Confessions of a school ranker

Jay Mathews:

If you are a successful actor, businessman or novelist, you are likely to be famous. If you are a successful school, forget about it. That’s why most people have never heard of the two schools at the top of this year’s Washington Post High School Challenge rankings of American high schools.
Two Dallas public magnet schools — the School of Science & Engineering and the Gifted & Talented Magnet — are ranked first and second on the national list, based on participation rates on college-level tests. They share a building with four other small magnets near the middle of the city. They have been at or near the top of the list for several years, but their principals and teachers are rarely if ever seen on national news.
That is probably a good thing. Celebrity gets in the way of serious work. Engineering & Science, Talented & Gifted and the rest of the 1,910 high schools (including more than 140 in the Washington area) recognized on the list have staffs dedicated to raising students to new levels of achievement. At Science & Engineering, 63 percent of students come from families poor enough to qualify for federal lunch subsidies. At Talented & Gifted, the percentage is 33 percent. Most magnets that admit students based on academic credentials have few kids from low-income families, but these two schools work hard to convince disadvantaged students that they will thrive taking Advanced Placement courses as early as ninth grade. Those educators fulfill that promise.