Assessing the Challenge Index

Once again Jay Mathews, a reporter for the Washington Post, has released his Challenge Index, the ranking of high schools determined by calculating the number of college level tests taken in a given year divided by the number of graduating seniors.

I was happy to see that McLean High School (where I taught before retiring from teaching and coming to work for CEP) was ranked 13th on the list of schools in the Washington, DC area. It was the highest ranked school in Fairfax County Public School District, a fact that I’m sure made the folks on the McLean faculty proud—especially since they were also ranked high in the national list of the top 200 high schools.  I’m sure there is lots of celebrating going on in schools all over who consider themselves to be among the best high schools in America because they made the list.

But is that legitimate? I agree with Mathews on the need to offer challenging courses to anyone who wants to try. As a former Advanced Placement English teacher, I’ve seen kids who had never taken an advanced class before rise to the challenge in my class. Even if they didn’t pass the test, the introduction to the advanced curriculum and the struggle to learn pays dividends in college, which is what Mathews has found through his research. But being a good school requires so much more than that. Continue reading


The Expenses of Prom

Prom, a night intended to be full of fun and revelry, can often be an enormous burden on students from lower-income backgrounds. The need to get the perfect dress or tuxedo, find transportation, partake of a fancy meal, and then perhaps coordinate an after-party (in a safe, legal environment) can be a truly stressful experience for those students.

For this reason, it is always heart-warming to hear about schools or programs that have taken it on themselves to make prom night an option for all who want to attend by alleviating some of the financial considerations surrounding the event. Continue reading


Ways to Celebrate Our Teachers

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day. What is your school doing to honor the hard work of its teachers? While some schools stretch out their celebrations throughout the full length of Teacher Appreciation Week with breakfasts and other recognition activities, other schools seem to let the day pass without any acknowledgment of any kind. Just take a look at some of the comments here (May 1st post) and here (May 1st post).

If you could come up with your own way to acknowledge the hard work of all of our teachers, school leaders, and the faculty and staff as a whole, what would you do?

Here’s one idea that was recognized as a 2010 Promising Practice. Continue reading