Every other year NJ Monthly Magazine publishes their version of the Top NJ High Schools. It sells magazines like hot cakes and creates much fanfare for the residents in towns that come out on top. They don’t offer much transparency about their methodology and I am always mystified by their results because they vary greatly from one study to another. I think part of the reason for this is the fact they change their methodology from study to study.
This year they added a new measurement “percent of graduates that go to a secondary educational program -a 2 year of 4 year college.” As you can imagine this new element had a significant impact on the outcome. For instance, McNair High School in Jersey City fell from the esteemed #2 spot in the last 3 rankings reports to # 62 in 2014. From 2 to 62 in two years?
How can that possibly be? The reason is that in addition to using an inconsistent methodology, there isn’t any context used in measuring one district against another. Maybe kids at McNair can not afford to go to college. Does that make it a bad school or is it simply a reflection of the socio-economics of the community it serves? Is it fair to negate the hard working teachers, administrators and students who achieve outstanding test results, but simply don’t have the financial strength to apply to college? It’s no shock the wealthier districts unfairly tip the scales on this element.
Without including a control group I find this to be irresponsible reporting. What’s worse is that there are tremendous consequences at stake for New Jersey’s home values because most home buyers want to look for home in towns with favorably rated school districts. Aside from a town’s proximity to a buyer’s workplace, this has become the most important factor in deciding where to live. So we must ask the magazine to be more accountable for such salacious journalism.
As a resident of South Orange, for many years I experienced the negative effects of this type of reporting first hand. South Orange kids attend Columbia High School which also serves a highly diverse community and as such never makes it to a top position on any of these lists. Yet, my kid performed well in high school, attended a top tier college and graduated with honors. Yet I’ve always been asked by friends in other communities why Columbia isn’t well rated.
Consequently, I urge readers not to pay attention or support these “Best/Top” lists (US News & World Reports does one as well) and obtain in depth school info from unbiased resources such as www.greatschools.org – a non profit dedicating to presenting school information unbiasedly. If we don’t support these media outlets, maybe they will stop writing such misleading information.