My father-in-law gave me the January 2010 issue of U.S. News & World Report. It features a number of articles on P-12 education and includes detailed tables of its '100 best public high schools' in the United States. I've been playing around with the data a bit...

1. Nationally, it helps to be rich and/or flexible

The tables show that 72 of the top 100 schools are magnet schools, charter schools, or have an application process for students. Only 33 of the top 100 high schools are classified as open enrollment schools. What's not apparent from the online tables (but is in the printed version), however, is that 5 of those 33 also are labeled as magnet or charter schools and that 26 of the remaining 28 have fewer than 10% of their students classified as economically disadvantaged. In other word, only 2 of the 100 'best' public high schools are traditional open enrollment schools serving a socioeconomically-diverse student population:

  • High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies (#52; New York, New York)
  • Hidalog Early College High School (#97; Hidalgo, Texas)

2. In Iowa, small homogenous schools reign

No high schools in Iowa were given a gold medal by U.S. News. Only 1 of the 47 Iowa high schools given a bronze or silver medal has a sizable number of students in it:

  • Washington High School (1,463 students; Linn County, Iowa)

The remaining 46 high schools have fewer than 600 students. Over 3/4 have fewer than 300 students, often spread out over grades 7 through 12, not just grades 9 through 12. Only 4 of the 47 high schools (including Washington High School above) have racial/ethnic minority student percentages greater than 6%.

3. Are these schools good models for others?

No doubt these are good schools. Some of them appear on the U.S. News list every year. But many will question whether they are good models or exemplars for traditional schools. Are they doing things differently in terms of curriculum, instruction, expectations for student work, teacher training, etc.? And to the extent that they are, how much is due to their greater flexibility compared to more traditional schools?

I'm not disparaging these schools. I'm just thinking out loud here...