The Best High Schools in America

Article excerpt

Byline: Clark Merrefield, Lauren Streib, And Ian Yarett

NEWSWEEK studied more than 1,000 top schools to determine the best of the best: the ones producing kids ready for college--and life.

On any given morning, the halls of the School of Science and Engineering in Dallas look like most public high schools--nondescript classrooms packed with bleary-eyed students bent over ponderous textbooks. The difference is the time: this scene plays out each school day at 7:30 a.m., 90 minutes before class officially starts, and it will repeat for a solid hour after the day's final bell, as students at this magnet school cram in as much daily, organized study as possible.

The discipline is systemic--teachers sit shoulder to shoulder with the students during this extra study time--and it's nurtured before matriculation. Incoming freshmen spend the last weeks of summer in "boot camp" to learn math and Java programming. Last year, all 86 seniors graduated, had an average SAT score of 1786, and went to college, even though most of them qualify for a subsidized school lunch. Science and Engineering's system works so well, in fact, that it landed the No. 1 spot on NEWSWEEK'S annual list of the top public high schools in America.

These are challenging times for secondary education. Cash-strapped school districts are cutting back; No Child Left Behind mandates test results; parents and students fret incessantly. This Waiting for 'Superman' reality craves solutions, and so NEWSWEEK, which has been ranking the top U.S. high schools for more than a decade, revamped its methodology for 2011 in the hopes of highlighting some.

Rather than focus, as in the past, on one metric (AP tests taken per graduate), we consulted a group of experts--Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America; Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Open Education Solutions and the former executive director for education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford professor of education and founder of the School Redesign Network--to develop a yardstick that fully reflects a school's success turning out college-ready (and life-ready) students. …