Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Newsweeks Top 1000 Schools or Why Journalists Should be Required to Take Math in College

I really was amused and the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the faculty lounge over the rank rankings of Newsweeks Top 1000 Schools. First of all, a long time rival was listed and we weren't. Secondly, when I look at the methodology, I have some serious questions. I am from Dallas. I went to high school and college here. I raised my kids here. So in one way or another I have been involved and knowledgeable about the goings on in local school districts for the last 30 years. I wouldn't really argue with most of the top two hundred, of which I know a few in the area as well as statewide. But when you get down around 500, there are some glaring omissions along with some laughable inclusions. In one district that I know of the school with the highest dropout and teen pregnancy rate was listed and the school with the lowest dropout rate and most kids in AP classes wasn't.First of all, there are some schools that work their tails off to retain students and keep them working, even when they fail. Those kids may graduate and therefore add to the final number of the graduating class. Divide the number of AP tests taken into that and the margin makes that school lower ranked than a similar school who runs off their marginal kids by sophomore year and has a smaller graduating class. Or at least that is the way it appears. This whole issue of class size is the biggest problem. Class sizes can vary greatly in one year depending on programs changing, plant closures, business failures or openings. There's really very little a school can do to control the numbers. Usually the number of kids in AP programs is constant throughout their school career. Some schools encourage any kid to take an AP test, which I think is a ridiculous waste of time and money, but they do it because it makes them appear successful on paper. Other schools educate the kids who are headed for AP testing and expect them to take the test. So the crucial factor is how many kids leave the class BEFORE graduation. If you manage to run off the problem children by 10th grade, then you have a smaller class and a solid core of AP test takers to rake in the money and make the school look good. While I appreciate what Newsweek was trying in their own lame fashion to do, I think they cooked the books somewhat in trying to make sure the outcome was a nicely balanced group of urban, suburban and country schools. Look at the list again. Look at the oddly balanced number of selected private schools and charters, just to make the numbers look nice on paper. I hate to sound cynical, but this is a poll. And you can influence a poll by carefully selecting your sources. That is what they did, and this list is the result. I wish the rest of the people I know in education didn't take it so seriously. It's just another feel-good op-ed piece designed to highlight how great "everyone" is doing. I just wonder what former highschool cheerleader came up with the idea.

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