America’s Best High Schools But Where is Conestoga High School?

Newsweek has released a list of the top 500 public high schools in America.  Here are high schools in our local area that made the list and their ranking:

  • Harriton High School:  #123
  • Radnor High School: #146
  • Lower Merion High School:  #224
  • Downingtown East High School; #279
  • Downingtown West High School: #339
  • Great Valley High School:  #346
  • Haverford High School: #466

But where is Conestoga High School . . . ?

To create the list of the top 500 public high schools in America, Newsweek used the criteria below, with its corresponding percentage of calculated weight:

  • Four-year, on-time graduation rate (25%)
  • Percent of 2010 graduates who enrolled immediately in college (25%)
  • AP tests per graduate (25%)
  • Average SAT score (10%)
  • Average AP test score (10%)
  • Number of AP courses offered per graduate (5%)

With all the discussion about the quality of TESD schools, does it not strike some of you odd that Conestoga High School is not on the list?  I have to believe that Conestoga High School would not fall short in any of the categories as based on Newsweek’s criteria (above).

There has been much discussion, including on Community Matters, in regards to the quality of our T/E school district.  Repeatedly, people have affirmed that the quality of our school district is helping to sustain our property values.  If that is correct, shouldn’t TESD taxpayers expect the same ‘bragging rights’ as the other school districts?

Unable to explain ‘why’ Conestoga High School is not on the list, I researched further.  Under Newsweek’s category, “Methodology: How we compiled the list” and I may have discovered the answer.  From the Newsweek website, I found the following:

To compile the 2011 list of the top high schools in America, NEWSWEEK reached out to administrators, principals, guidance counselors, and Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate coordinators at more than 10,000 public high schools across the country. In order to be considered for our list, each school had to complete a survey requesting specific data from the 2009-2010 academic year.

Based on Newsweek’s methodology, is the explanation to Conestoga’s MIA status on the list as simple as the administration dropped the ball and did not complete the survey?

Regardless of whether you give credence to school rankings, what does it say that every other public high school in the area is on the list except for Conestoga High School?

If you were moving into the Philadelphia suburbs and had high school age children, would it make a difference to you?  If all was equal, do you think that a family with high school age children would opt for one of our neighboring school districts because they were ranked by Newsweek and TESD was not?

Bottom line, as our property taxes continue to increase, I am guessing that most taxpayers in T/E would like to see their high school on the list.  If nothing more, it helps take some of the sting out of the tax bill.

I would be curious what explanation our school board members would have to say on the ranking and Conestoga’s MIA status on the list.

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As a follow-up note, I have emailed school board president Karen Cruickshank and cc the T/E school board.  If I receive a response, I will be glad to post it.

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56 Comments

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  1. pattye, I would have to agree it is very weird not to be on this list. I would think COnestoga meets all the criteria. I have to believe the administration dropped the ball. Someone should look into that.

    [Reply]

    Rick Reply:

    Newsweek ranked only those schools that submitted the required survey. No less than 15 of the top schools in NJ did not remit the survey and therefore omitted from the ranking.

    It’s a totally bogus ranking.

    [Reply]

    Berwyn Resident Reply:

    I totally agree, Rick. Any rating by a commercial publication should be considered bogus. People who are genuinely interested in rankings should do their own research and read the data provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, not Newsweek.

    [Reply]

  2. just a thought…. could it have been done by design, that is to drop the ball?? Would hate to think that. But could it be to deprive the teachers of bragging rights for future negotiations? Sorry, maybe I am thinking too much.

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  3. The marketing aspect aside, not sure the ball was dropped, but instead not picked up. The Newsweek ranking is very suspect — and schools ranking at the top are NOT the best high schools. I have in fact had debates with the man responsible for these rankings. In reading this year’s article (June 2011), I note that Newsweek changed the metrics FINALLY.
    “Rather than focus, as in the past, on one metric (AP tests taken per graduate), we consulted a group of experts—Wendy Kopp, founder and CEO of Teach For America; Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Open Education Solutions and the former executive director for education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford professor of education and founder of the School Redesign Network—to develop a yardstick that fully reflects a school’s success turning out college-ready (and life-ready) students.”

    Under the tired formula used in the past, most of the “top schools” were from Florida, where the state underwrites and subsidizes AP testing, and pays kids for them. (My son’s college room mate took AP tests in Florida as a way to earn extra cash — in subjects he had not taken in school). So the rankings were somewhat gratuitous.

    I think the district might need to have some discussion about the public (mis)perception about these rankings, and perhaps should be encouraged in the future to participate if for no other reasons than the ones you reference — to help residents not associated with the schools to believe they are high performing. They are ranked in the top 10 in the state I believe, ahead of all the others Newsweek includes, and THAT is based on performance, not self-reported stats.

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  4. Patty, it’s great you are getting this information out. Hopefully you will be able to find out what really happenned. It definately, sounds like someone dropped the ball, and as such, should be held accoutable for their Actions/Inactions.

    [Reply]

  5. This is a bit off topic, but sometime we need a discussion about TE’s excellent academic performance and if it is appropriate to attribute it to “the quality of our school district”.
    .
    My understanding is that the major factor driving TE’s academic performance is the high percentage of well educated, wealthy parents that supply our schools with smart kids who are driven to succeed. If this is true then it’s not “the quality of our school district” and the decisions of school directors have only a minor influence over academic performance.
    .
    If we misunderstand what factors drive academic performance, it leads school directors to spend more (e.g. we need smaller class sizes) and teachers to demand more (e.g. we’re the reason your students perform well) than is warranted.
    .

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  6. If the administration didn’t drop the ball, wouldn’t you think they would have the competence to anticipate the community reaction regarding not being on the list? As such, I would hope with the money we are spending on them that they would be proactive enough to post the fact TE was not participating and the reasons why on the TE website.

    Flyersfan, I think your thinking is, sadly, right on. Yes, negotiations are coming. Conestoga has traditionally, been ranked the top public school in PA. If it is not on the list, that is one less accomplishment credited to SOMEONE.

    I wish a public survey would be conducted with teachers in the main line area public schools. Since schools are being run more and more like businesses, which ones would make the “Top Districts for which to Work” list?

    That’s probably another survey TE would avoid.

    Citizenone, since parents and their children are the driving force in TE’s academic excellence, who needs the teachers? Just cyber them out – think of all the money you could save.

    I hope the mainstream citizens understand teachers are the CORE. I couldn’t imagine my children not having some of the AMAZING teachers here in TE. Yes, we are highly educated parents and push hard to help our kids succeed but we couldn’t do the job our teachers do. And, OUR KIDS WOULD NOT BE AS SUCCESSFUL AS THEY ARE WITHOUT THEM!

    [Reply]

    Mr. Roboto Reply:

    With the exception of his choice of hockey team, I usually agree with Flyer’s Fan. I cannot, however, agree with his conspiracy theory concerning the Newsweek survey and contract negotiations with the Teachers’ union.

    Conestoga is routinely ranked one of the top schools by the Philadelphia Inquirer and many other sources. Moreover, Conestoga is almost always ranked above all of the local schools that Pattye listed in her story as being making onto the recent Newsweek list.

    Contract negotiations are not going to be influenced by whether or not Conestoga was listed in Newsweek. Cold, hard, undisputed objective facts show that Conestoga is one of the top schools in the State in terms of academic excellence. Facts such as: (1) % of the student body that graduates; (2) % that goes on to college; (3) SAT scores; and (4) AP test scores.

    Given that these facts exist and cannot be disputed, and given that Conestoga is one of the top schools in the State, then there would be no point for the School District to refuse to respond to the Newsweek survey in the hopes of strengthening management’s bargaining position.

    Because we can rule out contract negotiations as a reason, we are left with following explanations for why the school was not listed in Newsweek are: (1) T/E did not participate in the survey; (2) some administrator did not fill out form correctly; (3) the form was sent, but did not arrive; (4) the response form was disqualified by Newsweek; and, (5) Newsweek made an error when calculating the results.

    I will not be joining the stampede down to the next School Board meeting to demand answers, however. Frankly, I have more productive things to do with my time (such as watching ants cross my patio) than demanding that the School Board persecute some poor secretary or Assistant Deputy Vice Principal for not sending in the form.

    The school’s main objective is to educate…not fill out surveys for private media companies. And when it comes to meeting its main objective, Conestoga High School has repeatedly earned an A+.

    [Reply]

    give it a rest Reply:

    Thanks for this. The continued contemplation of why the school didn’t participate is an indication to me that people do NOT read the comments, here — but instead want to make their own point. There have been many reasons considered here — some of them may even be true. But the point made by Mr. Roboto is spot on. WHO CARES? If you want them in future issues, make that position known. Or ask why they are not in this one. I know from my history with the district AND this particular ranking that it was poorly crafted – based on number of APs taken per student. Hardly a relevant measure of an education preparing people for any thing other than college credit on the taxpayer’s dollar.

    http://www.schooldigger.com/go/PA/districtrank.aspx is based on performance, not self-reported stats.

    The teacher’s union does not use academic statistics to negotiate. They work with the state-wide information on working conditions, salary and benefits. Work rules play such a small part it would scare you. At one time (haven’t looked at it in years), the high paying Lower Merion SD had the least teacher friendly contract I had ever read. There were 10 reasons approved for a personal day — none of which could remain personal. They had a very limited pool of money to pay for course work. They left very little in the teacher’s hand to develop innovative curriculum. I imagine one of the reasons their salaries have grown so quickly is because they BOUGHT those restrictive terms. The hard part is — there is no continuity in boards, so the board that purchased the terms is not the next board to negotiate, so the terms might just go away in the give and take — without any reduction in compensation. That’s the problem with the district by district negotiations. Board members are notoriously arrogant about their district’s confidential information….from other boards. But the teachers on the other side of the table are sharing everything with the state, who are formulating state strategies. So Lower Merion offers A, Radnor has to consider that and offers B, and then TE considers it and offers C. Pricing the working conditions is rarely in the mix. And since negotiations NEVER reduce compensation – ever — it’s not an even playing field.
    Again — tell me how to control the costs of labor in the US, and maybe we can start somewhere.

    [Reply]

  7. Teachers choose to work where they get a job offer. No offense, but the debate is silly. The negotiating process is designed to improve their working conditions, and they all meet together EVERY SUMMER in Hershey for an annual PSEA conference where they set goals and benchmark different opportunities. Teachers leave districts for other districts typically for MONEY. TESD has had several teachers with skill sets outside the classroom be recruited to Lower Merion (Music Theater and Lacrosse).

    There is a phrase — TE Proud. Citizen is convinced that anyone could produce the results TE does because of the raw materials. Let’s see how people who have the “lesser” teachers periodically feel about that. Kids flourish in good homes just as they flourish in good classrooms. Good parents have a lot more to offer toward life, just as good teachers contribute a lot more to the process. If TE didn’t have a pretty sophisticated and refined hiring process, I’d say that any teacher would do….but TE does. They have interviews, transcript reviews, practice lessons taught, writing samples, classroom management observations and more.
    Some of our kids would be every bit as successful, regardless of the teacher, but to suggest that ANY child who succeeds is not influenced by the classroom teacher is lazy thinking. To continue to suggest that there is no connection between the resources put towards education and the results is just nonsense. Our parents — smart and ambitious — are drawn here because of the schools. It’s not that our kids are smart because of the schools, but smart kids want to come here, and that is supported by programs (“access, options and choice”), a challenging curriculum, and motivated teachers.

    Now — the reality of the cost of education is my continuing rant. What industry in the US that is labor-based is NOT outsourcing to stay competitive? Hospitals pay nurses based on their training and education, becuase they cannot outsource nursing. Teachers are local. They live in the communities surrounding the school, those communities that Citizen One says are a ” high percentage of well educated, wealthy parents that supply our schools with smart kids .” Even the au pairs nowadays are out-sourced and coming from all over the world to keep the cost of child care down. But teachers — LOCAL MARKET. Competitive local market.
    So please stop with the effort to distinguish between raw materials and finished products. The process is a valid conduit and the raw materials (kids) come from people who bought someone’s house. The finished product (our students) contribute to the reputation of the district because performance is measured.

    And for those of you who get your kicks out of reading about local schools ranked nationally — do you really think one of the wealthiest districts IN THE COUNTRY (Lowe Merion) has two high schools that are 100 places apart….or do you think that the rankings based on self-reporting are a bit more subjective than perhaps one might hope.

    We advertise for great teachers. We interview great teachers. We hire great teachers. They teach great kids and clearly do a good job doing it. Do they need to make more money……..NO. Can we do anything about the costs of labor in the US? Tell me how.

    [Reply]

    flyersfan Reply:

    Hey rest, I agree with what you say. One thing I took from your post was that PARENTS, and to extrapolate, home life conditions are critical in predicting a childs classroom success. That is why throwing money at poorer school districts has failed miserably. ANd yes, a good teacher can inspire a student to a lifetime of curiosity and learning, no matter what the subject. But it is really a two pronged issue, as you spell out. Also good point about Harriton and Lower Merion.

    Basically this is a non issue, as I have come to see it.
    Conestoga Proud! Although my kids are out, it is clear that they were the beneficiaries of an excellent school learning environment, as we here at home have encouraged our kids to make the most of this great opportunity.

    [Reply]

    flyersfan Reply:

    but I a curious as to why we weren’t on this list.

    [Reply]

    citizenone Reply:

    Rest,
    .
    I agree that TE has some great teachers. But I’d wager that TE has some average teachers and some poor teachers.
    .
    I’m curious how you identify the great ones. Is it length of tenure? Number of graduate credits? Student test scores? Because they went through a detailed interview process years ago? Anecdotal information?
    .
    I’ll note that neighboring Phoenixville has lower test scores. Does that mean Phoenixville has fewer “great” teachers? Would Phoenixville’s test scores equal TE’s scores if TE’s teachers could be magically transported to Phoenixville? Or would they remain about the same?
    .
    I know it’s more pleasing to think TE has high academic performance because of a superior school district rather than as a result of many highly educated, wealthy residents congregating together in a small geographical area. Don’t get me wrong – TE has a good school district with good teachers, but no better than other districts with similar demographics such as Lower Merion, Unionville, Great Valley, New Hope or Upper Saint Clair

    [Reply]

    give it a rest Reply:

    Citizen
    You keep ignoring the fact that people “congregate” together in places where they encourage and support the district, not just their kids. The efforts to keep TE schools well funded is not just coming from the 9 people on the board. And the schools you mention have either higher teacher salaries or similar ones. So what’s the point? TE competes with comparable districts. TE puts out comparable resources. If we didn’t, they would likely stop “congregating” here….otherwise, why aren’t they all in Downingtown and Upper Merion? Houses are cheaper there, and built in most cases by the same builders.

    [Reply]

    citizenone Reply:

    Hi Rest,
    .
    My points are (disagree if you wish):

    1. The major factors affecting academic performance of a district are parental wealth and parental education.
    2. Spending is a minor factor affecting academic performance. There are comparably performing district spending more and less than TE. More spending won’t raise TE’s academic performance. Less spending won’t lower TE’s academic performance.
    3. Millage rate is not an indicator of how well a district is managed.
    4. Teacher tenure, teacher credits, student to teacher ratio, teacher compensation are insignificant factors affecting academic performance.
    5. TE (and most other districts) has no mechanism in place to determine whether their teachers, individually or in aggregate, are performing above or below average.
    6. TE doesn’t have to offer salaries comparable to Lower Merion to attract and retain the same current quality of teachers. There is a surplus of competent teachers willing to teach at TE for less compensation than currently offered.
    .
    During the time I’ve been participating in this forum I’ve heard various posters state otherwise. I bet this is why the TE board placed everyone in the current financial pickle.

    give it a rest Reply:

    Cit One
    Here’s an answer to that question that I have heard and believe — you rate a great teacher the same way you rate a great parent. Credential mean something — but you know it when you see it. You know it when you sit in the class room. And kids know it when they sign up for whatever level that teacher teaches. A teacher at CHS used to teach AP Psychology — very tough teacher and very fair — and kids of all interests wanted to take it. FOR THE TEACHER. I don’t know if it’s still taught, because they moved the teacher to a course that would serve the student body better I believe.
    Which parents are the good ones? Pretty subjective stuff. And since there is no merit pay, and tenure is by law, the process to HIRE is the key process.

    [Reply]

  8. Rest —
    You say “WHO CARES”? I do and I am glad for the discussion. You seem to believe that your opinion is the right one and the only one that matters. I happen to disagree. I hope that there is an answer as to why CHS is not on the list. Whether you think the list is valid or not, is not the point but why CHS is not on the list is the point. I hope that Patty gets an answer from the school board.

    For those that think the topic is a waste of time dont comment.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Yes, I sent an email to the school board members as an inquiry. Because it’s a weekend, I didn’t really expect a response before Monday and should I receive a response, I will post it.

    To those that have commented that the survey by Newsweek is meaningless and that TESD is a top ranked school district — I want to be clear, I am not questioning the quality of the school district or of the education one receives at CHS. We all understand how statistical analyis works — you can input specific data so as to receive your desired results.

    My point in writing the post was simply that if all of the other school districts (and like T/E, many of these districts are topnotch) are participating in Newsweek’s survey, why didn’t T/E? As Roboto points out, could be a number of reasons — anything from a T/E employee not filling out the survey form to an error on Newsweek’s part. Does the fact that CHS is not on the list, diminish the quality of a TESD education — hardly. Can we cite other surveys where CHS is on top – certainly, and ‘give it a rest’ did just that.

    And although some of the readers may ‘not care’ about Newsweek’s ranking or why Conestoga is not on the list — other readers do care. Prior to writing the post, I received emails from 5 different readers asking me about the Newsweek article. Although it didn’t shoot to the top of my list of important issues (Newsweek’s rankings came out in June), I did think it was Community Matters worthy, which is why I wrote about it.

    I don’t expect everyone who reads CM to care about the same issues as I do — nor do I expect everyone to read every post that I write. Just because something is important to me and not to others, should not diminish its importance. I do ask that you respect others right to their opinion — It is important that ALL voices be expressed.

    [Reply]

    give it a rest Reply:

    If you read my complete post, you would see that I said WHO CARES why it wasn’t in — as if finding out would make a difference. IF these kinds of surveys are important to residents (you can put it in your Christmas card? –and I say that sarcastically I promise), then inquire about it and make your opinion known that you would like to see it in the future. I’m telling you that there are countless reasons offered here…which one is right is hardly meaningful. I think the post by Pattye was very interesting, and not t all knocking it. I responded to it early on, and offered some background on the survey.
    It’s just that the continued speculation about someone screwing up is a waste of energy. WHY is it always someone’s fault if this doesn’t appear?. I’m pretty sure Conestoga has NEVER appeared in this survey, though there may have been a few years early on that it did.
    As I said, Jay Matthews, the original source of this kind of material, has gone on to make a career out of it. I have had personal conversations with him disputing his metrics. I DO care about these rankings — but until this year, they were meaningless. I think the gap between the two LM schools might render them equally so again.
    I have posted the link here to the article, and also to the fact that 2011 for the first time references NEW metrics. Do you enter your kids in beauty contests to prove they are attractive? I’m not debating it being important — my “who cares” was about why they aren’t in it previously. I think there are an abundance of reasons. Which one is only a matter of curiousity.

    I’m just not ever about why something wasn’t done. If you want it done in the future, sugggest and make it an issue. Before blogs, I’m not sure anyone had a forum to have this come to their attention. Now that it is something you know about, do something about it going forward.

    [Reply]

  9. Maybe we should consider sub contracting out the administrators as we might get a better bang for our buck.
    I for one would like an answer on this as it is unacceptable

    [Reply]

  10. If Conestoga was on the list, people would be bragging about it. Conestoga is not on the list, and people discredit the list.

    [Reply]

    give it a rest Reply:

    Correct. This whole generation is about rankings and bragging. “My school is better than your school.” If it’s not in Newsweek, it must be a screwup. If your kid doesn’t wear a travel sports jacket, they aren’t good athletes. (Which is why sports HAVE jackets and bags). When the middle school was first redesigned, I sat in a meeting where peole were questioning whether their 5th graders would continue to have Challenge. The program was redesigned at the middle school level in the early years. There was a special period for everyone. The “challenge” kids would be in the same section, but every kid would be in a similar program. Some parents were ANGRY — and I’m quoting “How will people know my child is smarter if you do not designate the section as such?” was the type of comment launched at the new Principal, Steve Riggs.
    Now, I’m not saying that is wrong. I’m just saying WHY. It works in China. Asia educaiton is about merit and merit alone. You are best in class — you get a special stripe on your shirt. Of course, the opposite is true. No stripe…loser.

    [Reply]

  11. http://news.change.org/stories/newsweek-high-school-rankings-invalid-money-makers

    Perhaps you can read this article — written in 2009 — about the problems with the Newsweek rankings, and why schools might or might not choose to participate. This is survey started in 1998. I’m fairly certain that this is not the first year CHS has not participated. But if it matters to us, we should ask them to do so in the future.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Conestoga High School appeared on Newsweek’s ranking list for last year — it was #502 for 2010.

    [Reply]

  12. http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0512/p11s01-legn.html

    This debate goes back a long time. CHS has avoided most of these lists for a long time. Do you think that Lower Merion’s new administrators are regretting their participation, since this is likely to rekindle the Harriton vs. Lower Merion debate?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Andrea –

    Setting aside the ‘meaningfulness’ of rankings, Conestoga HS has appeared on Newsweeks rankings since 2003 (which may have been the year that Newsweek started the rankings).
    Here are Conestoga’s rankings by Newsweek:

    2010: #502
    2008: #312
    2007: #301
    2006: #170
    2005: #195
    2003: #197

    [Reply]

  13. Thanks for this info Pattye. In my time on the board, I had discussions with Jay Mathews and I know that TE did not participate. It sounds like this year’s effort was far more extensive for the first time, so perhaps given all the attention to budget and staff issues, our district did not complete the forms. I think this forum is a good place to use as justification for them making the effort in the future, since it seems to make a difference to your readers and no doubt others. I would hope, however that those searching for a home would refer to performance based rankings done by the state, and not self-reported rankings. But different strokes…maybe at seeing TE drop to 502, the people in charge lost faith in the process (since it was based on APs per student, which is NOTHING that a school district can influence. AP tests cost money, and kids can take the course without any obligation to taking the test. Also note that the test taking statistic did not consider success levels ON the test itself, just how many people say for how many tests). This new metric might be more appropriate. .

    Prior to this year, the Newsweek rankings were not as accurate as the College Board listings of AP Scholar awards, which correlated academic performance with test scores. http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/scholarawards.html

    [Reply]

  14. Give it a rest states,” I’m pretty sure Conestoga has NEVER appeared in this survey, though there may have been a few years early on that it did.”

    Well, Pattye beat me to the punch as I was sure Stoga had been on the list for quite a few years.

    Rest, you’ve gone on and on with your commentary here yet YOU HAD NO IDEA that Conestoga had been on the list for the last SIX years……makes me wonder about the soundness of your other thoughts!

    [Reply]

    Give it a rest Reply:

    My last kid graduated in 2002, so I guess I am more famliar with the enlightened Conestoga. Whoops. SInce I haven’t read the rankings that I have established are without merit, I apologize that I didn’t know that Conestoga was in them. Then this WHOLE discussion is about something we dont’ know the answer to — why they didn’t appear this year. Deep.

    [Reply]

  15. Like many others, I’d be interested to know if T/E made an affirmative decision not to provide our data (self-reported, yes, but verifiable data, not like a Rupert Murdoch self-audit) – perhaps in the light of the trend… -or if it simply slipped off a desk somewhere.

    OT, but while we are discussing measurements and also occasionally teachers, I saw this interesting quote from an interview with Bill Gates in this w/e’s WSJ. He’s applying some analytical rigor to the question: what is it that makes some teachers 2.5 times as effective as the average?

    “We all know that there are these exemplars who can take the toughest students, and they’ll teach them two-and-a-half years of math in a single year,” he says. “Well, I’m enough of a scientist to want to say, ‘What is it about a great teacher? Is it their ability to calm down the classroom or to make the subject interesting? Do they give good problems and understand confusion? Are they good with kids who are behind? Are they good with kids who are ahead?’

    …… the Gates Foundation’s five-year, $335-million project examines whether aspects of effective teaching—classroom management, clear objectives, diagnosing and correcting common student errors—can be systematically measured. The effort involves collecting and studying videos of more than 13,000 lessons taught by 3,000 elementary school teachers in seven urban school districts.

    “We’re taking these tapes and we’re looking at how quickly a class gets focused on the subject, how engaged the kids are, who’s wiggling their feet, who’s looking away,” says Mr. Gates. The researchers are also asking students what works in the classroom and trying to determine the usefulness of their feedback.

    [Reply]

    flyersfan Reply:

    Ray, Rupert or the NY Times.. Take your pick

    [Reply]

    flyersfan Reply:

    Ray, I read that article too. What I took from it was they didnt really know much, except that money was not the number 1 answer. Did I read that right?

    [Reply]

    Ray Clarke Reply:

    Yes exactly. Just throwing philanthropic money at standard resources: more or higher cost teachers, buildings, text books, school buses, security guards, janitors, etc. does not lead to improved outcomes. However big the funding, it’s insignificant compared to size of the existing education economy, even if there was any evidence it could make a difference.

    So Gates is trying to use his money for research to identify points of leverage in the existing spending. What – scientifically – makes a good teacher and how can we train and incent for that?

    [Reply]

    flyersfan Reply:

    Ray, thats what I took from the article. But it seems intuitive to me, that what works to make a school successful goes deeper than the school itself. It is a socio-economic problem, where families are intact, crime is at a minimum, parents, while not necessarily college educated but it helps, are providing guidance to their children, with a strong ethical and moral foundation. What does it say about us that many inner city schools (and other schools too) need metal detectors and armed guards patrolling, or at least stationed at the door? This is NOT a learning environment. And no amount of money thrown their way is going to improve the learning for these kids. Maybe some, but not enough.,

  16. Citizen
    I hear what you are saying. I’m only saying that CHS doesn’t have smaller class sizes because the board wanted to spend more money. THey have it because their constituents requested (demanded?) it. Kevin G I think has said previously that he ran on a platform (and defeated an incumbent) on that platform.

    What I am also saying is that the population defines the program….and the price of the program is part of the way business is done. I don’t disagree that TESD does not need to pay as much as some other districts, but I have also heard the current board state affirmatively that they intended to have the highest paying staff in Chester County. These districts DO compete for staff. Whether they should — that’s another debate. I think parents at CHS would tell you that the loss of Jim Joseph to Harriton was difficult to accept. Likewise, the science teacher who coached Lacrosse….our teacher in Space. Also to LMSD.

    It’s the American Way. Otherwise, why would CEOs make in the multi-millions? For the same reason people are concerned about rankings, they are concerned about perception. That’s a harder lesson to teach. Here in Lake Woebegone, no one is average.

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    I have also heard the current board state affirmatively that they intended to have the highest paying staff in Chester County.

    What!!

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    I apologize to the School Board for my posting of the last comment from ‘Give it a Rest’.

    I was shocked by the remark contained in the comment — and without proof of the claim against the school board, I should never have let the unsubstantiated incendiary remark of an anonymous commenter go through.

    My sincere apologies to the current school board.

    [Reply]

  17. Pattye,

    Why are you surprised?
    .
    If a school director believes:

    1. TE’s high scores are due to teachers rather than the wealth and education of the parents and
    2. TE has superior teachers even if there is no way to judge whether they are superior or inferior and
    3. TE has plenty of money to offer teachers because of the low millage rate even though spending per student would suggest otherwise and
    4. The loss of one or two excellent teachers to a higher paying district is a catastrophe even though there are plenty of excellent replacement teachers available
    .
    then the logical conclusion for naive school directors is that TE should “have the highest paying staff in Chester County”.
    .
    The union negotiators love to take credit for the excellent academic achievement of high performing district and love to tell you how low the millage rates are. Here is a quote from the Unionville Education Association:

    Q: How does a fair and equitable contract benefit you as a taxpayer and resident?
    A: The Unionville Chadds Ford School District is one of the best districts in the state. The high school is nationally ranked by major publications and the PSSA scores place the district in the top 1% of the state. Our students excel in every measurable category.
    .
    Q: Don’t we already pay high taxes?
    A: The UCF school tax rate is among the lowest in Chester County (11t h out of 14), and is almost the lowest in Delaware County.

    This is what TE will see over the next year.
    .
    Of course the script is different in low performing districts where “home factors” are the cause of substandard test scores.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Citizen:

    The gravamen of your argument is that quality of program, facilities, teachers and resources (and the spending necessary to support same) has ZERO relationship to the success of the students academically. The wealth and socio-economic status of the parents, without more, accounts for the success of the school district. Good teachers, administrators, board members, community volunteers, etc., count for nothing. Let’s think about that a little more.

    You have a serious “chicken and egg” problem. Highly educated parents are affluent enough to settle in a quality school district. They can afford the housing, which is expensive because of the quality of life – which is high largely because of the quality of the schools. They demand quality in their schools – good teachers, modern facilities, diverse programs and extra-curricular activites, smaller class sizes, etc. And the tax base, supported by high home values (supported in turn by quality schools) can support the expenditure. They vote in boards who support these things. So which comes first – the chicken or the egg? Are the kids successful because their parents can afford to live here, or are they successful because their parents, having bought into an affluent community because they can afford to – expect quality schools and demand the things that go into making quality schools? I submit it is the latter. If so, it is precisely the quality of the schools that accounts for the kids success, assuming reasonably intelligent and motivated students.

    [Reply]

    citizenone Reply:

    Kevin,
    .
    Please don’t misquote me. It’s not helpful for a reasoned debate. I didn’t say programs, teachers, board members, and community volunteers count for “ZERO” or “nothing”. I did make several points in a post above:
    .
    1. The major factors affecting academic performance of a district are parental wealth and parental education.
    2. Spending is a minor factor affecting academic performance. There are comparably performing district spending more and less than TE. More spending won’t raise TE’s academic performance. Less spending won’t lower TE’s academic performance.
    3. Millage rate is not an indicator of how well a district is managed.
    4. Teacher tenure, teacher credits, student to teacher ratio, teacher compensation are insignificant factors affecting academic performance.
    5. TE (and most other districts) has no mechanism in place to determine whether their teachers, individually or in aggregate, are performing above or below average.
    .
    I understand your chicken and egg argument, I would attribute TE’s concentration of high socioeconomic residents first to proximity to Philadelphia, second to restrictive zoning and third to good schools. Let’s remember that TE, like some other districts, had third rate schools many years ago, but today are at the top. Something other than good schools made those educated, wealthy residents move in many years ago.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Grewell Reply:

    Fair enough. Perhaps I should just say I disagree with your assumptions (#1-5) and leave it at that. I am off the board many years now and I don’t care to spend the time now, but I believe a strong case can be made to challenge your assumptions. As far as “spending less won’t lower T/E’s performance” I would say that it really depends upon how much less we are talking about. Clearly there is a point beyond which it will affect the program – my criticism of your argument (speaking in general now) is that you never seem to even admit to that possibility.

    citizenone Reply:

    Kevin,
    .
    Good point. Education will suffer if spending is reduced below a certain point (maybe in the $12K-$14K per student range) and if the cuts are in the wrong place.

  18. Although rankings are flawed and some may belittle those that put stock in them, they do matter. People take rankings into account when deciding upon which doctor to see, which hospital to use, which college or professional school to apply to and which school district to move into. My family chose TE over Radnor and LM partly due to rankings. Conestoga had gotten a Gold Medal from US News & World Report which attracted our attention. Masterman was the only other PA high school to get this distinction. So, we paid a lot for a house and drove up real estate values which makes everyone happy. Unfortunately, Conestoga was unable to maintain that distinction, and the downward trend of Newsweek rankings is troubling. That is not to say that TE schools are not top-notch, but just looking at various rankings over time gives the impression of a school district in decline. It is possible that high income couples with children who are concerned more with good schools than low millage will start to look elsewhere to settle. This will have a trickle down effect on real estate values.

    [Reply]

  19. where is is said that Conestoga has been unable to maintain that distinction, except for not being included in the Newsweek Poll?

    [Reply]

  20. Where does it say we have the best faculty? How can we continue to prove that we do if we fail to submit to national rankings.
    Why settle in TE where the staff is just as ‘good’ at surrounding area’s and you get more bang for your buck for house and land? They now have bragging rights over TE.

    I’d say people that are educated and with solid jobs chose this area based on national rankings and wanting excellence with our children. If we ask the best of them why shouldn’t we as tax payers be demanding that with teachers and administration? It is time to huddle up and regroup. I believe TE is losing its edge.

    [Reply]

  21. Flyersfan,
    My point was that Conestoga was a US News & World Report Gold Medal high school in 2007, but has not been able to keep that ranking since then, unlike Masterman. Couple that fact with the declining rankings in Newsweek since 2007, and people looking to relocate to this area may infer that the quality of the school is in decline. Of course we all know that Conestoga is a very good school. I was just pointing out the impression that these rankings can leave to those unfamiliar with the area.

    [Reply]

  22. Well, let’s just hope they don’t “miss the email” about the U.S. News & World Report rankings. It’s not the counselor’s fault–but rather, the fault of the Communications Specialist for the district. If these rankings are annual, then Newsweek should have been on that individual’s schedule/radar screen.

    These rankings may seem trifling to some, but our high school’s reputation means a GREAT DEAL to our students applying to college. College admissions offices DO look at the Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report rankings to determine how competitive a high school may be. I know; I work in one. It helps determine whether a kid with a 4.0 from less challenging School A gets accepted over a kid with a 3.6 from more challenging School B.

    Had such an oversight happened at a regular workplace, the employee in question would be in major hot water right now.

    There’s a sense of complacency in our school district that is alarming at times. They’re cutting programs left and right, raising our taxes, etc., but they aren’t doing the most basic things they need to do on their end.

    The communications specialist gets a decent salary, free health insurance, job security and a great pension. How hard is it to keep up with ANNUAL rankings in the major pubs?

    Let’s hope the T/E Administration addresses this issue with the seriousness it deserves. This hurts our juniors and seniors who are hoping to get into the colleges of their choice. Outside of the tri-state area, not everyone knows Conestoga–and college admissions officers are looking at rankings.

    Being a communications specialist for a (supposedly) highly regarded district like T/E should require a lot more than the ability to churn out a couple of outdated T/E Insight newsletters every year.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Reply:

    Posted twice. Since you are calling out the high school, would you mind telling us which college admissions office USES these rankings to help them in their job?

    [Reply]

    Pattye Benson Reply:

    Thrilled —
    It is interesting that the administration’s response was that the email went to a counselor rather than the communications/PR person. Unless Newsweek (or any other publication or news source) has a direct email for a counselor based on past communication, it would seem to me that there is either an email address for communication or a ‘master’ email that everything filters through. Regardless, the school stated that it went to a counselor and the counselor says he/she didn’t receive it. Is that actually how it happened? Will there be any further details? Should we accept this response? It would seem wrong to me that a guidance couselor was the one receiving the email. . . it should have gone to the communitions/PR person. That is the contact name that I hope has now been changed in the system.

    I would never have written about the Newsweek ranking and omission of Conesoga High School if I didn’t believe there was merit in the story. I may be in the minority on this but I believe that Conestoga HS should participate in every survey and ranking that comes down the line. Although many of you have stated that you think the rankings are self-serving and meaningless, I disagree and here’s why. If I was moving in to the Greater Philadelphia area as a corporate transferee (which is how we got here from London many years ago with Unisys), knew no one in the agea and had high school age kids, I would look at every available resource in making a selection as to where to live. When you are part of a corporate transfer (at least this is how it was with us) you get one or two house-hunting trips of about a week in length to look at the area, see the houses, visits schools, and ultimately make a decision. It is all very fast & overwhelming. And whether some of the readers support my opinion or not — with a finite amount of time, I’d be turning to the Internet and looking at every statistic I could find to make that decision of the ‘best’ school district and whether I could affford to live in the ‘best’.

    So I happen to agree with you — with the competitve climate of college admissions, I don’t think TESD should leave any stone unturned to give our students the best possible shot at the college they want to attend. In the big scheme of live, probably not a huge deal that Conestoga was left off the ranking list . . . but I hope that the administration is taking the necessary action so that it is corrected going forward.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Reply:

    http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/2011/07/does-school-district-suffer-from-lake.html

    A blog about education — is this where we are headed?

    GNOME — Good news only. Management Excellent.

    [Reply]

  23. There is no question that the academic performance of the students in the selected high schools is excellent. However, that says more about the quality of the students enrolled in the schools than it says about the non-student factors that could be included in the notion of “school” quality.

    The selected high schools seem to fall into one of two categories:

    (1) Low poverty “regular” schools with geographic attendance boundaries. These could be fairly described as “neighborhood” schools located in very special neighborhoods. Westwood High School, located in an upscale suburb of Austin (TX) is an excellent example. The community (and the school district) constitute an affluent, predominantly Caucasian, predominantly Anglo enclave with only 10 percent student poverty (one-sixth of the Texas average). Students in such schools invariably perform well academically. Just try to find such a school on any state’s list of “persistently failing” schools.

    (2) “Special” schools operated within district-wide (or larger) geographic areas and intended (a) to attract and maintain the enrollment of highly qualified, highly motivated students and (b) to exclude all others. Students qualify for enrollment irrespective of socioeconomic status or other demographic characteristics. School names often include terms such as magnet, international, talented, gifted, academic, college prep, technology, early college, honors, biotechnology, academy, arts, science, advanced, etc. Notice that Newsweek’s choices seem concentrated in major metropolitan areas. This makes sense because any large population of children living in poverty will include a very large number of academically very successful children. By identifying and funneling such children into a single school, a school district can create an academically “successful” school containing plenty of poor children. Ironically, the existence of such a school makes the other public schools in the affected region appear to be even greater “failures” because they are left with an even higher concentration of un-raised, unqualified, unmotivated, education-resistant and education-proof children. The children who move to the “successful” special schools would have succeeded anywhere. The unsuccessful students who are left behind continue to fail, but their failure becomes easier to notice.

    America’s K-12 education failure is not hiding in our schools. It is living openly in our inadequate families. Ordering schools to repair the damage done to children who must live in such families is folly.

    [Reply]

    Sarah Reply:

    Rob Blight
    Thanks. Do you have an opinion about the value or danger of the ratings then? Is there more incentive to create such “charter” programs to skim off the cream?

    [Reply]

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