NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Some "Top" Public Schools Are "failing"

August 5, 2002

A comparison of lists of the nation's best and worst public schools has found that at least 19 of them qualify in both categories. USA Today did the comparison.

The overlap emphasizes just how elusive the definition of "school excellence" has become -- and questions the validity of the nation's most prestigious recognition program.

  • Since 1982, the federal Department of Education has cited nearly 4,000 Blue Ribbon schools.
  • Now the federal government also requires states to compile a list of all schools that don't make adequate progress in academics for two years in a row -- and that list includes 8,652 schools.
  • USA Today singled out 10 states with the most "failing" schools and compared it with the 1,154 Blue Ribbon schools in those states.
  • It found that half of the 10 states had at least one Blue Ribbon winner among schools that failed to meet state standards.

Moreover, at least seven were simultaneously the nation's "best" and "worst" in the 2000-01 school year -- and three won the exemplary title in May, just one month before the federal deadline to report failing schools.

Federal education officials say it is not fair to compare the two programs because they measure different kinds of school progress. Nonetheless, the department is adopting new criteria for the Blue Ribbon program.

The 10 states with the most "failing" schools are Michigan, California, Ohio, Georgia, New York, Illinois, Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. It is important to note, however, that some states -- such as Michigan -- have much tougher grading criteria than others.

Source: Karen Thomas and Anthony DeBarros, "Nineteen of USA's 'Finest' Schools Are 'Failing,'" USA Today, August 5, 2002.

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