Trio of City/Regional Magazines Rate Best Public Schools in Their Areas

By Mark Walsh — September 30, 2016 3 min read
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For almost the entire month of September, I’ve had three city or regional magazines on my desk with “Best Public Schools” or “Best High Schools” features. I figured it might be good to write about them before September actually ends. (I’m sure all three magazines have their October issues on newsstands already.)

“Best schools” features are a natural for city and regional magazines, but they aren’t necessarily as easy to compile as “Best Burgers” or “Best Restaurants.” There are a lot of judgment calls to make about measurement criteria, scope, and presentation.

I found three magazines that did it for their September issues. There may be more, but I checked most of the membership of the City and Regional Magazine Association, and here are the ones I found:

Boston magazine’s September cover story ranks “The Top 50 Public High Schools.” The magazine ranks public high schools “in towns or districts that lie within I-495.”

The magazine’s methodology explanation is a bit murky, but it took into account MCAS scores, class size, student-teacher ratios, and “students per college counselor and sports team.”

The top traditional public school is Dover-Sherborn Regional High School in Dover, Mass. The top charter school is Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough, Mass.

Accompanying the rankings is a strong package of stories on “The Charter Choice,” about the referendum on this fall’s Massachusetts ballot over whether to raise the number of charter schools allowed or increase enrollment in existing charters in underperforming districts.

“This fall, it’s going to get ugly in Massachusetts,” the magazine says.

Chicago magazine is more ambitious, ranking the “Best Public Schools,” with separate lists for elementary schools and high schools in Chicago, as well as best suburban schools for suburban Cook County and five outlying counties. (Middle schools were apparently left out.)

The magazine provided data to a private research firm, RTI International, on such factors spending per pupil, state test scores, attendance, and graduation rates. The magazine explains that when it last ranked public schools, in 2012, it relied primarily on test scores.

“Today there are more and better tools than ever to take the fullest possible measure of a school’s health,” the magazine says. “This year’s rankings honor a wide variety of schools that do a great job of educating, not just those that benefit from a large population of already-high-achieving students.”

Mark T. Skinner Elementary School was the top Chicago traditional elementary school. Walter Payton College Preparatory High School was the top high schoolin the city system. (For the city only, the magazine also ranks the top five charter elementary and high schools.)

Among the other features is a one-pager on “How to Fix CPS,” or Chicago Public Schools. The piece explains the perspectives and plans from four different quarters: The “austerity camp,” “the revenue camp,” the “corporate camp,” and the “middle-roaders.”

New Jersey Monthly is a more of a regional magazine, obviously. The magazine engaged Leflein Associates of Ringwood, N.J., to analyze factors such as school environment, student performance, and outcomes (such as graduation rate and college enrollment).

At the top of the magazine’s list of “Top 100 High Schools” is Chatham High School in Chatham Township, N.J., which is “blessed with a population of highly motivated students,” New Jersey Monthly says.

I’m pretty sure every city and regional magazine has done a “Best Burger” issue. A top public schools issue is an idea that more of them should be willing to copy.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.