I always say “please” and “thank you.” I tip at least 20 percent. I never abuse editors or waiters. Many people have told me that I am a nice guy.
So why do so many private schools these days treat me like a loathsome intruder? They don’t actually say they wish I would drop dead, but it is clear that they don’t want to hear from me. I am asking them for information — how many graduates and Advanced Placement tests they had last year — that they consider none of my business. Thousands of public schools have provided the same data to me for the past 14 years.
writes a weekly column about education and the Class Struggle blog.
For the first time, I am including a sampling of private schools in my annual high school rankings, just posted. Most people think the main difference between public and private schools is that the latter charge tuition, sometimes exceeding $30,000 a year. That’s true, but there is also a great gap in accountability to the public — particularly for parents trying to find the best school for their children — because most private schools withhold vital data about their academic programs.
Since 1998, I have prepared a ranked list of public high schools based on what I call the High School Challenge Index. I divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Advanced International Certificate of Education tests at each school by the number of graduating seniors. If the school’s participation ratio is 1.000 or higher, it goes on the list. Only 9 percent of U.S. public schools have reached that level.
Many parents and educators have told me that they like the list. It ran in Newsweek for several years and now appears on The Washington Post’s Web site. The parents and educators say the list is easy to understand and indicates how hard a school is trying to involve as many students as possible in programs that provide a bracing taste of college academic demands. Some also say they like the fact that I am not rating schools by test scores, because differences in test averages between schools are more a sign of differences in family income than educational quality.
Other people, particularly educators in wealthy neighborhoods and in private schools, say the index is simplistic, unfair and deceptive. They say their schools’ best qualities cannot be captured by a number. They say I am taking advantage of the human fascination with pecking orders in order to pump up The Post’s Web page views.
When I started the list, I thought I would never get any data from private schools and didn’t try. The National Association of Independent Schools urged its members not to cooperate with me. But many readers asked me to include private schools, and a few of those schools volunteered. So this year I said, why not?
I wanted only a sampling. I contacted or searched the Web sites of about 200 private schools across the country and got the data I needed from 30, including President Obama’s alma mater, Punahou. I rank them here but emphasize that they are all in the top 6 percent of American schools measured this way. They are exceptional schools, not only because of their academic rigor but also their willingness to share their data.