Published Online: March 3, 2004
Published in Print: March 3, 2004, as Take Note

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Top 10, Minus 2

Which big cities have the best school systems?

Forbes.com, the online version of the magazine that caters to business executives, attempted to answer that question with a recent top-10 list.

But the list has drawn extensive criticism, both for its methodology and the fact that it mistakenly ranked Baltimore and Atlanta among the top 10.

The magazine reviewed 100 urban school districts in an effort to help busy professionals with children compare relocation options. It wanted to help those parents consider urban public schools, rather than feeling a need to rely on private education.

The report ranked school districts in cities with populations exceeding 100,000 based on graduation rates, the affordability of housing, and the amount of available educational and cultural resources such as libraries, museums, and universities.

The 10 city school districts that were initially ranked from one to 10 were Boston; Salt Lake City; Raleigh, N.C.; Baltimore; New Orleans; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; and San Diego. But in its review of Atlanta and Baltimore, the magazine incorrectly cited data from suburban districts near the two cities. Both cities were later removed from the online report, and no replacements were named.

The report "contained honest mistakes," said Debbie Weathers, a Forbes.com spokeswoman, in an e-mail message. According to Forbes.com, the writer of the top-10 list didn't realize that the data from Atlanta contained suburban schools and that the Baltimore County and Baltimore city systems are separate districts.

Regardless of the errors, some experts suggested that the criteria used to rank the districts weren't the most reliable.

"I would take it with a grain of salt," said Kathy Christie, a spokeswoman for the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

For instance, she said, graduation rates—one of the quality measures used for the report—"as we know, are part fiction."

Other experts contended that the report offered a skewed view of urban school systems. They argued that housing costs and educational resources, such as museums, are factors that do not necessarily reflect the quality of an urban school system.

Still, Forbes.com defended its findings.

"We believe our methodology to be sound," said Ms. Weathers in an e-mail statement.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Vol. 23, Issue 25, Page 3

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