Two + Two = 63.57 Do the numbers tell the whole or true story?

5 Jun

This is based on an article and DATA from the US (NY Times), but as you can see it has relevance to the NSW system

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, whether national in scope (U.S. News & World Report; The Washington Post; Newsweek and The Daily Beast) or local (Boston magazine; New Jersey Monthly; The Chicago Sun-Times).

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).

What schools score highest on Newsweek’s index? Of the top 50, 37 have selective admissions or are magnet schools, meaning they screen students using a combination of entrance exam scores, grade-point average, state test results and assessments of their writing samples. …. the same as our Selective HS  (or even OC classes)????

In short, to be the best, high schools should accept only the highest performing eighth graders, who — if the school doesn’t botch it — will become the highest performing 12th graders.

Put another way: Best in, best out, best school.

Eight of Newsweek’s top 50 are charter schools. For those who think an important role of public education is taking struggling students and raising their academic performance, this sounds promising. Charter schools are supposed to accept any child who applies. If the school is oversubscribed, there is to be a lottery. Is this Public Education….

What could be more democratic?

The two top charter schools on the Newsweek list are the Basis high schools in Scottsdale and Tucson, part of an Arizona-based charter chain.

According to the Basis Web site, the curriculum is heavily reliant on A.P. and college-level courses, and it includes Mandarin and Latin.

This means that only the strongest academic students need apply, and those who can’t cut it will leave.

What does the student body look like at a Basis high school? At Basis Scottsdale — the third best high school in America, according to Newsweek — 95 percent of the 701 students are Asian or white.

Asians make up 2.8 percent of the state population, but 41 percent of the Basis Scottsdale students.

There are 15 Hispanics (2 percent) in a state that is about one-third Hispanic.

There are no Native Americans listed on the State Education Department’s Web site, though they make up 5 percent of Arizona’s population. The site lists 13 African-American students and no children of migrant workers. There are no children who qualify for subsidized lunches or who need special education classes.

Clearly, best schools would do best not to get bogged down serving students considered un-best.

The remaining five of the top 50 schools are in suburban districts where enrolment is open to all, as long as they are residents. OOHHH….  Maybe this is Public Education ….

The one thing that these five schools have in common is that they are full of children from the nation’s wealthiest families.  …..then perhaps not ……

Among the top 50 are high schools in Bronxville, N.Y. (No. 40), which has a median household income of $166,000, and Jericho, N.Y. (No. 41), which has a median income of $128,000, as compared with $54,000 for New York State; also, Falls Church, Va. (No. 45), with a $111,000 median income versus $59,000 for the state.

People who feel passionately about getting their children into best schools should stay away from the Midwest, which Newsweek has identified as an educational wasteland. From Montana south to Mississippi — 2,000 miles — there are 14 contiguous states without a single high school among the 100 best, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Kansas.

Even Massachusetts has only one school in the top 100, which is surprising, since the state’s students have repeatedly led the nation on the federal reading and math tests.

On the other hand, this is what makes America great: Anybody can make up any formula to measure anything, which gives lots of places a chance to be best at something.

Want the best high schools for your child? Move to Texas or Florida. Texas has 15 of the 100 best, placing second over all nationwide, while Florida has 10, the fourth most. This is no doubt due in good part to the reform efforts of George W. and Jeb Bush, who — like Newsweek — have made standardized test results a true measure of academic excellence.

At all costs, avoid Scarsdale, N.Y. It didn’t even make the top 1,000. Though its average SAT score of 1935 would rank it 21st among the 100 best, the school does not offer A.P. courses, and Newsweek counts A.P. data as 40 percent of the rating.

Why no A.P.? Scarsdale officials find that A.P. courses encourage students to go a mile wide and an inch deep, so the high school has created its own advanced courses. Instead of spending all their time working out of A.P. textbooks, students visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston and the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, N.Y., to do field research.

Two-thirds of Scarsdale seniors are accepted to colleges that the Barron’s Guide to the Most Competitive Colleges ranks as the “most competitive” in the country. Of course, Newsweek doesn’t own Barron’s, so it wouldn’t make any sense to use that as a criterion.

There is another problem with Scarsdale. The district did not submit data to Newsweek, and that is the only way to be considered. Of the nation’s 26,000 high schools, about 2,000 sent data, and of those, 1,000 were named to the list, meaning any school with a little gumption has a 50 percent chance of being a best.

Mark Miller, director of editorial operations for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, says that as long as people understand the limits of the criteria, “the list serves a valid purpose.”

“We made a choice to rank the schools by how well they prepared children for college,” he said. “If not for the school, they might not have the opportunity to get into college.”

Mr. Miller noted that May was a record month for traffic at The Daily Beast, with 95 million views, thanks in good part to the list.

Given that magazines and newspapers are bleeding to death, this is the only plausible justification I can think of: Lists are cash cows.  

I am not against schools with selective admissions. They are a vital part of the public system. My own mother, who grew up in an East Boston tenement, passed the test to get into Girls Latin School and then went on to Radcliffe.

My concern is that the lists are stacked. Schools with the greatest challenges can appear to be the biggest failures. At a time when public education is so data-driven, that kind of thinking can cost dedicated teachers and principals their jobs.

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