Nine out of the top ten public high schools in the country are charter or magnet schools, according to the latest figures from U.S. News and World Report. In addition, charters and magnets account for 60 of the top 100 high schools. These statistics are even impressive when one considers that such schools constitute a relatively small percentage of the public schools around the country.
To determine its rankings, U.S. News used a step-by-step system in which schools were ranked by their ability to meet increasingly advanced criteria. To win a medal, schools had to outperform others in their states, excel in helping the least-advantaged students, and achieve high graduation rates. College readiness, as determined by performance on Advanced Placement (AP) exams, was the fourth and final step.
Charters and magnets are unlike traditional public schools in that they must work to attract students, while traditional public schools do not have to. Charters also rely on greater accountability to parents rather than to regulatory regimes, which has spurred innovation. Magnets fall under the same regulatory structure as traditional public schools, but they benefit from the ability to draw in all sorts of students.
Despite this evidence, opponents of school choice show no sign of changing their minds. Education-reform expert Michael Petrilli told U.S. News, “It’s not like the opponents of charter schools are letting up or changing their minds and saying, ‘Wow these results are really impressive, I guess we’ll support them after all.’ Teachers unions continue to see them as a threat, especially in cities, and are acting accordingly.”
These new rankings buttress school reformers’ case that genuine improvement comes when families have options. Every magnet or charter does not rise to the level of BASIS schools in Arizona or KIPP Academy in New York City, but their outsized representation among the nation’s best suggests that their models work.