When we compare schools across the country, we typically do so using elementary and middle school scores such as NAEP. But High School is where the magic happens. High school is the place where it all comes together, where students take those skills learned in middle and high school and develop them to prepare for life after high school.
Most importantly, its the institution at the end of the road that determines whether or not a student truly will be considered college ready. And the quality of the school you determine will by in large determine your chances of being considered college ready. Yet due to a large variance in standards and testing practices across states, comparing high schools across state lines is a challenge.
Into this gap steps Newsweek, which in May of this year ranked the top 1000 high schools in america, and included on the list over a thousand more. Its a little old, but a friend recently shared it to me and I wanted to share some thoughts on it. Here’s the map that they created with the top 1000 across the country (darker red indicates higher ranking):
If we zoom in on Shelby County, here’s what we see:
The top three in Shelby County are Collierville High School (614), Houston High School (730) and Germantown High School (863). Only one Memphis school comes in the rankings at all, which is White Station High at 1233.
I have three primary takeaways from this. First, SCS has the most schools on this list of any major city in Tennessee (Knoxville has 3, Nashville 2), so in one respect we are doing well. However, Memphis itself, the largest entity in the unified district, only has one of the top 2000 and none in the top 1000.
Second, SCS high schools are of comparable quality to many of our peer cities, such as Milwaukee (5 schools) or St. Louis (5) on the surface (we have 4). However, Collierville and Houston don’t really represent the demographics of the more urban section of the district, so we really have two high schools. Of greater concern is that within the Memphis city limits we have NO schools in the top 1000, not even our flagship school of Whitestation.
Third, its obvious from this list that we need to place a much stronger focus on improving our high schools if we truly want to improve the educational outcomes of our city and county. This shows up in statistics for our county in which around 5% of Memphis students graduate college ready (by ACT score) and only 20% of the former Shelby County students graduate college ready. As we transition to common assessments through common core, I hope that disparities such as this will become too big to ignore and motivate our leaders to take the action required to improve our high schools and enable our students to better complete with their peers across the country.