The importance of a strong high school education cannot be overstated.
Good schools challenge students academically, while giving them ample opportunity to explore their interests. This combination can set teens up to succeed long after graduation. By contrast, subpar schools can leave students struggling to make the transition from high school to college or the workforce.
The 2013 Best High Schools rankings, released today, can help parents wade through the ever expanding options of public high schools. U.S. News collected data on more than 21,000 public high schools from 49 states and the District of Columbia. (Nebraska did not report enough data to be included in the rankings.)
U.S. News joined forces with the American Institutes for Research, a D.C.-based organization, to evaluate schools on overall student performance on state-mandated assessments, as well as how effectively schools educated their black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students. Performance on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams was then used to determine the degree to which schools prepare students for college-level work.
Schools were ranked within each state, as well as on a national stage, so families can see how their public high school stacked up against rivals within the community and across the country. In the national rankings, 500 schools earned gold medals, 1,790 were awarded silver and 2,515 took home bronze.
The School for the Talented and Gifted in the Dallas Independent School District retained its distinction as the best public high school in the country. BASIS Tucson, in Arizona, climbed the ranks from No. 6 to claim the No. 2 spot, replacing Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, which fell to fourth. The International School in Washington held onto its No. 9 ranking.
Six schools made significant gains to join the top 10 this year. The biggest movers were Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology in Georgia and BASIS Scottsdale in Arizona. Both schools opened their doors during the 2007-2008 school year, and each made a big splash with its first full graduating class, moving from no numerical rank to third and fifth, respectively.
Pine View School in Florida climbed 24 spots to stake its claim as the No. 6 ranked public high school in the country, and Loveless Academic Magnet Program High School in Alabama followed suit, jumping from No. 32 to No. 7. Biotechnology High School in New Jersey (No. 8) and Academic Magnet High School in South Carolina (No. 10) also joined the top-ranked high schools, gaining nine and 17 places, respectively.
While the top 10 public high schools are peppered across nine different states, California leads the pack with close to 28 percent of the nearly 1,800 eligible schools in the state earning gold and silver medals. Maryland followed with roughly 26 percent of the 226 medal-eligible schools in the state designated as gold and silver.
Nearly 41 percent of the gold medal schools across the country receive Title I funding, federal funds that support low-income students. Almost 70 percent of the top 500 schools are located in or near large cities.
[Get tips to prepare teens for summer college prep programs.]
Charter and magnet schools, which typically accept a limited number of students either through a lottery or application process, accounted for 145 of the top 500 schools. Because these schools tend to have flexible curriculums and draw upon a narrower swath of students – magnet schools in particular use a competitive process to draw the more academically gifted students – U.S. News also ranked these programs separately.
Basis Tucson, Gwinnett and BASIS Scottsdale topped the Best Charter Schools rankings, with Pacific Collegiate School in California and International Studies Charter High School in Florida rounding out the top five.
Loveless Academic Magnet and Academic Magnet High School topped the Best Magnet Schools rankings, followed by the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in third and Carnegie Vanguard High School in Texas taking fourth. Michigan's International Academy claimed the No. 5 spot.