Two Dallas public high schools topped Newsweek's 2011 public high school rankings, released Sunday.
The School of Science and Engineering Magnet and School for the Talented and Gifted Magnet took the top two spots. All seniors at both schools graduated on time. The two schools are ranked in the top 10 of U.S. News's Best High Schools rankings.
This year, Newsweek changed its methodology for the rankings. Since 1998, the publication had ranked schools on a single metric: AP tests taken per graduate. Newsweek asked education experts, including Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America; Tom Vander Ark, former executive director for education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond, to develop the new methodology.
Newsweek ranked schools based on six factors: graduation rate (25 percent), college matriculation rate (25 percent), AP tests taken per graduate (25 percent), average SAT/ACT scores (10 percent), average AP/IB scores (10 percent), and AP courses offered per graduate (5 percent).
In comparison, to earn a spot on U.S. News's Gold Medal list, high schools were ranked using a three-step process. Schools where students outperformed state averages on reading and math tests made it past the first step. Second, traditionally disadvantaged students' (black, Hispanic, and low income) performances on tests were compared to state averages for similar students.
Finally, U.S. News used AP and IB test scores to determine which schools prepared students best for college. This "college-readiness index" was calculated by combining performance on these tests and the number of seniors who took these exams, compared to the total number of seniors at the school.
In December 2009, U.S. News ranked Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Alexandria, Va., as the Best High School. Thomas Jefferson High School did not make Newsweek's list.
Jay Mathews, a journalist for The Washington Post, designed the Challenge Index that Newsweek had used since 1998. When the newspaper sold Newsweek last year, he moved the rankings, and his methodology, to the Post. The newspaper published its High School Challenge rankings list on May 22, with Science and Engineering Magnet and Talented and Gifted Magnet similarly finishing first and second on that list. But in a Tuesday blog post, Mathews says the Newsweek rankings give an unfair advantage to affluent schools.
He claims making the rankings methodology more complicated "takes the magazine further from, rather than closer to, its goal" of ranking high schools according to its "success turning out college ready (and life-ready) students."
By making graduation rates such an important part of the calculation, he says, schools in affluent neighborhoods have an inherent advantage. Few schools in poor neighborhoods have "found a way to escape the iron rule that poverty significantly lowers the chances of getting out of high school and into college," he writes. "The only sure-fire way for the hard-working staffs of those schools to improve their numbers is to expel the poor students and fill their spaces with rich ones, a strategy that is not only illegal but morally reprehensible."
The Washington Post's list excludes public magnet and charter schools that have extremely selective criteria that leave "no room for average children who want to improve," Mathews writes.
Other media companies have published their own rankings. In 2009, Bloomberg Businessweek ranked several of the best high schools in each state, based on state math, reading, and science standardized test scores. Math and science scores were weighted twice as heavily as reading. Some of the winners included BASIS Tucson in Arizona; The Charter School of Wilmington, in Delaware; Pine View School in Osprey, Fla.; and Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans. These schools also appear on U.S. News's Gold Medal list. U.S. News plans to publish the next edition of its Best High Schools rankings in early 2012.