While producing a list like this is never heartening, it can be a useful rallying tool for change on a community or legislative level. Additionally, the NeighborhoodScout ranking of America’s worst public schools is different from most - it’s a patented ranking system that takes into account both the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) state-level achievement in reading and math, as well as the National Assessment of Educational Progress benchmarks in those same subjects, which are universal across the country. Because of this, we are able to compare schools all across America on the same ranking system, even if students in those schools took different assessment tests. Our method measures the gap between a state’s rate of student proficiency on its state-mandated NCLB test, and that state’s passing rate for the NAEP, and applies the state-specific gap in performance on these two tests to each school. (For more information on this patented ranking system, check out our list of the 100 best schools in America).
From this, an improvement of a school’s national ranking can be accomplished a couple of different ways. Firstly, there is an incentive to make the state-specific tests more difficult, rather than less, thus closing the gap with the often more difficult national NAEP measurement. If the state-specific tests are harder than the NAEP, this can help the ranking of well-performing schools on these tougher NCLB tests even more. And, if the state does better on its NAEP than other states, it helps the best schools in that state compare favorably against the best schools in other states. The two work together to show the best of the best, and rank all schools on a comparable index based on student performance. It’s a holistic way of measuring that’s completely unique to NeighborhoodScout.
The geography of this list shows some interesting patterns. Like our list of the 100 most dangerous cities in America, or our top 30 murder capitals, there is a somewhat heavy concentration in the large cities of the Northeast: Ballou High (98) in Washington DC, City Neighbors High (45) in Baltimore, Germantown High 72) in Philadelphia, and Foundations Academy (89) in Brooklyn, NY, among others. California’s large cities also have several schools on this list: Animo Ralph Bunche (87) in Los Angeles, Big Picture High School (43) in Fresno, Encina Preparatory (56) in Sacramento, and Alliance Academy (82) in Oakland. These schools’ listings actually differ from our Most Dangerous Cities list, in that the trend on that ranking was towards small towns outside of big cities, as opposed to the big cities themselves.
However, the dispersal between the coasts isn’t much like any of our other rankings. Most states that have schools on this list have more than one - which makes sense, given that the state’s performance on the NAEP determines the relative standing of that state relative to others, while individual schools in the state can perform across the spectrum North and South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, and Indiana all have 2 on this list. Alaska has 3, Arizona and Mississippi have 4, and Pennsylvania has 6.
And while it’s much easier to accept being one of the country’s top public schools over being one of its worst - we at NeighborhoodScout understand the vast challenges facing our public school system, and hope that this can be used as a rallying point to bring about change. Today more than ever, discourse on how to improve public schools thrives - and there are a number of directions from which to approach the issue. From a local government standpoint, efforts can be made to become a more teacher-friendly city, providing incentives for quality educators to move and set up shop in the area. While NCLB and the NAEP operate on a state and national level, respectively, there is nothing stopping local government for providing incentives and support for quality education on a local level. Schools themselves can take part in improving their lot by encouraging parents to get involved, incorporating community partners into the education process, and providing quality afterschool programs that keep kids off the streets. And in the end, it is all about the individual students, their home lives and family support for education, and ultimately, their individual educational outcomes that drive this ranking, and matter for today and for their future.
The possibility for creative solutions to public school issues are endless, and if nothing else, we hope that this list will function as a generator of dialog and focus on what causes lower student achievement. It is popular to blame the schools, but top performance by students so often begins in the home and requires supportive, stable, education-centric parents.
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