A Decade of the Challenge Index: Send Me Your School and Your Opinion

Jay Matthews:

The Challenge Index, my device for assessing high schools on college-level course participation, was born 10 years ago this month in The Post and Newsweek. At the beginning it was mostly a way to draw attention to a book I had written, “Class Struggle: What’s Wrong (and Right) with America’s Best Public High Schools.” I feared that my prose was far too stuck in the minutiae of classroom life to win much of an audience but hoped that a list of schools ranked in a new way might tweak some curiosity.
In May, Newsweek will again publish its annual Top High Schools list, using the Challenge Index rating method, just as The Post published its annual Challenge Index list of D.C. area schools in December. These lists have taken on a life of their own. Newsweek’s Top High Schools was the most visited feature on the Newsweek.com Web site last year. The Post’s local list is also popular, and both are targets of controversy, producing by far the most questions and comments coming to my e-mail boxes.
Is this good? I would like you to tell me. These past 10 years I have been quoting regularly from the lists’ most acidic critics, as well as their warmest friends. But the arguments on both sides have grown stale and predictable. I have a new idea for advancing the debate.
First, I would like to ask all high schools that have strong Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge programs and have NOT gotten the Newsweek list entry form to e-mail highschools@newsweek.com right away and request one. If you gave at least as many AP, IB or Cambridge exams last May as you had graduating seniors last year, you should qualify for the Newsweek list. We gather all of our information for the list directly from the qualifying high schools. We have sent out thousands of forms, but we don’t want to miss anybody. If you know of a high school that you think has been overlooked, please forward this column to the principal. I figure the more schools on the list, the more varied and interesting the opinions of the list.