Lake Wobegon schools and US News and World Report
Just how "public" are the schools that US News has crowned as "Gold Medal Schools" in its annual "America's Best High Schools" issue?
As I was looking at the list, I was struck by a few things right off the bat:
1. Most of these schools are not "open enrollment" schools. The majority select their students by application only, or are magnet schools, or charter schools. They are from the fairy tale land of public schools in America. Only NINE of the top 50 schools are open enrollment schools, in fact.
2. Eight of the top ten schools have twenty percent or less of their students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Number three on the list, Pacific College Charter in Santa Cruz, CA, has 0.0% disadvantaged children, and its minority enrollment in a whopping 5.3 percent. Only 20 of the top fifty schools have an economically disadvantaged population above 25%.
3. And speaking of minorities, in a country in which white, non-Hispanics are approximately fifty percent of the population, seven of the top ten have 12.6% minority enrollment, or less. Only 18 of the top fifty schools has a minority enrollment above 25%. As stated below, the average school has 44% minority enrollment, and only one of the top ten and seven of the top fifty meet that standard.
4. Kudos go out to Preuss School UCSD in La Jolla, CA (number 8 on the list), which serves a population that is 99.6% economically disadvantaged and 71.3% minority. The 752 students who go there (and by the way, my own alma mater had nearly three times that number in grades 10-12) are lucky indeed.
5. Only one of the top ten schools has an enrollment as large as the high school at which I teach (over 1500 students). Number 6, International Academy in Bloomfield Hills, MI, has 148 students, and number 4, High Technology High (ha!) in Lincroft, NJ, has 262. Number 7, International Baccalaureate in Bartow, FL, has 278 students. Only eight of the top 50 have enrollments over 1500 students.
And how many of them are in large school districts, I wonder? That information is not included.
I wonder how many students have IEPs or 504s? I wonder how many students have juvenile records? That information is also not included.
What is the student/teacher ratio, flawed though that indicator is when counselors and administrators are allowed to be included in determining the average?
And we're not even considering the fact that the ranking is based on how many Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests the students can take-- which is a real problem when so many schools cannot find the staff or afford the training to offer these kinds of classes. And yes, I am an Advanced Placement and College Credit teacher in the discipline of history.
But it is obvious that, in more ways than excellence, these schools are hardly representative of public schools across the country.
Well, let's just consider this from the National Center for Education Statistics to help frame our discussion:
The 100 largest public school districts, representing less than 1 percent (0.6 percent) of all school districts in the United States and jurisdictions, were responsible for the education of 23 percent of all public school students.
The 100 largest public school districts employed 22 percent of the United States and jurisdictions' public school full-time-equivalent (FTE) teachers and contained 17 percent of all public schools and 20 percent of public high school completers.
The 100 largest public school districts had larger average school enrollments compared to the average for all school districts (695 vs. 518) as well as a higher median pupil/teacher ratio (15.9 vs. 15.4).
The percentage of students in the 100 largest public school districts who were other than White, non-Hispanic was 71 percent, compared to 44 percent of students in all school districts.
In FY 2005, current expenditures per pupil in the 100 largest public school districts ranged from lows of $5,104 in the Puerto Rico Department of Education and $5,503 in the Alpine District, Utah to a high of $18,878 in the District of Columbia Public Schools and $17,988 in Boston, Massachusetts).
Three states-California, Florida, and Texas-accounted for 45 percent of the 100 largest public school districts.
So all that I see here is a reminder that schools that have to deal with disadvantaged populations, schools that have to take everyone (as the law requires of most public schools), are not ideal schools, and never will be. They just can't compete. Allow public schools to exclude "troublesome" or disadvantaged populations, I guess, and you're on the rocket ship to success. Even if that would place real public schools in violation of federal and state law.
Any school that gets to exclude populations, that only has students who WANT to be there, is going to have an advantage. In any other facet of modern American life, the people who partake in any activity-- even the military-- are there because they choose to be there, except in public schools-- oh wait, except for most of the schools that US News considers to be the "best."
Almost as much as the fact that those who espouse charter schools-- schools which are exempt from many regulations and bureaucracies that other public schools have to endure-- decided to "improve" public schools by-- drumroll, please-- adding MORE regulations and MORE bureaucracy onto the backs of public schools, complements of the No Child Left Behind Act, et alia. And of course testing requirements don't apply to private schools, either-- but some would like to see my tax dollars going to pay tuition for students to go to private schools (completely ignoring the fact that once an institution takes public funding, it ceases to have the right to behave as a private institution, but that's a post for another day....).