Monday, June 4, 2012

The Best Schools in America: The Problems with Lists

Best of lists: everyone loves them.  I've enjoyed them since my college friend subscribed to Rolling Stone magazine and I pored over the lists of best albums of all time, pleased to see New Order, the Smiths, U2, the Cure, Depeche Mode, and yes, Prince, ranking high, underscoring my excellent musical taste, while simultaneously rolling my eyes at the completely predictable, and, in my refined opinion, unjustified, selection of the Beatles as #1.  Perhaps it started even before, when I sent beauty pageant drawings around my elementary school, asking my classmates to vote for their favorite.  I don't have cable television, but I still have managed to waste a large amount of time waiting for the "Best Infomercials of the 80s",  "Top Rock Star/Model Celebrity Couplings" or "The Best and Worst Hollywood Botox Jobs" to hurry up and show the next three minute entry in between commercials and get to number one before midnight.  Some shows come in ten episode chunks, for goodness sake.  You know you watch them, too.

As mindless and idiotic as these lists are, I have to admit, I have ascribed a lot of value to the "1,000 Best High Schools" from Newsweek magazine.  Perhaps because it is published by a (formerly) respected magazine, I assumed that the reporters were turning out Pulitzer quality stuff that could be relied upon.  Of course, I am highly aware that the top schools are either in extremely wealthy districts, or they select from top candidates.  But, what I did not know, that I learned in the New York Times' article In Lists of Best High Schools, Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story, is that the schools have  to apply to be on the list.  Nor did I know that the criteria can leave out excellent schools such as in Scarsdale, NY, which is a rich district that chose to not give Advanced Placement classes, and AP classes comprise 25% of the weight of the score. In the immortal words of Morrissey and the Smiths, in Death of a Disco Dancer:

"And if you think Peace
Is a common goal
That goes to show
How little you know"

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