What the Numbers Really Tell Us

S. Zulch

The numbers are in: the 2010 U.S.News & World Report ranking of America’s Best High Schools shows our very own Miramonte as 89th in the Nation (just below Campolindo at number 86). That our school made the top 100 (the U.S. News “Gold Medal List”) certainly deserves some celebration and pride. A high national ranking means increased home values in Lamorinda, as well as even one more qualification for students to offer prospective colleges.

But before we start the party, what do these numbers really mean? Upon what criteria is this ranking conducted? It’s important to understand the various qualities that make Miramonte so successful. Even more importantly, we must acknowledge these factors’ dependence on our districts’ funding, which state budget cuts, and the current economic crisis, seriously threaten.

When trying to understand the ranking process, it’s first necessary to note that the U.S.News & World Report school ranking and analysis is “based on the key principles that a great high school must serve all its students well, not just those who are college bound,” according to the U.S.News online forum. Just because an exceptionally high percentage of Miramonte graduates go on to college doesn’t mean our school can cater solely to them. A good education is more than getting into competitive schools, and that is something these rankings strive to reflect.

The ranking also omits certain schools such as charters or those that fail to produce measurable academic outcomes on which the school can be judged. Schools must fit the specific criteria in order to be rated, although schools that don’t may still receive honorable mention.

Regarding specific ranking methodology, the data is very complex, but it all boils down to three categories of comparison: school test scores, performance of a school’s least-advantaged students (i.e. minorities, low-income students, etc.), and college readiness (determined by AP or IB participation rates).

While Miramonte’s national ranking may not be a top concern as our school district faces a scheduled budget cut of $4.8 million for the 2010-2011 school year, we have to realize that the very factors that give Miramonte such a high ranking are those that will be extinguished by these cuts: the fundamentals of a quality education.

With such a significant cut to the budget, the Acalanes Union High School District will be forced to lay off teachers, counselors, librarians, and other district employees. Classes, both popular electives and crucial academic subjects, will be cut relative to the size of their department, and class sizes will undoubtedly increase.

Miramonte’s prestige of offering numerous and well-taught Advanced Placement courses will plummet if a significant number of these AP classes are eliminated. How well would Miramonte rank in “college readiness” if students had no college-level courses to take? Not well. Once again, we must make the connection between a number in a magazine and the fundamentals of valuable high school education.

If Miramonte’s goal as a school switches from providing students with a high quality and widely varied curriculum to simply struggling to cover even basic graduation requirements, factors such as test performance will suffer.

Let us pat ourselves on the back today for the achievement of number 89, but we cannot ignore the challenges of tomorrow. Miramonte’s high national ranking and the high quality education justifying that rank, cannot be maintained with our state funding cut by $4.8 million.

A parcel tax in our community will help and is vital in keeping the district afloat. A $112 per parcel increase added to additional MHS Parents’ Club and EFO contributions should essentially cover the deficit for now, hopefully saving jobs and classes. A temporary tax increase however, will not cure the long-term financial problems facing education. Our state’s economic well-being is suffering and considering the policy trends thus far, our schools are going to continue to pay the price.

The Lamorinda community should continue to do all that it can at our local level, but until the state and federal governments develop an effective solution to the economic crisis, we are going to have to prepare for a lowered standard of educational quality and as long as that’s the case, we can wave goodbye to any “Gold Medal List” dreams for the future.

The Editorial Board voted  11-0 in favor