BY PAM LOBLEY
NOW THAT’S FUNNY
Newsweek Magazine has just released its rating of the top 1,000 public high schools in the country. Our own New Jersey is home to 36 of those schools.
High Technology High School in the Lincroft section of Middletown was the highest-ranked Garden State school, finishing 18th, according to the magazine's website. Bergen County Academies, a magnet school, was ranked 23rd nationally.
I love to read these things because I’m obsessed with good schools. That is, I live in Bergen County and pay super high property taxes just so that my kids can go to excellent schools, so I am constantly checking these types of rankings to find out where my local schools stand.
My local high school was rated No. 1246 last year. (Last year the list was 1623 schools long; this year it is only 1000). Our ranking this year is 298. Now, this thrills me, because my son will be starting there in the fall. However, what did the school do to jump 1,000 points in the ranking? How is that even possible?
Well, for one thing, Newsweek changed its methodology this year, in part to reflect the challenges of super-strapped school budgets. In past years they have based their ratings primarily on how hard school staffs work to challenge students with advanced placement college-level courses and tests. This year, they based their ratings on a mix of graduation rates, college matriculation rates, AP tests taken per graduate, number of AP classes offered, SAT/ACT scores, and AP/IB/AICE scores.
This makes sense to me, because AP courses are only one part of what makes a great high school.
The top two schools on the list this year are in Dallas: School of Science and Engineering Magnet and School for the Talented and Gifted Magnet. OK … well … “magnet” means students have to test into the school. The school only accepts a certain level of student, so OF COURSE their student is body is going to excel.
Bergen Academies in Hackensack gets approximately 1,400 applications each year and accepts 260 students. They are basically taking the top 3% of Bergen County students, so is it any surprise they are ranked so highly? That’s like serving filet mignon for dinner and claiming to be a great cook. You need to give a little credit to the filet.
With that in mind, the Newsweek list is laden with magnet and special schools. Out of the top 50 schools, 16 have names that include “magnet”, “academy,” “charter,” or “college prep.” Many others are referred to as math or science schools, implying a heightened academic level for acceptance. These are not your ordinary local high schools. “Public” high school to me means just that … the public. Its kids in the neighborhood. The rich kids, the working class kids, the immigrants’ kids, the middle class kids.
It’s great to celebrate these schools (did I mention mine is 298?) but this list just brings up the sad disparity of education in America. How many schools never had a chance to get on this list because they can’t hold a candle to magnets or charters? My school is ranked highly but, as I mentioned, I pay high property taxes. They go up every year. That’s because the families that live here vote to increase them to keep the schools strong. We are effectively paying out of our pockets for these schools.