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US News Rankings Redux

Original post made by SkepticAl on Dec 10, 2007

So I actually got around to reading the article we were all commenting on a while back. Some of the highlights....

- The school ranked #11 overall, (#4 among open enrollment schools), is Hidalgo HS in Hidalgo, TX. It serves 810 Hispanic students, 90% "economically disadvantaged." They had a 94% graduation rate. They offer 16 AP classes, and they put every student in at least two APs, though only 44% scored a 3 or better on at least one AP test; still, taking and passing the class does provide valuable experience.

Hidalgo is also a failing school according to No Child Left Behind. Hmmmm... so which is it? No. 11 high school in the nation, or a failing school? How can either of those labels suffice to tell the story? (Get used to the surprise though - NCLB, if not changed, will label virtually every school - certainly every city and state - a failure by 2014).

- For what it's worth (not much, but maybe interesting to some)...comparing our schools to other large, open-enrollment high schools...

Among schools serving 1,000 or more students... Gunn is #16, Paly #26.
If we narrow it to open enrollment and >1500 students... Gunn is #9, Paly #15.

And as someone mentioned once before, we're fairly well represented as a city. Among other cities represented multiple times, the next smallest is Tucson, AZ - pop. 520,000 (approx.). Luckily for us, Lynbrook, Monta Vista, and Saratoga are all in different cities from each other, because otherwise, that's a pretty impressive five-mile stretch.

So... sleep well, Palo Alto!! We're not that bad... ha ha ha.

Comments (12)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 10, 2007 at 8:51 am

How about the rankings of US students v the rest of the world? That is much more of an eye opener. If the best 100 of the US is compared with the best 100 elsewhere, countries like Canada are doing a much better job? Personally, I find that a lot more worrying.

Posted by joan, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 10, 2007 at 9:29 am

American 15 yr olds are doing terribly in math and science compared with other countries
"No one can match us when it comes to self-esteem. So what if American students ranked 21st out of 30 industrialized nations? So what if we're even worse in math -- 25th? We know what you're thinking: "Well, we're more ethnically diverse than those countries. We have more poverty. More immigrants." Sorry, the poor and immigrants and the ethnically diverse in other countries scored higher than ours."LA Times 12/10/07

seeWeb Link

Posted by blame game, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 10, 2007 at 10:01 am

Hey Al - such a skeptic! My friend, "learn to stop worrying and love the bomb"! (I know who you are, don't I?)

thanks for the link joan... yep - we should be worried about the international measures but also make sure we know what's compared. are we comparing all of our students to the best in other countries? do they test everyone? do they send everyone on to the same type of highschool or are some of them already in vocational school or not in compulsory ed. systems and not being tested? Not saying we're doing a great job as a nation at all, but we need to know the substance of the comparson at least. should also ask what kind of tests- we're getting so wrapped up in standardized bubble tests and some other countries use more practical tests (given situation xyz, design an experiment to determine abc) so are kids might be messed up by always being asked for facts, not thinking. we're also leaving kids behind - yessir, all that reading and math in elementary schools worried about test scores leads to less time for other subjects.

Posted by joan, a resident of Professorville
on Dec 10, 2007 at 11:21 am

here is the link to the full report and methodology, the report was released dec 9 2007 Web Link

Posted by JFP, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2007 at 2:42 pm

I just saw a study in Alabama where they adjusted all the school scores for the demographics (in particular, poverty levels of students). It made a big difference. A lot of schools that looked good originally, looked bad once the adjustments were made. Palo Alto might find the same.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 11, 2007 at 6:35 pm

I suspect we don't do that badly in terms of demographics--if cost-of-living is calculated into the mix. We're a city of million-dollar dumps--or million-plus.

I don't remember a time when American students did well compared to our overseas peers. But a lot of that is our different system of education. British students--the ones who don't leave school at 16, specialize in three subjects in what we could consider the upper high school years, but then they only spend three years at university. So, at various points they will seem accelerated next to your average American student. However, by the time everyone picks up their bachelors, you're going to see some parity.

The U.S. has traditionally pushed students harder during their college years than, say, Japan, where the push comes before (it's all about getting in). I don't think it's coincidental that a large percentage of the top universities are in the U.S.

A couple of points re: math, science, engineering. I think most of us have heard about the large number of engineers China is graduating. What surprised me was when a buddy of mine attended one of the Silicon Valley VC. technocracy conferences they have around here and the CEO types started complaining about the Chinese engineers. I mean these guys *want* cheap overseas labor, so it's really frustrating for them to not have nice cheap *large* pool in China.

However, I think China will gets its academics in better shape as it develops. Given that companies are using engineers in India, Korea, Russia, etc., there's kind of cap in the U.S. on engineer salaries. In which case, why would a talented American student opt to go into engineering in engineers are a dime a dozen? Is it really that they can't compete or is it that they've figured out they're more likely to get rich in finance?

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2007 at 7:08 pm

Anybody have experience with Finnish schools? In the OECD study I saw, Finland was a big winner and has consistently been the tops in science, math, and reading. Anybody know what their secret sauce is? Reindeer meat maybe?

Posted by PA mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 11, 2007 at 7:43 pm

Finland - if I were to hazard a guess on the "secret sauce" its a smaller, well-educated, homogeneous population and a phonetic language. My daughter had a girl from Finland in her class years ago (early grade, maybe 1st or 2nd) the mom was amazed at the amount of time spent on spelling and learning to read with such a wide variety of rules. Both my kids spent 20% of their homework time in elementary school on spelling - leaves a lot less time for science, math and reading. And perhaps they spend less time drawing for projects - why are kids in high school illustrating flash cards?

Posted by Slower, pussycat, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2007 at 8:45 am

Not sure about Finland, but one big difference between us and the other Nordic countries is that they have not pushed the curriculum down to ever younger kids and there is much less pressure.

For instance, they don't even bother teaching reading until the kids are about 8 years old, by which time the kids are developmentally ready and the learning process is very quick (couple months)--oh, and they often top lists of countries with people who read a lotwhen they're younger, the children are freed from academic pressure and can play and learn how to treat one another.

And you're right, I don't think anyone over there is illustrating flashcards in high school. They split the kids at around 15 years old, and some go to trade school and others are on an academic track. So, either they're getting ready to work in a trade or pursuing rigorous academics by then.

Nobody there buys into the facile notion that the only way to compete, educationally, with Asian-style systems (which rely on massive amounts of studying, drilling and rote learning) is to force younger kids to study harder.

Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 14, 2007 at 11:45 am

Slower, pussycat,

Thanks for pointing out the key features of an educational system which works extremely well and offers so many contrasts to the direction we're being pushed towards.

Too often, in international comparisons, eyes are only on the successes in Asia, which logically increases the pressure to make our schools closer to the Singaporean, Japanese, Taiwanese, or South Korean models.

Finland stands out as a model for humane, effective education for all students. Hosting a Finnish AFS exchange student 15 years ago first made us aware that there was a lot to admire about Finland's system. I started noticing then that Finland always ranks high in international comparisons, not just on test scores but on satisfaction with the experience.

A few years ago I read an excellent article about Finland's approach to childhood. What struck me was that the nation's policies and resource allocation showed they care about each Finnish child's quality of life as a child and prospects for adult life. A social cohesion exists that results in excellent education for all children. I don't believe we could say that about American policies, not when we see the huge disparities that exist.

Palo Altans who need a reminder of the many ways to be successful should take a look at Finland's educational system for a different model of excellence in providing for children's wefare and the benefit of the community.

Posted by Paly parent, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 26, 2008 at 10:45 am

Thanks, Slower and Jerry, for your comments, which I found quite interesting. I've been disappointed that my daughter, who used to be excited about learning and reading, seems to be less so every year. I totally believe we need to look at different models which take the affective part of the learning process and the cognitive development of the student into consideration. Instead, we seem to be adopting more and more a model which emphasizes memorization of facts, rewarding those who memorize well. Even in my daughter's upper-level English classes there is an over-emphasis on rote memorization of vocabulary out of context, apparently with the purpose of preparing students for the SAT. There are few discussions and very little writing about the literature read. I sometimes wonder if other parents find this appalling or if I'm the only one (in which case, we should probably consider a different school for her last 2 years).

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 26, 2008 at 4:40 pm

I have also found both my kids to be less excited about learning the higher up they are in school. Some odd and frustrating teaching happens, what I'd like to see:

Teachers who actually instruct in math - not just hand out work sheets.

Study guides which actually contain the info on the tests (particularly in science)

Teachers who hand homework back in a timely manner (my son has finally learned to xerox his history homework because it takes weeks to get it back)

Teachers who like to teach the age of child they are teaching

No drawing required outside of art classes - should HS kids really be making posters?

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