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Finding the best schools in America

Perhaps the good and the bad about finding the best schools in the US is that there are many options. At last count there were 129,000 schools. There are excellent public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, boarding schools, faith-based schools and military schools.

In the US, there is no national curriculum. Historically, the belief was that each state, not the national government, knew best how to educate its own population. And within each state, the local school district was best-equipped to select the curriculum. While this is still the case, there are now Common Core national educational standards and required testing, administered at the state level, which assesses achievement of Common Core standards. So while there is no national curriculum, there are certainly nationally-mandated expectations for content mastery.

There is no national school ranking system. Because each state sets its own criteria and may decide how it will measure achievement of national Common Core standards, there is no unique assessment of school nor student performance. Further, best private schools in America are not required to publish their academic results.

Discovering the best schools in the USA is not obvious

First, remember that there are top notch schools to be found within each type of school, public, private, charter and boarding. Each brings a different philosophy about how to deliver education, different historical antecedents and a different reason for being. Decide which type(s) of schools best match your educational values and budget.

Then, since there is no national ranking system, take a look at some key metrics for each school.

  • Performance on state testing
  • Student-to teacher ratio
  • Class size
  • Average spending per pupil per year
  • Safety
  • Graduation rate
  • Portion of the student population taking AP or IB classes
  • Average SAT score
  • Age of facilities
  • Percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch
  • Number of English language learners

Next, take care to discover what is behind the numbers. For example, you may be keen on a school with terrifically high state testing results. But on further investigation, you find that the school houses the highly capable learner program which makes the school’s results artificially high. There may be some criteria that simply are not as important to your family. Perhaps your student is an independent learner. You may select a school with a high class size because that great track facility is more important.

Finally, there exist some independent rankings of best schools in the US by school type. Perhaps the most famous is the US News and World Report national ranking of 21,000 public high schools. This also includes magnet schools and charter schools. The methodology is complex and requires that candidate schools surmount three successive hurdles including review of state assessments. Few make it to the third hurdle, where “college readiness” is evaluated. The final group of 6,500 then is awarded gold, silver or bronze medal.

Here are some of the best schools in the US

  • School for the Talented and Gifted, Dallas, TX
  • Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, VA
  • Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, Lawrenceville, GA
  • University High School, Tolleson, AZ
  • International Studies Charter High School, Miami, FL
  • Northside College Preparatory High School, Chicago, IL
  • Whitney High School, Cerritos, CA
  • Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, Jamaica, NY
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Need Help with your school search? Call 1-866-881-5959 (toll-free) within the US or 1-914-328-3000 from outside the US, or fill out the contact form to get advice from our School Placement Experts.
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