In Lists of Best High Schools, Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story

Marion Herbert's picture
Monday, June 4, 2012

This is the time of year when the lists of best high schools in the United States are published. For anxious consumers, the number of lists can be daunting.

No one in his right mind would take these lists lightly. Property values rise near best high schools. Parents will fight to the death for best high schools. Best teachers and best principals want to work in best high schools.

Newsweek’s editors recently published their list of the 1,000 best, which is worth examining to better grasp how the magazine has been able to quantify something as complex and nuanced as a high-quality education.

First, it is important to have a rating system that sounds scientific. Newsweek uses six variables: On-time graduation rate (weighted 25 percent); percent of graduates accepted to college (25 percent); A.P. and International Baccalaureate tests per student (25 percent); average SAT/ACT score (10 percent); Average A.P./International Baccalaureate score (10 percent); and A.P./International Baccalaureate courses per student (5 percent).

This results in a highly refined index score that can distinguish between the 435th best school in America, Westwood High in Massachusetts (.51), and the 436th best, New Berlin West in Wisconsin (.50).

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