What Makes a 'Best High School'?

(And who do we think we are to be making that decision?)

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Rankings are a powerful force. People take them very seriously. Believe me, I know. I hear the complaints, the whines, the special pleadings. And the praise, too. People love rankings because they play to the deep American fascination with winners and losers. They're also a quick read on complex subjects like high schools or hospitals, and that can sometimes be troublesome. But I think the real value of rankings, if they're done well, is that they become useful instruments to help demystify institutions and even promote best practices. We appreciate the power that comes with publishing such information and work to use it responsibly.

In producing our second annual "America's Best High Schools," we drew on our long experience with data and rankings methodology ("Best Colleges" debuted 25 years ago). Our partners at SchoolMatters, a unit of Standard & Poor's, are equally experienced and thorough. We explain the criteria in detail, but trust me when I say it is a sophisticated, fair way of comparing these important schools. In the past year, we've received a good deal of professional scrutiny, and the methodology has held up as a breakthrough in education assessment. We list the top 100, compared across 48 states. At usnews.com, we give you a state-by-state ranking of the top 1,900 schools and an array of features to help you understand why some schools are better than others.

But the rankings are only a part of our expanding coverage of education, from grade school to graduate school. Most of this growth has been at usnews.com, where millions of people a month have come to rely on us for useful knowledge. In the months ahead, we'll be adding even more tools and features across a range of education-related subjects, including our new look at international universities, online degree programs, adult education, and career development. And of course, we'll be following the impact of our latest high schools rankings as communities throughout the country debate the results.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on our rankings and on the issue of high school reform. Do you think our list is helpful? Are we looking at the right measures of success? Have we missed some great schools? What more can be done to spur improvement in the crucial American institution of public high schools? You can E-mail me at editor@usnews.com or join the online conversation below.

—Brian Kelly