Thursday, July 26, 2007

on the shallowness of rankings

Teacher, ref and poet TRP on Newsweek's "Best Public High Schools:"
Jay Mathews, an education writer, measures something worthwhile when he divides the number of AP tests given in a given year by they number of graduating seniors. The resulting number indicates something about rigor and challenge. But "Best High Schools?" Ick. You could totally screw over every special-ed student, every potential artist, have horrible student-teacher rapport, crumbling facilities, and any number of other shortcomings, and be considered a "great" school. The reverse is true. The high school that prepares my autistic nephew for success in the world doesn't register on the list. So while I don't mind Mathews' formula, and believe schools should strive to score well on it, I think printing it under the title "Best American High Schools" is journalistic malpractice.
It's no surprise that many of the institutions listed at the top are "magnet schools," which really deserve a category of their own. Also, schools that don't offer AP or IB, no matter how outstanding their performance, simply don't make the list. This may be a heretical question, but are AP and IB the summit of educational rigor?


The Science Goddess said...

We have a "Top 500" school in my district. It is not a magnet school. Let me tell you, that school thinks it's poop don't stink---and they really screw over "normal" kids who don't want to take 4 AP classes. It is very much a school of haves and have nots.

Jim Anderson said...

I should also add that I have nothing against AP or IB. I teach IB English, and find much to like in the curriculum--it is rigorous, with an emphasis on international literature.

We've taken several steps, though, to reduce the have/haven't gap in our IB demographic. It's always a concern.

TeacherRefPoet said...

Is AP/IB the tip-top panacea? For many kids, and in many disciplines, sure. But yeesh. The only thing that makes a good school? The ONLY thing? Newsweek puts snappy headlines over true thought.

I've seen similar phenomena to what Science Goddess has seen. I've received some very troubled kids from Bellevue district (all of their schools appear on Newsweek's list) over the years. All of them were taking--and failing--at least one AP class. I'm not against this--high expectations and all that--but I suspected that the high school was more interested in its Newsweek ranking than in honestly finding a way to help this troubled kid.

Sorry about those typoes in my original post, by the way.