Irked by those pervasive "Best High School" rankings but can't put a finger on why? John Tierney's damning Atlantic piece on how the indexes reinforce the worst tendencies in our education system explains it all.
High school rankings are compulsively readable; I often end up perusing annual lists, even though I graduated from a tiny institution that's never on any of them and have no plans to send a tween to high school for the foreseeable future. "...let's call national rankings of high schools what they are: nonsense," Tierney writes. "There is no way to say, with any degree of accuracy at all, where any given high school ranks in relation to others in terms of how good it is or how challenging it is."
He takes down Jay Mathews's Washington Post's rankings/AP obsession quite nicely:
In short, by being partly responsible for the explosive growth in AP enrollment over the past decade, the Mathews ranking — and, to a lesser extent, the others — amplifies the absurdity that pervades contemporary public education in the United States, where cramming students' heads with information and then subjecting those students to standardized tests seems to have supplanted helping students to learn as the preferred modus operandi of many education officials, and where the behavior of school officials is shaped more by perverse incentives than by educational common sense.
That's the reason to care about this.
If it weren't for the fact that these sorts of rankings actually shape school behavior, everyone would be perfectly justified in ignoring Mathews and the Washington Post as they spend time and other resources assembling his list. The ranking itself is meaningless. But the harm it and other lists of its kind do to public education and the role they play in driving the College Board's revenues can't be overlooked. These lists may sell papers and draw readers to websites, but for those of us outside of that business, we've a duty to push back against this kind of reductionism wherever we see it.
As he notes, people unfortunately like clicking on lists more than they like exemplary data analysis, but hopefully this piece will remind you (and me) to resist. Or maybe I'm the only one who likes reading about how fantastic random Connecticut high schools purport to be.
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