School Ranking 101
Looks like Newsweek's "What Makes a High School Great" was the mag's most popular story of last year, according to its end-of-year issue.
The people have spoken, and it's good to know they would rather read about high-school education than super-tiny dresses or the mystery of Mary Magdalene. (But just think if the mag had combined the two. Oh, man.)
Nevertheless, we gotta wonder why Newsweek is still using the same old methodology for ranking our nation's schools:
By dividing the number of AP and IB tests taken at a school by the number of graduating seniors, we can measure how committed the school is to helping kids take college-level courses. We think kids at those schools have an edge, no matter their economic background.
After the jump, we give Newsweek another "F"...
Ranking schools based solely on AP and IB tests might seem like a good way to go about it — that is, if you're a reporter for a gigantic national publication who just wants to get the whole thing over and done with.
To quote an article written by Press scribe Todd Spivak:
According to Newsweek's  methodology, schools with large numbers of students who didn't pass the AP or IB courses still benefited in the rankings.
"It makes no sense," says Michael McKie, principal at Clements High School in Fort Bend ISD, which ranked 315 in the Newsweek assessment. "Some schools say they enroll kids in AP programs, but they don't even teach the AP curriculums."
And which school, according to Newsweek, is America's finest? Jefferson County IBS in Irondale, Alabama.
Jefferson County IBS topped the list though it's a smaller school located within the large campus of Shades Valley High, which failed to make the cut. Jefferson IBS is ranked first simply because it's an all-IB school. So when the number of AP/IB test takers is divided by the number of graduating seniors, a perfect score is achieved.
A closer look at other schools in Newsweek's top ten reveals the shortcomings of its methodology.
According to Newsweek, Florida is a mecca for great high schools. No fewer than five of its top-ten schools reside in the Sunshine State. But the Florida Department of Education is less than impressed by the magazine's selections.
For instance, Eastside High in Gainesville is ranked fourth in the survey. But the state reports that just half of Eastside's students are meeting high standards in reading. The Florida DOE gave Eastside a "B"-rating from 2001-2004 and last year demoted it to a "C"-rated school. Eastside ranked so high in Newsweek, it turns out, because it runs an in-house IB-program.
Two other Florida high schools -- Pensacola, which ranked eighth in Newsweek, and Hillsborough, which ranked tenth -- get a "D" rating from the Florida DOE. At these schools, fewer than half of students meet reading standards.
Most absurd of all, Newsweek's choice for the fifth-best high school in America isn't even a high school. H-B Woodlawn in Arlington, Virginia is a countywide secondary program. That means any school in Arlington County can participate.
While many students in the program take AP courses, fewer than half of them received a passing grade in 2003. This demonstrates the cafeteria-sized loophole in Newsweek's formula.