran across this article and thought it would be important to share:

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- It's every math teacher's mantra: Check your work.

Apparently, Standard & Poor's didn't.

The financial services giant, which analyzed data for U.S. News & World Report's inaugural ranking of America's top 100 schools, made a mistake in calculating the score for Montpelier High School and erroneously ranked it the nation's fifth-best public high school.

Turns out, the magazine now says, the school's among the top 500 of 18,000 high schools nationally but not the top five, as the magazine reported in its "America's Best High Schools" rankings Dec. 1.

"We feel terrible about having gotten it wrong in the first instance," said Brian Kelly, the magazine's editor. "We're in the business of getting these numbers right. It's particularly embarrassing that we're in the business of judging people based on their math scores, and we got our math wrong."


Many of the students who attend our small high school go on to college, but family finances are often limited, and a good percentage of those who do graduate four-year colleges and universities fisrt attend tech schools and transfer. They don't have to take the SAT or ACT to do so, meaning only those planning to go straight to a four-year intitution take these tests at our school.

One year, the parents of a learning- disabled student planning to go to tech signed her up for SAT without requesting accomodations, against the advice of her resource teacher and our guidance department. She earned the lowest possible score, dragging down our school average for that year tremendously, as she was one of only a few to take the test.

The following year, our school average returned to its normal range, and it happened to be at the upper end of the normal range. Our school got lots of favorable mention for the "tremendous improvement" in SAT scores, and we were mentioned at the top of our state in improvement. No one among the faculty and students was very impressed by the praise, for everyone knew we were really back to normal.

I share the concerns of Top 100 Parent that there are more students leaving our high schools underprepared. But as LJ's comment points out, sometimes we can misread what test results are really telling us about our schools and our students. For example, we have much data here in our state on Black students who do well (even honors) in high school, score low on college entrance tests, then go on to perform at highly successful levels in college. Their actual classroom performance says they are capable students, but the test numbers give a different and distorted picture.

Has anyone noticed that "raising the bar" and "increased drop-out rate" seem to go hand-in-hand? As we try to prove how great our schools are, we're actually making the situation worse for too many students.

I am not happy that a journalist in D.C. and a for-profit test creating business are defining the national high-school curriculum. If a national curriculum is so desirable, I think we need to have a LOT more input from high school teachers and administrators--those that are knowledgeable about the broad range of students we have to serve, including those that are not smart enough to go to college (oops--aren't we supposed to believe that all our students are above average?), as well as those students who do NOT want to follow an academic career--those who want a career in graphic arts, or music, or working with cars, etc. How would Jay Mathews suggest we educate students who are not smart enough to go to college?

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