VIA US NEWS & WORLD REPORT:
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., the top school in U.S. News & World Report‘s America’s Best High Schools rankings, is designed to challenge students. A course load of offerings that include DNA science, neurology, and quantum physics would seem to be more than enough to meet that goal. But students and the faculty felt those classes weren’t enough, so they decided to tackle another big question: What are the social responsibilities of educated people? Over the course of the school year, students are exploring social responsibility through projects of their own design, ranging from getting school supplies for students with cerebral palsy in Shanghai to persuading their classmates to use handkerchiefs to reduce paper waste. The One Question project demonstrates the way “TJ,” as it’s referred to by students and teachers, encourages the wide-ranging interests of its students.
“None of our students have the same passion,” says TJ Principal Evan Glazer. “But having a passion is widely accepted and embraced.”
This enthusiasm has placed TJ at the top of the America’s Best High Schools ranking for each of the three years that U.S. News has ranked high schools. U.S. News uses a three-step process that analyzes first how schools are educating all of their students, then their minority and disadvantaged students, and finally their collegebound students based on student scores on statewide tests, Advanced Placement tests, and International Baccalaureate tests.
Of the 21,786 public high schools examined by U.S. News and its partner in the project, School Evaluation Services, 1,750 were recognized for considerably outperforming their state’s standards. In that group, there were 561 schools that also were found to be doing an excellent job of preparing students for college-level coursework. California leads the nation this year with 110 high schools that earned recognition, followed by New York (53 schools), Texas (50 schools), Illinois (37 schools), Florida (24 schools), and Massachusetts (21 schools). Nebraska and Oklahoma did not have sufficient information for their high schools to participate fully in the analysis, which involves a three-step process that examines how well a school serves its entire student body (average students, disadvantaged students, and collegebound students).
One major challenge all of the nation’s best public high schools are facing is how to continue to challenge students despite budget pressures. Although the federal stimulus money has helped many school districts retain teachers who otherwise would have been laid off, many schools are finding it difficult to renovate—or even maintain—their older buildings. At Martin Luther King Academic Magnet High School in Nashville, No. 30 on the list, students and faculty have found ways to achieve in a 1930s-era building in which the roof leaks, kids eat lunch in the hallways because the cafeteria is too small, and rats sometimes raid the vending machines. “All of Nashville should be concerned that we are educating the best and brightest in a broken-down building,” says Shunn Turner, principal of MLK high school.
That hasn’t stopped the students from learning or getting into Ivy League schools such as Harvard. “With all the amazing teachers, students, counselors, and staff, there was no need to focus on why the lockers didn’t open half the time or why the soccer team changed outside,” says Jake Rudin, an ’09 MLK graduate who currently is a freshman at Cornell University.
1. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Location: Alexandria, VA
Economically Disadvantaged Students (% of Total Enrollment): 1.3
Minority Enrollment (% of Total): 4.9
Quality-Adjusted Exams Per Test Taker: 6.9
College Readiness Index: 100.0