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Why Rank High Schools?

September 24, 2014

Vox recently posted an article titled by Libby Nelson titled  “Ranking High Schools Tells You Which are Rich or Selective“, a title that reveals the content of the article and reveals what any educator in America can tell you even though no politician or major media outlet will never admit as much. As the article demonstrates, the great majority of the highest ranking high schools in America based on metrics devised by the Daily Beast, have two commonalities: they have selective enrollments or they are located in affluent communities with few students on free and reduced lunch. Vox ultimately poses and answers the question at the end of the next paragraph:

Publications know they’re mostly ranking on wealth and selectivity. It’s why there are separate lists for schools that actually enroll low-income students in both the Daily Beastand Newsweek rankings. So why do it?

Because everybody loves rankings. And because nearly everybody went to public high school. And because most people are friends with high school classmates on Facebook, where they will eagerly share lists of where their alma mater is ranked. For all of their complex statistical methodology, high school rankings are really just sheer entertainment.

In other words, nobody should take these rankings seriously — and nobody should expect them to go away any time soon.

I think Vox missed one important point in their response to this question, a point they made in justifying college rankings: when something is ranked one assumes it can be acquired on the open market. Nelson writes:

College rankings, at least in theory, are responding to a need in the market. Students applying to prestigious, selective colleges — particularly students who have the academic qualifications and the financial means to go to college anywhere — have quite a few to choose from. Enter rankings, a way to sort through it all. 

Later in the same section of the article she notes that this isn’t applicable to high schools because:

…knowing what the best high school is doesn’t matter if you can’t afford to live in its attendance area or if you don’t have the test scores to get in.

From my perspective, the idea of ranking public schools is a way to subtly reinforce the notion that if parents had a choice they could get their child placed in one of these schools… and the whole issue of providing an equal opportunity for learning is solved.

In a perfect world, politicians, businessmen, and voters would look at the rankings, look at the correlation between poverty rates and rankings, and conclude that schools serving children raised in poverty need more funds. But, to paraphrase the concluding sentence of the blog post, nobody should expect this to happen any time soon!

 

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