‘Best high schools’ are charters, magnets

Charter schools do very well in Business Week’s list of America’s Best High Schools.

Working with GreatSchools, the magazine identified the highest performing and most improved high school in each states, the best high school serving a low-income population and the public and private schools rated highest by  GreatSchools visitors.

According to Charter Blog, only 5 percent of high schools are charters, but 14 percent of top performers and 14 percent low-income top performers, 21 percent of most improved and 18 percent of the favorites are charter schools.

Many of the non-charter public schools use admissions tests to choose students. Charters aren’t allowed to screen students, but they have the advantage of being schools of choice: Parents have decided that’s where they want their kids to be.

You have to click on the pictures to see the best in each state, which is annoying. It took me five tries to find California. My daughter’s alma mater, Palo Alto High, is listed as “best improved,” which is odd.  It didn’t have much room for improvement. I guess science scores went up.

About Joanne


  1. the pic thumbnails correspond to the states in alphabetical order.

  2. If you’re having trouble with the BusinessWeek slideshow, visit the Top 5 High Schools page on GreatSchools where you can browse directly to the state that interests you!


  3. Another way to look at this data, as I’ve pointed out, is that schools that are able to select students (and, therefore, also refuse admission to certain other students, especially those with low motivation, uninvolved parents, and/or behavior issues) are able to do much more for the students who are allowed in. Quelle surprise!

    For the same reasons listed above, these schools don’t have much of a “drop-out” rate, since any student who doesn’t return can be listed as simply returning to their home school.

    Further, another thing that sticks out is that these schools, in general, are much smaller than the typical American high school, particularly those in the largest school districts.

  4. Kind of makes you wonder why those charter schools have so many students to select from, hey?

    Oh, and in a number of cities the percentage of school-age kids going to charters is comfortably into double digits. If the charters are skimming off all the ready-to-learn kids with involved parents shouldn’t the district schools be getting commensurately execrable?

    In Washington D.C. about 30% of the kids attending public schools attend charters. That doesn’t look like a very selective selection to me.

  5. Ms. Cornelius:

    My son attends one of the “most improved” charters. It was frankly the last option I considered–after the public school system (where he attended for all of his previous years), the public school sponsored charter, and some successful charters run by teacher refugees from the public system. I can tell you that this charter (run by a for-profit entity) had far LESS in the way of cherry-picking techniques than any of the above. It is true that there were some charters who made it impossible (albeit illegally) for him to enroll. I experienced the same at the public school sponsored charter. Within the public school, I don’t think there was a single year that I didn’t hear from someone hired by the district that perhaps he would be better off somewhere else (a different school in the district, a “special” school, a charter, even home-schooled).

    Yes–one way to try to improve scores without actually changing practice is to attempt to attract a “better class of clients.” In my experience this gets small improvement in the short run–no improvement (and consequent morale problems) in the long run. My district did a study of “mobility” problems. One key finding was that the district itself was responsible for a percentage of the problem (and they didn’t even consider the students with disabilities–who have incredibly high mobility rates–due to district initiated transfers).


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