Newsweek Rankings

Newsweek recently gave kudos to some high schools across the country, and a few in Kansas made the list. (MSNBC has the complete list; the story has several companion pieces, which talks more about the methodology of the list.)

Wichita East High made the list. The other schools from Kansas are Sumner Academy (Kansas City), Blue Valley North (Overland Park); Blue Valley West (Overland Park); Blue Valley High (Stillwell). The list is based on a ratio of AP and IB tests in a school divided by the number of students in that school.

(Newsweek: East a top school, Wichita Eagle, May 24); (Sumner again ranked in top 5 percent of high schools, Kansas City Star, May 24); (Sumner again ranked high on Newsweek list, Kansas City Kansan, May 23)

Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Utah all have total population (not student population) that is within 10 percent of the Kansas population. Three schools in Iowa made the list, as did two schools in Mississippi. Arkansas had two more schools on its list than Kansas, for a total of seven. Utah, however, blew past all those states with 14 schools on the list.

What makes the difference among the states? Jay Matthews, author of the report, had this to say:

The more schools I have examined, the more I have come to believe in the power of high-school cultures, which are different in different parts of the country for reasons that often have little to do with the usual keys to high-school performance–the incomes and educations of the parents.

In 2005, California, New York, Texas and Florida led the nation, in that order, in number of schools on the list. That was no surprise. But it was more difficult to explain why much less populous Virginia and Maryland came right after those megastates in the number of challenging high schools, and why Iowa, with some of the highest test scores in the country, had only three high schools that met the criteria. Six states had no schools on the list at all.

My tentative explanation is that some areas have had the good fortune to get school boards and superintendents who see that they serve their students better by opening up AP and IB to everyone. Once a few districts in a state do that, others follow. And once a state has success with AP or IB, its neighboring states begin to wonder why they aren’t doing the same.

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