The Best High Schools Debate

What about dual enrollment schools, plus geographic and economic diversity?

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Since U.S. News recently published our second annual rankings of America's Best High Schools, there have been hundreds of comments, especially on the Best High Schools: Gold Medal List. We have been reading the comments, and I'll respond to some of the broader topics of the high school rankings in my blog.

There have been questions raised about how transparent U.S. News and our partner School Evaluation Services have been in answering questions from school officials about the rankings. If you are a high school or school district official or administrator with specific questions about your ranking, the accuracy of the data, or why your school was or was not ranked, please E-mail letters@usnews.com. Include details about the high school, including city, state, and county, your title, and E-mail address. Please limit inquiries to one official representative per school or district.

Others have wondered whether the list is truly representative of the many types of high schools in the country and have said that there are too many magnets and charters and not enough schools from small towns. We have published a table Best High Schools: Bronze Medal and Honorable Mention Schools by the Numbers that profiles the characteristics of the gold, silver, and bronze medal schools. This table shows that the medal-winning schools are clearly not just college prep schools in wealthy suburbs. For example, here are some statistics about the 1,923 gold, silver, and bronze medal winners: 24 percent of them are schools in remote rural areas, 18 percent are in suburban areas of large cities; 15 percent are in rural areas distant from urban areas, and 13 percent are schools in large cities.

Do the medal winners enroll substantial proportions of the economically disadvantaged? The answer is clearly, yes. At 69 percent of the medal-winning high schools, 25 percent or more of their students were economically disadvantaged and 35 percent of the medal winners had 50 percent or more economically disadvantaged. On the flip side, only 11 percent of the medal winners had fewer than 5 percent economically disadvantaged students.

Finally, others have pointed out that since we are not taking into account those students taking actual college courses through dual-enrollment programs, the college readiness index calculation is not fully capturing the college preparedness taking place at some of the nation's public high schools. While AP is by far the most widely used college-level program in the country, and IB has experienced rapid growth over the past several years, there are hundreds of schools that offer dual enrollment opportunities at local colleges and universities instead of or, in some cases, in addition to these two programs. Unfortunately, the data on dual enrollment programs are at best limited and uneven on a state-by-state basis, and research studies have found that the quality of such locally-based programs varies widely from school to school. We will continue to look for ways to gather and incorporate data from other programs into future versions of the top-performing high schools analysis, but many of these dual enrollment schools already have earned medals in our ranking.