08 September 2008

Ranking Schools in Greater Boston

While enjoying the ride back from a recent trip to Acadia National Park in Maine, the Brain had an opportunity to review Boston magazine's "The Best Schools 2008" issue featuring a ranking of the so-called top 50 schools of greater Boston. The cover-photo (seen right) is not the only questionable matter in this issue. Given some scrutiny, the top 50 list has some questionable results.

The simple methodology for the rankings states "Showy scores are no longer the enough. True standout schools also excel at stretching tax dollars." The ranking includes scores for "cost efficiency" and "academic performance." Listed in a table for the rankings is information such as per-pupil spending, MCAS scores, SAT scores, student to teacher ratios, AP courses offered, and athletic offerings.

So where do the schools rank? At the top of the list is Concord-Carlisle High School with an academic ranking of 12 and cost-efficiency of 1. A veritable who's who rounds out the top ten including Andover, Sharon, Brookline, and Wellesley (among others). Then, at number 11 comes Boston Latin with a supposed academic ranking of 4 and cost effificiency ranking of 11.

Let's look at the numbers on the academic performance side. Boston Latin has the best MCAS scores, SAT scores, and offers generous AP and athletic offerings. The student-teacher ratio is higher than any of the other schools, but the academic results seem pretty undeniable. So the Brain is a bit confused as to the 4th place rank for academic performance. According to Boston magazine's numbers Boston Latin has the best performance.

Setting that not-so minor discrepancy aside, the Brain would also like to point out that this ranking of schools based on so-called cost efficiency seems more than questionable. Most statisticians and researchers would point out that one can be incredibly efficient and yet produce terrible results. While I wouldn't say the high-ranked schools on this list are producing terrible results, but to a trained eye, the numbers just don't seem to add up as to why the cheapest schools should earn the highest rankings, despite academic performance to the contrary (class size at the high school level should not be consider "academic performance," results are. Further, why does the district average of per pupil spending factor so heavily? Were such factors balanced to include cost of living and salary difference between districts?

My guess is that in this particular instance the rankings are more concerned with selling magazines than understanding the state of education in Greater Boston. Sadly, truly great schools are seemingly being sold short for a poorly developed concept to sell magazines.

1 comment:

  1. I've enjoyed reading your posts. This one strikes a chord within . . . I wish more people would read this. Did you ever think about sending this one to the (hanging on by a shred) B Globe? Keep up the great writing.