Some States Help Residents to Achieve Potential; Some Do Not

Each year, Newsweek publishes a list of “America’s Best High Schools.” Their criterion is rather limited, having to do with the number of students at public schools who take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or Cambridge (AICE) tests, but it is a reasonable snapshot of the emphasis that a school places on excelling. The baseline for making the list at all was one test (taken by a junior or senior) per graduate, which includes about 6% of high schools.
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, but was, that Rhode Island can’t boast a single school on the list of 1,735 across the United States. In that dubious distinction, we’re joined only by Hawaii, North Dakota, and Wyoming. The success of each state (plus the District of Columbia) is represented in the following graph; the greener the state, the more “Best High Schools” a state has per 1,000 of school-age population, the redder, the fewer. (Bright green signifies 0.1 schools per 1,000 students, and bright red signifies 0.)

The top ten states by this measure were:

  1. District of Columbia, 0.105
  2. Maryland, 0.101
  3. Virginia, 0.076
  4. New York, 0.054
  5. Florida, 0.049
  6. Delaware, 0.048
  7. California, 0.045
  8. New Jersey, 0.044
  9. Colorado, 0.039
  10. North Carolina, 0.038

The top ten states by actual number of high schools were:

  1. California, 302
  2. New York, 172
  3. Florida, 139
  4. Texas, 136
  5. Virginia, 99
  6. Maryland, 98
  7. New Jersey, 66
  8. North Carolina, 61
  9. Georgia, 61
  10. Illinois, 55

The top ten states by the number of schools in the top quartile of list — the best of the best — per 1,000 of the school-age population were:

  1. District of Columbia, 0.053
  2. Virginia, 0.028
  3. Maryland, 0.023
  4. Florida, 0.022
  5. New York, 0.019
  6. North Carolina, 0.014
  7. Colorado, 0.013
  8. Texas, 0.009
  9. California, 0.009
  10. Georgia, 0.009

One can infer that states that make this final list, but not the first, have pockets of excellence. One can also infer — and Rhode Islanders can testify — that states that don’t make the full list at all are not oriented toward helping people, especially students, to achieve their potential.
It digs a little more deeply than I’m inclined, just now, to tie the bright greenness of the Washington, D.C., area to recent talk about a “ruling class.”
On the “ruling class” question, Anchor Rising contributor Marc Comtois followed up with a post noting that the D.C. area is a “boom town” in the midst of recession.

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13 years ago

With DC at the top, it’s hard to imagine that this is a good measure of great schools – DC’s not exactly known for their fantastic public school system…
It sort of seems like those surveys that try to include ecological impact when surveying hapiness – Cuba, North Korea and the like tend to come out very high.

George Sinjohn
George Sinjohn
13 years ago

This certainly isn’t evidence of education for the “ruling class” — this is a ranking of PUBLIC schools, for God’s sake! Do you think the Obamas send their children into the clawing and biting hellhole that is DC public schools? No, they go to Sidwell Friends. Very private, very exclusive, very expensive.
If you want to see the education for the ruling class, start by filtering for schools with kindergarten costing over $10,000 per year. Then eliminate schools that don’t offer 8th graders trips to the Galapagos Islands. Starting to get the picture?
“It digs a little more deeply than I’m inclined, just now, to tie the bright greenness of the Washington, D.C., area to recent talk about a “ruling class.””
“Ruling class” and public schools. You’re funny, man. You’re funny.

Lola LB
Lola LB
13 years ago

I’m astonished, truly astonished, that the DC school system made it to the top of the list. It’s well known that most of the schools in the city aren’t really that great. And there’s a reason why some parents were so eager to use the vouchers to take their children out of the school system and send them to private school (like, oh, Sidwell School) only to have the voucher system yanked when the Dems came into power and be forced to return their children to the failing school system.

13 years ago

I’m not sure how much of that “survey” to believe – both of my daughters went to North High School in Phoenix, AZ – which has the IB program, with many students taking the IB tests – and it isn’t listed. I wonder just how well they looked when they were researching? I do note that they DID pick up the other two High Schools in Phoenix that have IB programs.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
13 years ago

By necessity, a “ruling class” would be larger than would allow all members to fit their children in elite private schools. The point, as I see it, is that a core distinction of a “ruling class” — as opposed to a garden variety “upper class” — is that the crust collects in and focuses on government.

13 years ago

An observation re: DC’s high ranking and the results in general:
The criterion was *taking*, not passing the exams. I know firsthand that entry into AP classes is being treated as another front for affirmative action-related special treatment aka lowered standards, where ‘underrepresentation’ is treated as de facto proof of discrimination (regardless of other objective measures).
So the DC ranking is complete rubbish.
Apart from that sort of effect elsewhere, population density must be considered a less densely populated state is less likely to have any one school with a very high concentration of the brightest students.

13 years ago

It’s important to realize that the Newsweek ranking rather simplistically measures the percentage of a school’s population that is taking standardized achievement tests, and does not take into account how well those students achieve. Also, schools with an application process for Advanced Placement type classes are excluded from the ranking — thus omitting the majority of high achieving schools. Our local school system in Virginia strove to be, and was, high on the Newsweek scale by having everyone in the school take tests for which county taxpayers footed the bill – and for which many students did not study. Like much in today’s education, appearance can be far different from reality.

Suzanne Pacheco
13 years ago

They’re comparing magnet schools, including magnet schools located within regular public high schools, to general public high schools. It renders the list meaningless; it’s like comparing the subset of AP students of some schools with the general student population of others. The select subset is going to come out on top, whereas a general HS with an AP program may have a lower ratio but actually be a better school.
From a quick search, Rhode Island has no magnet schools and so will never, ever be a “green” state on this map, even if it excelled in every other measure of student performance. The other three states not on the list don’t have magnets, either.
Washington DC has four magnet schools, all of which are on the list, along with three charter schools and one kinda-sorta public school (Woodrow Wilson)
RI may well suck at education, but I don’t think this is the right way to measure. Newsweek’s “best schools” list is essentially a directory of magnet-charter schools.

13 years ago

The whole concept is a complete fallacy. When we moved here, the local high school had been deemed Time Magazine’s “School of the Year”, and is still ranked in the top 20 of IB schools nationwide. It’s complete and utter horse-hockey.
The school district here plays a cute game of placing the “magnet” programs in its schools in the lower socioeconomic/high % minority neighborhoods to attract whites and game their numbers. The more advanced maths, Latin, etc are NOT offered in the white neighborhood schools.
Furthermore, the whole concept that participation in the IB-Cambridge-AP program connotes some sort of status or “elite” education is also horse hockey.
All of our kids are high-achievers and score well on any type of standardized testing the schools want to throw at them. We ended up pulling our kids from the putative “World Class” education offered here in the allegedly nationally ranked schools and placing the older two in private boarding schools with genuine entrance requirements and academic standards, and are homeschooling the younger two, who are enrolled in and doing college level work as high schoolers.

13 years ago

Many states also use grant money to pay testing fees and have EVERY student take the exam – whether or not they are an AP/IB student.
If the map simply shows students who TAKE exams, it is in no way indicative of how good the high school is nor does it show an emphasis on excelling.

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