Class Struggle: high school

Posted at 02:21 AM ET, 07/05/2012

Is our neighborhood school really bad?

Aaron McMahon asked me if he should leave Alexandria because the local high school was bad. I told him why he was wrong about T.C. Williams High School, and others like it.

By Jay Mathews  |  02:21 AM ET, 07/05/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 10:10 PM ET, 06/10/2012

Diversity lags at highly selective Thomas Jefferson High School

The controversy at the famous high school over a drop in freshman grades in algebra2/trigonomety exposes the lack of progress in admitting more Hispanic and black students.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:10 PM ET, 06/10/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 03:01 AM ET, 06/03/2012

High School Challenge: Hiding private school data not so popular

Private school parents don’t like headmasters saying they are too dumb to analyze comparative statistics.

By Jay Mathews  |  03:01 AM ET, 06/03/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 05/24/2012

Schools with many APs but few passing

I created a special category of schools with many AP tests but low passing rates. Are they getting better?

By Jay Mathews  |  05:00 AM ET, 05/24/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 05/20/2012

2012 Challenge Index rankings--why small schools rule

Small schools rule in the 14th year of the high school list. Private school numbers are revealed for the first time.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:00 AM ET, 05/20/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 08:32 PM ET, 05/05/2012

Math stumble at renowned Jefferson High

The linear algebra students noticed their teacher was struggling, then he quit and four more instructors followed as the school tried to adjust.

By Jay Mathews  |  08:32 PM ET, 05/05/2012 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 07:21 PM ET, 12/08/2010

Dunbar leaders bounced, what next?

My colleague Bill Turque just informed me that as I feared, the Friends of Bedford group has been removed as administrators of Dunbar High. (See long post directly below for details in that clash.) I will have more to say about this in my Monday Metro section column. For now, I welcome comment from people who know Dunbar emailed to me at We should also say a few prayers for Stephen Jackson, last year's principal at Dunbar, whose firing by the Bedford group apparently precipitated these events. Turque tells me Jackson is being put back in charge, which means if test scores slump and the security situation doesn't improve, it is going to be all on him, and the people who put him back on the job. Let's hope he and they succeed.

By Jay Mathews  |  07:21 PM ET, 12/08/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 12/03/2010

Surprising truths from superstar principal

Henry Gradillas was the principal of Garfield High School in the 1980s when the chairman of its math department, a Bolivian immigrant named Jaime Escalante, became the most famous teacher in the United States. Escalante, about whom I wrote a book, was an amazing educator, but he would never have gained such renown and become the subject of the film "Stand and Deliver" if it had not been for Gradillas.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 12/03/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 08:00 PM ET, 11/21/2010

Let schools be creative with motivation

Two demographically similar and academically impressive local high schools — Northwood in Montgomery County and West Potomac in Fairfax County — have been debating grades. Both schools have been accused of letting too many students pass their courses without learning the material. This is in line with what millions of Americans say about schools in general. But they disagree over whom to blame. Unmotivated students? Lazy teachers? Cowardly administrators? Short-sighted parents? I wonder if there isn’t a way for all of these people to resolve the dispute by offering school choices that would approach grading and teaching in different ways

By Jay Mathews  |  08:00 PM ET, 11/21/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 09:00 PM ET, 11/17/2010

Hiding exams from students

The parent at McLean High School was frustrated. Two years ago he had to go to the principal to force a teacher to let his daughter keep a copy of a graded test so she could get a better sense of her errors. Last month, it happened again with his son.

By Jay Mathews  |  09:00 PM ET, 11/17/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 09:00 PM ET, 11/07/2010

Top high school should look for character as well as brains

My colleague Kevin Sieff reported last week that the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is not only the most selective public school in America, but one of the least diverse. After years of promising to reach out to the third of Northern Virginia students who are black or Hispanic, less than 4 percent of its students have that background, while ultra-selective colleges such as Harvard and MIT have about 20 percent.

By Jay Mathews  |  09:00 PM ET, 11/07/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 08:00 PM ET, 10/17/2010

Curiosity discouraged at competitive high school

Westfield High School in Fairfax County is one of the largest and most competitive public schools in America. It is not unusual that 180 sophomores enrolled in Advanced Placement World History this year, more students than most U.S. high schools have taking AP courses of any kind. What did surprise some students and their parents was a sheet titled “Expectations of Integrity” included in the materials handed out by the three AP World History teachers. Their number one rule discouraged random outbreaks of curiosity.

By Jay Mathews  |  08:00 PM ET, 10/17/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 09:00 PM ET, 10/13/2010

Required essays in a physics class

In my search for signs of serious writing instruction in America high schools, I have stumbled across a rare creature: a physics teacher in Fairfax County who makes everyone in his honors classes enter a national science essay contest.

By Jay Mathews  |  09:00 PM ET, 10/13/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 10/12/2010

What Jerry Bracey would have said about Locke High

Every once in awhile I run across a case of distorted education reporting and mourn the 2009 death of Gerald W. Bracey. For years he was the nation's watchdog of unexamined assumptions and misleading language in education policy and education writing. Instead of stewing over these mishaps, I am going to post them and say what I think Jerry would have said about them

By Jay Mathews  |  11:30 AM ET, 10/12/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 10/08/2010

Why low standards for education are good

No education scholar in America throws an analytical knuckleball as well as David F. Labaree of Stanford University. You are reading along, enjoying the clarity of his prose and the depth of his research, thinking his argument is going one way when--whoops!--it breaks in another direction altogether.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 10/08/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 09/29/2010

Teacher/blogger critiques highly ranked school

A teacher who recently worked at one of my favorite D.C. schools, Columbia Heights Education Campus High School, James Boutin, sent me a detailed critique. He said CHEC did not deserve its high rank or my praise. I invited him to state his case here, and promised to get the school's response.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 09/29/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 07:00 PM ET, 09/26/2010

High school barred average students from AP

Flowers High School in Prince George's County was one of the few schools in the Washington area refusing to let average students challenge themselves in an Advanced Placement course. Students were told this year that AP English, biology, American history, calculus and most of the other college-level courses at the school were open only to those with at least a 3.0 grade point average. They also had to have written permission from a teacher.

By Jay Mathews  |  07:00 PM ET, 09/26/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 06:00 PM ET, 09/19/2010

Rhee initiative that will, thankfully, outlast Rhee

As prospective mayor Vincent Gray’s education advisors begin to discuss changes in the way Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee ran D.C. schools, it should quickly become apparent they should keep their hands off one of Rhee’s smartest moves — handing management of Coolidge and Dunbar high schools to a sharp team of educators from New York City.

By Jay Mathews  |  06:00 PM ET, 09/19/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 06:00 PM ET, 09/12/2010

Teacher in troubled school likes Rhee's impatience

Anthony Priest decided teaching math would be more interesting than his big business career, so he accepted an assignment at one of the most chaotic public schools in the region, Spingarn High in Northeast Washington. Since then, he says, he has had many adventures, including a first-hand look at the inspiring and results-oriented (at least to him) management practices of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

By Jay Mathews  |  06:00 PM ET, 09/12/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 09/02/2010

What your college counselor doesn't know

An insightful new book on the admissions process has convinced me that many hardworking and thoughtful high school counselors have a weak spot that I have overlooked. Both they and I don’t have as deep an understanding of the intricacies of college finance as is needed in this era of huge tuition bills.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 09/02/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 07/27/2010

Two very different AP schools, both with good news

All over the country, schools are introducing more students to college-level courses. Some educators and parents are worried that it is too much, too soon. But I think that overlooks the power of good teaching done before the AP, IB and other introductory college courses begin. If that early preparation in working in high schools as different as Friendship and Washington-Lee, it seems to me it could work anywhere.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 07/27/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 01:48 PM ET, 06/29/2010

If more D.C. testing is bad, why are Va., Md. schools so popular?

I have only one question for those who think Rhee heading down the wrong path adding more tests to D.C. high schools: Newcomers to the Washington area, if they have school age children, generally look to Fairfax and Montgomery counties for public schools, not D.C. Fairfax and Montgomery Counties, as well as Virginia and Maryland schools in general, have many more required tests in core subjects for high schoolers than D.C. schools do. What gives?

By Jay Mathews  |  01:48 PM ET, 06/29/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 06/25/2010

NYC success suggests better fix for urban high schools

Urban high schools throughout the country are, on average, very bad. They are full of confused teenagers who are often not well taught and given little of the support and structure they need to learn. Several D.C. high schools are under new leadership now, as Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has installed new principals. But they are trying, as edlharris recommended, to turnaround their entire schools, grades 9 to 12, at the same time. The results so far are not impressive.

By Jay Mathews  |  05:30 AM ET, 06/25/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 11:55 AM ET, 06/16/2010

How does your high school rank? Check the new Newsweek list

Any public high school that gave at least as many AP, IB or Cambridge tests in 2009 as it had seniors graduating that year qualifies for the 2010 Newsweek list. If your high school meets that criteria and you do not find it listed, email me at

By Jay Mathews  |  11:55 AM ET, 06/16/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 06/13/2010

The principal who created a wellspring of innovation

Despite the school’s disadvantages, Jackson has produced one of the highest levels of Advanced Placement test participation in the country — top 2 percent. Thirty-seven percent of Wakefield seniors have passing scores on those tests, more than twice the national average. Wakefield has reached its federal achievement targets, unusual for a school with so many impoverished students, but also made itself a national model for imaginative instruction, outdoing even the most affluent public schools.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 06/13/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 01:00 AM ET, 06/10/2010

Must-read new report on high school dropouts

Swanson discovered, for instance, that just 25 of the 11,000 U.S. school districts with high schools accounted for one out of every five students who failed to graduate in 2007, the most recent year with relevant data. Those 25 districts at the top of the dropout scale had a quarter million non-graduates, as many as were counted in the lowest ranked 8,400 districts.

By Jay Mathews  |  01:00 AM ET, 06/10/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 04/18/2010

Principal tells ninth-graders to study, or leave

I was surprised when Charlie Thomas, principal of Crossland High School in Prince George’s County, began sending me emails. His school has been one of the worst in a low-performing district for a long time. But Thomas, who arrived in 2004, was trying to improve his school and was willing even to deal with a fault-finding columnist if it would help. Nearly 66 percent of his students were low-income, but he was not going to let that slow him down. I confess he has gotten my attention with some unusual moves.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 04/18/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 04/11/2010

Should high schoolers read aloud in class?

Recently I visited a history class at a local, low-performing high school where students read in turn from the autobiography of a famous American. The teacher was bright and quick. He interrupted often with comments and questions. The 18 sophomores and juniors seemed to be into it, but it was such an old-fashioned--and I suspect to some educators elementary--approach for that I decided to see what other educators thought of it.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 04/11/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 04/04/2010

Unlike many, Escalante believed in teaching, not sorting

From 1982 to 1987 I stalked Jaime Escalante, his students and his colleagues at Garfield High School, a block from the hamburger-burrito stands, body shops and bars of Atlantic Boulevard in East Los Angeles. I was the Los Angeles bureau chief for The Washington Post, allegedly covering the big political, social and business stories of the Western states, but I found it hard to stay away from that troubled high school.

By Jay Mathews  |  09:00 AM ET, 04/04/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 03:54 PM ET, 03/18/2010

New Admissions 101 topic

Today's Local Living column on this blog inspires the latest topic for my Admissions 101 discussion group: Should we rate high schools based a long essay designed to show how much students' analytical abilities have improved?

By Jay Mathews  |  03:54 PM ET, 03/18/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 03/07/2010

Help schools use non-fiction books

How can we persuade teachers to give non-fiction more prominence? Any ideas? How about a non-fiction week during that limp period after the early May crunch of state, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams? Pick a book and read it for two hours a day. The rest of the time we’ll have lunch and special projects.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 03/07/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 04:49 PM ET, 03/03/2010

Obama right, Mathews wrong

Please wipe my recent post, "Obama wrong, Weingarten right," from your memory. I messed up. I indicated the plan to fire all of the staff at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island barred teachers from reapplying for their jobs. If I had shown the slightest bit of energy in checking this out, I would have discovered teachers at that school will have that option.

By Jay Mathews  |  04:49 PM ET, 03/03/2010 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 11/29/2009

Five reasons why I am a bad education writer

I rarely wrote about private schools: This is partly because of laziness. It takes much time and effort to report on private schools because so many are reluctant to give out information that might hurt their reputations in their annual competition with other private schools for students. I am also handicapped by the journalistic assumption, rarely discussed or debated in our newsroom, that paying attention to these private enterprises is like giving them free advertising.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 11/29/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 11/25/2009

Too hard to pick the right high school

The suburban districts themselves employ people with encyclopedic knowledge of what is available for students of every learning style. Why not put them at prominent tables at those open houses with big signs that say, “IF NOBODY HAS ANSWERED YOUR QUESTIONS, ASK ME.”

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 11/25/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 11/18/2009

High school research papers: a dying breed

The leading U.S. proponent of more research work for the nation’s teens is Will Fitzhugh, who has been publishing high school student papers in his Concord Review journal since 1987. In 2002, he persuaded the Albert Shanker Institute to fund a study of research paper writing by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut. The results were as bleak as he expected. Sixty-two percent of the 400 high school history teachers surveyed never assigned a paper as long as 3,000 words, and 27.percent never assigned anything as long as 2,000 words.

By Jay Mathews  |  10:00 PM ET, 11/18/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 03:44 PM ET, 07/13/2009

Metro Monday: Should High Schools Bar Average Students From College-Level Courses and Tests?

Fifteen years ago, when I discovered that many good high schools prevented average students from taking demanding courses, I thought it was a fluke, a mistake that would soon be rectified. I had spent much time inside schools that...

By Washington Post Editors  |  03:44 PM ET, 07/13/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 01:45 AM ET, 07/06/2009

New School Board Member Has Influenced a Legion of Educators

When I first met him a dozen years ago, Mike Durso struck me as an okay principal. He didn't say much about himself, but his school, Springbrook High in Silver Spring, was well-run. The students liked him. He had been...

By Washington Post Editors  |  01:45 AM ET, 07/06/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 02:23 PM ET, 05/20/2009

Would Schools Be Better Off If Fewer or More Students Took AP Tests?

A little while ago, Jay called for schools to allow more students to take Advanced Placement tests. The column has spurred an ongoing conversation between Jay and the Assorted Stuff blog. Here's Assorted Stuff's latest post (with two minor edits):...

By Washington Post Editors  |  02:23 PM ET, 05/20/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)

Posted at 11:46 AM ET, 05/18/2009

Senioritis Is One Symptom of a Creative Deficit in Class

Last year, I wrote a defense of high school senioritis as a useful break from academic drudgery. This made me, briefly, a hero to teenagers across the country. Then I returned to my usual theme that classes leading up...

By Washington Post Editors  |  11:46 AM ET, 05/18/2009 |  Permalink  |  Comments ( 0)