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Dallas Boasts Some of the Best and Most Challenging High Schools in the U.S., Again

It’s that time of year again, when The Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report issue their rankings of the top public high schools in the country. Dallas ISD continues to have magnet schools near the very top of both lists.

The Post is actually calling its rankings “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” and, with their methodology, that does seem a more fitting description than “best.” All they do is take the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Advanced International Certificate of Education exams given at the school each year and divide that by the number of graduating seniors. They don’t care how well the kids do on those tests, even whether they pass at all. These Dallas-area schools finished in the top 100 (their national ranks are noted):

2) Science/Engineering Magnet, Dallas

3) Talented/Gifted Magnet, Dallas

5) Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, Dallas

20) Westlake Academy, Westlake

23) Uplift Education Summit Preparatory, Arlington

24) Uplift Education Peak Preparatory, Dallas

28) Uplift Education Williams Preparatory, Dallas

82) Highland Park, Highland Park ISD

Those three spots high up the list seem like quite an accomplishment for the campuses of charter school operator Uplift Education. (I spoke with the education nonprofit’s CEO, Yasmin Bhatia, last year about their approach.) But those Uplift schools score nowhere near that well on the U.S. News list, which claims to name the “Best High Schools.” Here’s Dallas’ representation, including the absolute best in the country.

1) Talented/Gifted Magnet, Dallas

14) Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, Dallas

24) Science/Engineering Magnet, Dallas

41) Westlake Academy, Westlake

51) Uplift Education North Hills Preparatory, Irving

102) Highland Park, Highland Park ISD

The No. 1 school on the Post list, is the American Indian Public High School in Oakland, California. It ranks as only the 5th best high school in its own state in the U.S. News ranking. These differences — like the way that Rangel and Science/Engineering and Westlake don’t perform as well for U.S. News — come because of the differing methodologies.

U.S. News doesn’t just factor how many students are taking college-level tests. It also counts how many of the kids are passing the tests (as well as some additional factors comparing each school to its state’s average performance.) The Post justifies its method by arguing that participation is a more important measure than performance, because many schools will simply prevent their weaker students from taking those tests at all, just to prop up their passing percentage.

But isn’t the U.S. News method just more comprehensive, and shouldn’t be considered the superior ranking? (As definitive as such rankings can be?) I don’t just say that because they’ve got a Dallas school No. 1.

UPDATE:  A helpful reader pointed out that North Hills Prep in Irving is also an Uplift Education campus, a fact that was not noted on the U.S. News list and which I did not check.  So I have amended this post to reflect that.

  • Bobtex

    Now, who do we blame for this? Every time there is a story about DISD, along with the facts we are always told who to blame for that story.

    So who gets the blame? The superintendent? The Board? How about the usual scapegoats: the teachers.

    Yeah, they must be the cause of this. They are usually the ones at fault. Time to cut their wages some more, until they learn their lessons.

  • DallasMom

    Thank you for explaining the differences in the methodologies for these lists. I like the weight US News giving to the test scores. Yes, participation is good, but the scores indicate how we’ll kids are mastering college level material (in the case of the AP tests, that is).

    Congrats DISD, and especially the principals and teachers at these schools..

  • Avid Reader

    When did anyone blame the teachers?

  • Fuzzy

    Ignoring the fact that the methodology used by both the Post and US News is meaningless, the fact remains that these are excellent public schools graduating truly talented and gifted young men and women. What makes these schools so great? Some additional information which can be found at the websites of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THEB) may be useful.

    The three Dallas ISD schools are magnet schools with strict academic requirements for admission.

    Westlake Academy in Westlake, Texas which Forbes Magazine named the most affluent neighborhood in the country is a charter school. Some would say it’s merely a private school being funded by Texas taxpayers. Parents are asked to donate $2000 per child per year to offset expenses. The school has no economically disadvantaged students and the student body is predominately white and Asian.

    Four of the Uplift charter schools are listed by either the Post or US News. Summit Prep in Arlington graduated 22 students in 2011 but that freshman class four years earlier had more than double that number of students. Where did they all go? Peak Prep in Dallas also had a very high attrition rate between its freshman class and graduating class of 2011. Also, of the 19 Peak graduates who entered a two or four Texas institution of higher education only 6 (32%) had a GPA of 2.00 or higher for their first year. Williams Prep faired better with 16 of 27 graduates (59%) with a GPA of 2.00 or higher. Dallas’ Sunset High School however, had 176 of its 242 (73%) 2011 graduates who entered a two or four year Texas college or university score a 2.00 GPA or better.

    North Hills Prep, like Westlake has very few poor students and is populated primarily by white and Asian students. Any school in Texas with similar demographics will be a high academic achieving campus.

    The only comprehensive high school on either list above-the others are either magnets or charters-is Highland Park High School. But again, Highland Park is a school with no poor students and a predominately white student body.

    This is not meant to be a criticism of these schools, but information we need to be aware of when comparing these schools to schools that are populated by a majority of poor and minority students, many with special needs, limited English, and other serious obstacles.


    The name of the entity is North Hills.

  • Jason Heid

    Apologies. Corrected. Thanks,

  • MAC

    Congrats Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School!

  • Isabel Huizi

    Pride for Dallas!!!