Pattye Benson

Community Matters

US News & World Report ranks Conestoga HS #5 in Pennsylvania and #313 in US

US News & World Report ranks Conestoga HS #5 in Pennsylvania and #313 in the US. The annual rankings of the country’s best high schools are out this week from US News & World Report. The rankings offer a snapshot of a school’s performance based on test data from 21,000 public high schools which represented 49 states (Nebraska did not present enough data to be considered) and the District of Columbia. Conestoga High School received gold level standing, listing a distinctive ranking of 313 of all public schools in the country. In Pennsylvania, US News listed Conestoga as #5.

The news outlet’s formula for determining their list of best high schools is a combination of school performance on state proficiency tests and how well they prepare students for college. A review of the individual states, had California leading the nation in 2013 rankings of best high schools with nearly 28 percent of its eligible high school receiving gold or silver levels. Maryland came in second with 25 percent receiving top designations and Connecticut third at 18.9 percent. To be eligible for a state ranking, a school must be awarded a national gold or silver medal. Pennsylvania has 570 school districts and 687 public high schools. In Pennsylvania, 168 high schools qualified for ‘best high school’ ranking by US News & World Report with either gold, silver or bronze medals. Nationally 500 schools earned gold medals, 1,790 were awarded silver and 2,515 took home bronze medals. Magnet and charter schools, which accept a limited number of students through a lottery or application process, accounted for 145 of the top 500 schools.

Here are the top 10 public high schools for 2013 as listed by US News & World Report:

#1 Julia R. Masterman, Philadelphia
#2 Lehigh Valley Academy Charter School, Bethlehem
#3 Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, Erie
#4 Wyomissing Area Jr-Sr High School, Wyomissing
#5 Conestoga High School, Berwyn
#6 Central High School, Philadelphia
#7 Upper St. Clair High School, Pittsburgh
#8 Radnor High School
#9 Lower Moreland High School, Huntingdon Valley
#10 Unionville High School, Kennett Square

Last year on Community Matters, I provided the top 10 high schools in Pennsylvania for 2012, listed below:

:#1 Julia R. Masterman, Philadelphia
#2 Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy, Erie
#3 Conestoga High School, Berwyn
#4 Unionville High School, Kennett Square
#5 Wyomissing Area Jr-Sr High School, Wyomissing
#6 Radnor High School, Radnor
#7 New Hope-Solebury High School, New Hope
#8 Mt. Lebanon High School, Pittsburgh
#9 Upper St. Clair High School, Pittsburgh
#10 Central High School, Philadelphia

In reviewing the Pennsylvania ‘best high schools’, it is interesting to note that Conestoga High School as well as Radnor and Unionville high school dropped slightly in the US News rankings (Conestoga from #3 to #5, Radnor from #6 to #8 and Unionville from #4 to #10) yet Masterman, a magnet school in Philadelphia retained first place. Charter school Lehigh Valley Academy in Bethlehem did not make the 2012 top 10 best high schools but is #2 in the state on the 2013 list. US News & World Report ranked Great Valley High School as #12 in 2012 but for 2013 the school has dropped to #21. Although Phoenixville High School was ranked as #25 in 2012, the school did not qualify for the 2013 rankings.

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  1. The US News & World Report rankings is only interesting to those that care about this sort of thing. Obviously the local school districts, including TESD, are great schools, with high performing students. Does it mean anything that the schools have dropped a few points in US News rankings … of course not. What I do find interesting is that a charter school in Bethlehem that was not part of the elite top last year finds themselves 2nd only to Masterman, a Philadelphia magnet school in 2013. According to US News report, there was a significant upward movement of magnet and charter schools in the rankings across the country. The next question — is it fair to compare public high schools that take any student that comes through the doors with the selective admissions process that may come with charter or magnet schools, which often are smaller in enrollment.

    1. Home values in high performing districts command a premium of about 5% as compared to an average district. Therefore, I find these rankings interesting.

  2. While it may or not be fair to compare charters with public schools, I have to say that in and of itself it speaks volumes about these charter schools.. WHile they can be selective where publics cannot, what kind of student do they actually take> Economically underprivileged where these kids get “aide” to go? And what does it say to the quality and efficiencies of these learning institutions? And what does it say about Stoga and Radnor and other publics who compete in these rankings with these “selective” schools?To me it is all good, for both “species”of schools..

  3. What do these rankings really mean?

    We are defining success by high grades and test scores and all we really have are exhausted, burned out, unhealthy, and an alarming number of depressed kids. The technology revolution demands that kids be creative problem solvers. How can kids develop into creative problem solvers when they are constantly sent the message that memorization and getting A’s on tests are the real standard of measure.

    Nearly half of American college students drop out before receiving a degree. I have heard high school administrators and guidance counselors receive information every year regarding these numbers but this information is not passed on to the community. The share of recent college graduates living with family is a whopping 45%. College graduates cannot find jobs and they think if they stay in school for that advanced degree things will be better. In the last century, college grads used to be able to do what they were told and climb the corporate ladder to enjoy a nice life and retirement. It isnt like that anymore and our education system needs to start reflecting that fact.

  4. well shining if you can figure out another metric to define high school success then do so. There will always be a segment of the school population that is depressed, that is burned out and unhealthy.

    Jobs? that is a huge problem across the board. How many 50 plus year old men, supporting families, making good incomes are laid off and can’t find replacement jobs at comparable incomes are there even in our community? Talk about depressed! Its the economy…and I don’t mean to call you stupid, but the economy stupid. And there is very little on the horizon to think it will change soon, with the current thinkers, non depressed “achievers” running the show state wide and national wide. Its amazing to think how many of the 45% of college grads living with their families would suddenly have a kick in their collective steps if they could find jobs that would get them off the couch. And, how about college curriculae, where graduating with an art history major, in significant debt is really a future killer? Don’t think we should blame the high schools for giving the kids what they want… AP classes, academic challenge and the potential for academic advancement. You might be on these boards complaining about the lack of success in our high school if only 40 percent went to college. It can be argued that college isn’t for everyone.. but is it taboo to be a plumber? Electrician? go to a trade school? I think we need these trades yet it is all about a useless degree in college.. Want to major in English? Where does that get you? Get a marketable degree, or go to trade school then take Shalespeare in an evening class at a local school. That is all wonderful, to expand our minds and hearts, gives us sophistication and an appreciation for the arts and the human condition. but……And complaining about high rate of crime committed by kids who hang out on the street corners is nothing to look forward to… I think thats worse. I will agree that maybe our kids, here in TE are given TOO much by parents, and maybe have too much at an early age.But whether a economically wealthy upbringing, or a poorer upbringing, values can still be imparted to our kids. Work ethic, study habits and the dream of a bright future can be drummed in to them.. of course only to see them graduate and get stifled by a poor employment outlook.. Make sense?

    1. I agree. It is the economy. And it’s not coming back – The Industrial Age is over and the technological age is here and we have to adjust our education system to reflect that fact.

      Technology and computers have taken jobs from lawyers, consutants and even health care workers. It would take the jobs of teachers in the form of online learning were it not for the teachers union. You can down load a form to incorporate a business or get get a divorce in a matter of minutes at little cost and no aggravation.

      The memorization game is irrelevent and it’s the creative thinker and problem solver who will succeed, not the disengaged, exhausted kid who has relied on memorization and high test scores has a way to define success.

  5. The median starting salary for those who graduated from college in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who graduated in 2006 to 2008, before the recession. Try living on $27,000 a year – before taxes – in a city like New York, Washington, Chicago or Philly.

    The average cost of tuition is up 440 percent in the last 25 years – more than four times the rate of inflation.

    Add massive student loan debt to a $27k salary (for those college grads who can find a job) and we see why so many college grads live at home.

    PayPal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel:

    “A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed. Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus.”

    1. politeia,
      We can sure question the COST of education. Colleges and Universities are in coohoots with the federal government lending program… open spigot, raise tuition and borrow more from the US Dept Of Ed. Now, it can be argued that the consumer, the parent and student can say no thanks. But who says no thanks? Some of these self named “boutique schools” are a ripoff..

    2. Politeia,

      The starting salary for a teacher in TE is $52,000 to $54,000. It would take a college grad 5 to 10 years in the private sector to reach that salary and they don’t get summers off and gold standard healthe care benenfits and forget about a pension.

  6. We need to start questioning the social norms that tell us our children have to go to college or they won’t be successful.

    According to “Academically Adrift” – a book based on a study about undergraduate education in the U.S., as many as 45% of students show “no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning or written communication during their first two years in college.”

    According to the economist Andrew Sum of NE University, more than 44% of college grads under 25 who were area studies majors were unemployed in 2009 or working in a job that did not require their degree.

    Today, entire course loads can be viewed online. The availability of information on the web is so vast, one could virtually learn anything they want anytime they want.

    A college degree does not mean job security anymore and the price is unbearable The rules are being rewritten by massive open online courses MOOCs and colleges aren’t even noticing. The appeal of these online courses will only grow as college age kids and their parents wake up and realize that taking the future in their own hands is more appealing than massive debt, no or low paying jobs that college grads don’t like and that don’t match their area of study.

  7. People like to,read here…read Outliers….more about passion and practice….

    Social Norms are just code for peer pressure…and THAT peer is between parents…not kids. Parents sign kids up for travel sports teams…with the expensive jackets and bags….for what? They hire tutors to keep kids above grade level. They want SAT prep courses. You live in a college,prep school district…The CC IU has all sorts of trade programs. Don’t blame expectations set by some on the district, Parenting is hard if you want to do,it well…and that means setting limits and adjusting expectations..leven here in Lake,Woebegone.

    1. Calm down anon2. I’m not blaming anyone for anything. I’m just describing what is really going on as opposed to what parents want to believe is going on.

      Are you teaching a class right now?

  8. SL
    Not needing to calm down. No one puts more pressure on the kids of this community than their own parents. What is really going on is no secret, and for the kids who can handle it, it’s fine. But even suggest to any parent that grade level is okay and you get jumped. There is nothing like the pressure put on Middle School teachers to “recommend” their kids for honors level courses at the high school. I don’t believe anyone should limit someone’s reach, but the expectations of this community are typical of a highly educated one.
    It’s ironic you are troubled by ERBs — perhaps the one test that no one uses to evaluate our district…it is a tool to identify curricular issues. John’s comments about the percent of kids who don’t make annual yearly progress is the right example — the PSSAs tell you who, but not why. ERBs help to identify specific gaps in curriculum. I am proud to say that well before the state got all hot and bothered on these topics, TE had measures in place to address these issues. We offer support services within the student day. Resource rooms are staffed by “aides” who are often certified teachers. So — I don’t really think you are enlightening anyone as to “what is really going on” …. people move here for a reason. And there are countless stars who go through our programs thinking they are average because of all the super stars sitting in the next seat. Again, there are responsibilities of parenting that go beyond pressuring your kids to perform.

  9. Now you say it is a tool to identify curricular issues when before you said it is a tool to evaluate the “quality of a student”

    I know exactly what is going on anon2. And the facts about unemployment, massive debt, student burn out, exhaustion, and depression back me up. Do you know what the drop out rate is for CHS college students? I would like to know that number. Because nationwide it is almost half.

    The schools set the tone Anon2 and the parents respond.

  10. SL — the school absolutely does not set the tone. Look at all the demands for AP programming and full day schedules…it is a tool to identify curricular issues and to focus on specific learning issues. But what does that matter?
    I said it before — there is nothing more difficult to understand than an angry parent. They want their kids to be stars, but if they cannot be stars, they dont’ want stars to be glorified. TESD has Honor societies in Art, Music and Academics. We have varsity opportunities in countless sports, and when we limited the number of periods a kid could schedule each day, we had push back.

    10 years ago when there was a push to build a second high school, I remember one student standing up and asking if there would be a TV studio in both schools. There are so many resources for kids, we don’t make them be square pegs in search of square holes. Self-efficacy is just as important as self esteem. Kids need to be allowed to succeed where they can. The school offers 3 or 4 versions of each class at the high school level, and despite research supporting unleveled middle school classes, TE is going back to the old model because of pressure to “accelerate” bright children…..
    When the middle school offered enrichment for all kids in 5th grade, “challenge” parents were concerned their kids were not getting special treatment.

    So please don’t bemoan what the school does. Last year, this same blog had countless complaints that TESD had not turned in scores for national rankings….people like validation that they are getting their money’s worth…and want their kids to excel. Again, read Outliers. Bill Gates did not finish college — though he underwrites programs at countless colleges in this country and pursues a strong educational research model to figure out what works. Singapore works. What works is cutting kids from education…if you don’t make the grade, you don’t get to go on. That’s what the countries that eat our lunch do….they don’t give everyone the same opportunity.
    So SL — what exactly would you have them do? How can you say the school sets the tone and the parents respond….when it is the parent expectations that run the district. Teachers get zero merit pay. Do you think this happens by mistake?

  11. You are the one who is angry anon2, not me. I look at the facts and come to logical, reasoned conclusions. The world is different now than it was even 5 or 10 years ago and we are not responding. Kids are still learning skills that don’t matter in todays world.

    I find it difficult to believe you are a teacher. What teacher has the time you have to post on a public forum all day. And with the attitude you have that “Singapore works” What works is cutting kids from education.” No one should be cut from education anon2 and I find it deeply disturbing that a teacher in our school district thinks that way. (If you really are a teacher) Even the kids who do well on these standardized tests you advocate for, that measure how well someone can memorize, are not finding jobs after college graduation. The current model does not work (even when they make the grade that you deem suitable anon2)

    The purpose of education is to teach skills, so kids can be productive members of society. We need to teach them how to be critical thinkers, not hoop jumping, approval seeking, memorizers. This just leads to a generation of kids who can’t, don’t and won’t take initiative because they can’t think for themselves.

    You mention that Bill Gates did not finish college. I don’t believe Steve Jobs did either or a host of other successful non memorizers like Mark Zuckerman did either. That speaks volumes, don’t you think?

    Have you ever heard the saying that “C” students run the world? That probably drives you absolutely crazy but it is true and there are reasons for that.

    If you got rid of the ERB’s, not one parent or child would care. You could start by doing that and it would ratchet down the anxiety of the parents which would reduce the pressure they put on their kids, there would be more money to balance the budget and maybe the kids could get out of school before June 23rd.

    That would be a great start anon2.

  12. The son of a friend was a top-notch student at one of the well-regarded Main Line school districts. Went on to prestigious Haverford College. Not sure was his major was, but it obviously fell in the liberal arts realm.

    So with a highly regarded college degree in hand last year, the only job he could get is selling insurance for one of the big name insurance companies. They start off with a very minimal salary that soon goes straight commission.

    First thing they do is ask you to do is write down the names and numbers of 100 friends and family members to call to sell insurance to (if you quit quickly, they hand the list to someone else to call). Then you ask the 100 for referrals and you cold call from leads they give you, or hit the phone book. Quotas soon set in for sales, and if you don’t hit them you are gone

    Not knocking the kid at all. He is smart and motivated and may well be successful at this, but I know these companies operate. They take anyone with a pulse. It was either that or delivering pizza with a Haverford College degree. Still, these insurance companies manage to hire a lot of bright college grads who aspire to the one in a thousand top producers as there are so few jobs out there and the cost to the insurance companies is minimal. You don’t produce and you are gone.

    Other option is grad school and more debt. Too many lawyers. Doctors all hate their jobs. He does not have a computer science/engineering mindset. Teaching is cutthroat and most places not on the Main Line start in the mid- $30k range with an advanced degree. Even nursing has filled up.

    It’s tough out there for those in their 20’s, and you are really in trouble if you lose your job in your 50’s.

    I have a 45 year old friend who just got laid off again in a mass layoff as an engineer. 3rd job in 10 years. I know she is good at what she does. She immigrated to this country and always felt an education (she has a MS in engineering) would pave the way to a comfortable enough lifestyle. She is now very depressed about her career prospects.

    Count your blessings if you have a steady and secure job.

    1. politeia, very DEPRESSING story. When we are not creating jobs on any level, when the prospects are nill for the future, maybe this young man should apply for a government job. Unless they are not hiring anymore. We have stopped the wheel of hiring, we consider now, our economy as a zero sum game where growth is a dirty word, and look to divvy up the existing pie instead of growing the pie, we overregulate, over sue and stifle innovation. Technology has replaced some people for sure. Still not a pretty future, until new leadership provides some relief, and a guiding light. Help.!

  13. Keith, thanks for posting this article. Like John, it made me cringe when I read your post that the first thing you thought of and commented on regarding student rankings was the premium on home values that citizens enjoy from students “achieving” high test scores. IMO, this is not the first thing a sitting school board member should think about when evaluating student achievement scores.

    Over the last 20 years, a Bachelor’s degree has become the new high school degree. Employers are requiring secretaries to have a Bachelor’s degree. So people are swimming in debt and working as secretaries for $13.00 an hour (soon to be $9.00 in TE when support staff gets outsourced) (outrageous) and there are tens of thousands of recent college grads working as bar tenders, servers, life guards and store clerks.

    1. It’s interesting that both you and John were able to read my mind to know that the first thing I “thought of and commented on regarding student rankings was the premium on home values.”

      1. Keith

        We didn’t read your mind. Your post speaks for itself and we need to stop thinking about achievement scores as premeium boosters for home values and start thinking about teaching these high school and college kids the skills they will need to make it in the future.

        What’s in the best interest of the children, not the home owner. Your post reveals the type of attitude I’ve been talking about
        all year. We need school board members who put the best interests of the students first.

        1. I love people who repeat the meaningless, trite phrase “put the best interests of the students first”.
          As the PA constitution says, I’m elected to provide a “thorough and efficient education” for our students. It means balancing the needs of the entire community; not promoting the wants of one segment of the community above the other segments. To provide dollars for education means I have to take dollars away from the taxpayers that might have otherwise gone toward food, medical care, mortgages, heating, college savings or retirement savings. Remember the word “balance”.
          If I followed the platitude, “put the students first”, I’d be spending without bounds. Bus ride too long? We’ll add a bus run for you. Interested in marine biology? We’ll provide that course for you and the two others that are interested. Love to ride horses? We’ll form an equestrian team for you. Can you tell I’ve run into multiple people justifying their wants with this mindless phrase?

        2. :) :) :)

          There are no marine biology classes that I know of in the TESD. We do not have an equestrian team. If parents have asked for these things they have been denied.

          70% of our budget is dedicated to salaries. Academic programs have been cut, class sizes are bigger and support staff is about to be outsourced.

          You know what as not been denied though. Raises and bonuses for administrators whose salaries are already double the national average according to the article you referenced from the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Work force.

          How is this balanced? As Pattye asked, How is this fair?

          So glad to hear you love me.

  14. sort of like chicken and egg… or the cycle that says people want to live here because schools are good, they pay a premium but see to it or at least try to see to it that their kids do well… genes, environment… not really bad.. of course other factors figure in like taxes but having higher value houses because of the school district isn’t in itself bad, unless no one can afford your house when you want to sell because of the…. economy.. there it is again…

  15. Today

    More than 4 out of 10 recent graduates say they are stuck in jobs that don’t require a college degree.

    In addition to the underployed 11% are unemployed

    7% haven’t had a job since graduating.

    Regarding the article Keith referenced yesterday, Hard Times – Not all College Degrees are created Equal from Georgetown Universitys Center for Education and the Workforce, half of these graduates think that they would be doing better had their major been different.

    The article goes on to say that job prospects are grim for the class of 2013 and that the weak job market will continue to make things difficult for recent grads.

    The article ends by saying there needs to be better coordination between employers and colleges about what skills new workers need. I bet memorizing will not be one of them.

    It might be a good idea for the colleges to start talking to the high schools and letting them know what skills high school grads will need too.

    1. you seem to bring up a recurring theme about memorizing… why such antipathy towards an important skill set? Even in higher mathematics, memorization is important.. medicine, all higher level endeavours.. Memorizing and critical thinking are not mutually exclusive..

    2. shining, memorizing and critical thinking are not mutually exclusive.. And while Keith can surely speak for himself, why do you think our school boards number one purpose is to keep home values high? That would be the result of good stewardship of our school district which benefits the kids too.. again, we can have both.. it follows…right?

  16. John,

    You have mentioned that you have a child graduating this year. Would you be willing to talk about his/her plans for the future. Is he/she going to college? Major?

    What do you think about his/her prospects for the future?

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