How 'Exam Schools' Fared in the Best High Schools Rankings

See which selective public schools profiled in a new book are also highly ranked Best High Schools.

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In the new book, Exam Schools: Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools, the authors examine institutions with selective admissions processes. Many of these public schools did very well in the 2012 U.S. News Best High Schools rankings, accounting for 7 of the top 10 schools in the national rankings; 11 of the top 25; and 24 of the top 50.

In an article entitled "Exam Schools from the Inside" in Education Next, authors Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica A. Hockett discussed how exam schools have evolved in the United States: 

[T]hese academically selective institutions have long been a part of the American secondary-education landscape. The schools are diverse in origin and purpose ... Some arose from a desire (among parents, superintendents, school boards, governors, legislators) to provide a self-contained, high-powered college-prep education for able youngsters in a community, region, or state. Others started through philanthropic ventures or as university initiatives. A number of them were products of the country's efforts to desegregate—and integrate—its public-education system, prompted by court orders, civil rights enforcers and activists, or federal 'magnet school' dollars."

Admissions standards for these public schools have led to disagreements in some communities. In the Education Next article, Finn and Hockett write that "exam schools are sometimes controversial because 'selectivity' is hard to reconcile with the mission of 'public' education. Even school choice advocates typically assert that, while families should be free to choose their children's schools, schools have no business selecting their pupils. Other people are troubled by reports of insufficient 'diversity' among the youngsters admitted to such schools."

Their book asserts that there are only 165 exam schools nationwide in 30 states and the District of Columbia, or just .007 percent of the nation's 22,568 public high schools. The schools enrolled 135,000 students in the 2009-2010 school year out of the 14.6 million enrolled in all public schools. The states with the most exam schools were New York (24), New Jersey (16), Pennsylvania (14), Illinois (12), California (9), Texas (9), and Louisiana (9).

In terms of the U.S. News Best High Schools rankings, 112 of the exam schools identified in the book, or 68 percent, scored high enough to be nationally ranked: 67 were gold medal winners, 28 were awarded silver, and 17 were awarded bronze. The rest were either unranked or weren't in the universe of schools considered for the rankings.

In addition, 67 of the exam schools were among the Best STEM Schools, 5 were ranked as Best Magnet Schools, and 2 were ranked as Best Charter Schools.

These are the exam schools that made the top 50 national rankings in the latest U.S. News Best High Schools rankings: 

School State U.S. News Best High Schools rank
School for the Talented and Gifted TX 1
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology VA 2
School of Science and Engineering Magnet TX 3
University High School AZ 4
International Academy MI 5
Oxford Academy CA 7
High Technology High School NJ 10
Design & Architecture Senior High FL 16
Biotechnology High School NJ 17
The Baccalaureate School for Global Education NY 21
City Honors School at Fosdick-Masten Park NY 23
Academic Magnet High School SC 27
Suncoast Community High School FL 28
Pine View School FL 30
Whitney High School CA 31
Loveless Academic Magnet Program High School AL 32
Carnegie Vanguard High School TX 33
Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions TX 36
The Maine School of Science and Mathematics ME 38
Northside College Preparatory High School IL 39
Walter Payton College Preparatory High School IL 41
The High School of American Studies at Lehman College NY 42
The Charter School of Wilmington DE 47
Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School TN 49