After a two-year absence, the U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools rankings are back, a happy event for me and other members of the School Ranking Scoundrels Club.

We are not popular in some quarters. How dare we try to compare one school to another with numbers and miss their indefinable essences? But U.S. News and its list guru, Robert Morse, have been ranking schools, starting with colleges, for 30 years. They have proven that readers appreciate such lists.

I was inspired in part by the U.S. News college list to create the first national high schools list, the Challenge Index, in 1998. That list was in Newsweek until 2010, when I moved it to The Washington Post just before the Washington Post Co. sold Newsweek. The 2012 edition of our list, which we call the High School Challenge, will be out soon, as will a new high school list started last year by the new management of Newsweek, the Daily Beast.

The U.S. News list has data on nearly 22,000 high schools and ranks 2,008 of them based on several factors, including state test scores overall, scores of disadvantaged students and Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate participation and success rates. It is a complicated formula, so you have to read the methodology carefully. But it’s worth your attention. The American Institutes for Research crunched the numbers with financial support from Dell.

When the first U.S. News high school list appeared in 2007, the page views on my list shot up.. Were readers making comparisons? Were they just confused? The U.S. News folks and I think differently about what best defines a high school, but the debate is a good way to help our schools get better.

Take a look at theirs, and then look at ours. We have a new element this year never seen before in a high school list.