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What Are the Best US High Schools? It Depends

2017-10-11

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  • Sometimes, deciding the best is difficult.
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  • For example, deciding the 10 best public high schools – out of 24,000 – in America.
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  • Two publications put together lists of the top 10.
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  • But the website Niche.com and the magazine U.S. News and World Report could agree on only one.
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  • Both named Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology of Fairfax County, Virginia. Many people call it just “Thomas Jefferson.”
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  • Niche ranked Thomas Jefferson number four. U.S. News put Thomas Jefferson at six.
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  • But the two publications could not agree on their other top nine high schools.
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  • In Niche.com’s latest ratings, three of the top public high schools are located in Chicago, Illinois, America’s third most populated city.
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  • The Chicago schools are Walter Payton College Prep, rated Number 1; Northside College Preparatory High School, Number 2; and Young Magnet High School, Number 6.
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  • The top ratings for Chicago schools come at a time when violence among young people remains a problem.
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  • Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel welcomed the good news for his city.
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  • “I am so proud of the great work by principals, teachers and students in these high schools,” Emanuel said.
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  • In contrast, U.S. News and World Report gave its top ratings to charter schools.
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  • Charter schools receive public money, but operate independently of many local and state education rules.
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  • Three charter schools in Arizona took the highest positions at U.S. News and World Report.
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  • They are all operated by a private company called BASIS Education Group LLC.
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  • BASIS also operates charter schools in Texas, Louisiana and Washington D.C.
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  • The BASIS school in Scottsdale, Arizona was rated Number 1 nationally, followed by BASIS Tucson North and BASIS Oro Valley.
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  • Another BASIS Arizona charter, BASIS Peoria, was ranked Number 5.
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  • U.S. News said it made a change in its ratings this year, giving more weight to high schools where students take and pass college-level courses and exams.
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  • Preparing high school students for college-level classes and tests is a major part of BASIS’ education plan for its students.
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  • Robert Morse worked on the best high school rating system.
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  • He said that U.S. News wanted to give credit to schools that “that make an effort to challenge their students.”
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  • Laura Owen is director of the American University School of Education’s Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success.
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  • She said that all schools want to be rated highly.
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  • But just because a school is ranked highly does not mean it is the best school for every child, Owen said.
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  • Parents have to decide which schools offer the academics and support that will help their children learn and reach their potential.
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  • Elise Hauptman has two children at Stevenson High School in Illinois, the number-three rated public high school according to Niche.com.
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  • She said Stevenson does something many schools fail to do: make changes to meet the needs of current students.
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  • “They were among the first in the area to delay the start time of the school day, acknowledging sleep studies done on teens,” Hauptman said.
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  • “The day starts half an hour later, but both of my kids said it makes a huge difference.”
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  • She also points to the school’s willingness to meet the needs of a variety of students -- not just those with the highest grades.
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  • Their efforts include adding new subjects, such as “writing for college,” and starting a new club to deal with drug and alcohol abuse.
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  • When considering rankings, U.S. News said it looks at whether a school’s students do better than expected on reading and math tests.
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  • U.S. News also says that it looks at how “disadvantaged students,” including black and Hispanic students, perform on tests.
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  • Niche says it bases its ratings on students’ performance on standardized tests, racial and economic diversity of the school population, and comments from a school’s students and their parents.
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  • Six of the ten top high schools rated by Niche.com select their students.
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  • That means they can choose the brightest middle and junior high school students for their schools.
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  • But the BASIS schools in Arizona that scored so high in the U.S. News and World Report's ratings do not have admission requirements.
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  • School officials say they hold a lottery when they have more students than they can accept.
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  • Kristen Jordison is Head of School at BASIS Scottsdale, which was ranked Number 1 in the latest U.S. News and World Report survey.
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  • She said the school is successful because it has excellent teachers and demands a lot of students, including college-level assignments.
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  • “Our students and teachers work very hard,” Jordison said.
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  • Teachers and fellow students work with children individually who are struggling with classes, Jordison said.
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  • Audrey Amrein-Beardsley is a professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.
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  • She said that BASIS schools in Arizona are open to everyone.
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  • But by not offering transportation and free lunch programs, the schools can be difficult for low-income parents to send their children to, Amrein-Beardsley said.
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  • The result is that BASIS schools take in fewer minority students and fewer students from poor families than regular public schools, she said.
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  • Joe Thomas is president of the Arizona Education Association, a union that represents the state’s public school teachers.
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  • Thomas said that every school, public or private, will lose students each year.
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  • But he said that BASIS schools lose a lot more students than other schools because not all students are ready to take college-level classes.
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  • I'm Bruce Alpert.
  • [07:46.92]
  • And I'm Jill Robbins.
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