Evaluating Public Schools

This section provides tools to aid in finding the best public school option for your child. Compare private and public schools, explore school zoning issues, and delve into the public school grading and ranking system. Find information on the safest schools and what they are doing right.
View the most popular articles in Evaluating Public Schools:
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College Board AP District Honor Roll Includes Public Schools Coast to Coast
Learn about what the College Board Honor Roll is, as well as some of the schools that made the grade.
College Board recently released its latest AP District Honor Roll, which features 367 school districts across the country. These schools have shown improvements not only in enrollment in AP classes, but in the number of students who scored high enough on the exams to obtain college credit. The school districts on this list have shown a commitment to helping high-achieving students attain academic success and have broadened the options of these students in pursuing postsecondary education.

What is Advanced Placement?

According to the College Board website, the Advanced Placement program was designed to allow students to earn college credit while still in high school. The program currently boasts more than 30 college-level course options that include a cumulative exam at the end that enables students to receive college credit for material covered. The AP program also shows college admissions boards that students are able to handle the rigors of a postsecondary curriculum.

Advanced Placement courses are recognized by more than 3,800 colleges and universities worldwide. This ensures the students that participate in these courses in high school will have plenty of options available to them after graduation. The ability to earn college credit while in high school can present a significant cost savings on higher education and allow students to complete their degree programs at a much faster rate.
About the Advanced Placement Honor Roll
To qualify for the annual Advanced Placement Honor Roll compiled by College Board, school districts must meet the following criteria:
  • Provide three years of AP
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Newsweek Ranks Top High Schools in the Country
Newsweek’s annual ranking of the best high schools in America has just been released based upon wider criteria than ever before. See where your high school stands and which campuses won the top accolades.
There is no doubt that many high schools across the country have faced serious challenges in light of the current economic slowdown. With shrinking budgets and the pressures of standardized test scores, schools have made difficult decisions regarding staffing, programs and resources. With attention to these circumstances, the annual ranking conducted by Newsweek made some significant changes to take the challenges into account. With an expanded advisory board and a wider range of criteria, the publication recently released its ranking of the top 500 high schools in America. We’ll examine the criteria used by Newsweek to make their choices and highlight some of the schools that made the top of the list this year.

How Best to Rank High Schools?

When Newsweek embarked on this project for the current year, it was no easy task. In previous years, the publication had ranked schools based solely on the number of AP tests taken by each graduate at the school, according to a report at Huffington Post. This year, Newsweek wanted to focus less on mere achievement and more on the solutions high schools were finding to ensure the success of their students. To this end, Newsweek enlisted the assistance of a new set of education specialists to help them develop a set of criteria that would more effectively identify the best schools in the nation.

According to a report at Newsweek, the panel of experts the publication assembled included Wendy Kopp of Teach for
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Closing the Achievement Gap: What Some Public Schools are Doing
The glaring disparity between the under and over achievers is still prevalent at many public schools, but some districts are taking the matter into their own hands with innovative ideas. Learn more about the solutions that are helping to close the achievement gap.
Despite the fact that public education is still free and available to all the children within a given district, there are still serious disparities in achievement between the students from wealthy families and those from low-income families. Because education is a crucial factor in overcoming poverty and raising an individual's quality of life overall, it is important to overcome those disparities to bring students from lower-income backgrounds every educational advantage. Some schools across the country are making it a priority to close the achievement gap, so students from all income levels and backgrounds can enjoy the same opportunities.

Columbia Public Schools Offer a Multi-Prong Solution

Columbia Public Schools in Missouri are taking a whole new approach to closing the achievement gap by addressing the problem at many different levels. According to a report at the Columbia Daily Tribune, the district is done pointing fingers at parents, teachers, community members and students. Instead, they are going to focus on bringing all these groups together to provide the best possible educational experience to all of the students in their area.

Steve Calloway, president of the Minority Men's Network, told a group of parents and educators that it was time to take matters into their own hands. Calloway told the Tribune, "We really want our community to be a shining example of how to close the achievement gap." However, Calloway cautioned that the change would not happen overnight. The solution must be completed in phases that began with the acknowledgement and
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Under the Radar: Why Some High Schools are Hiring Undercover Police Officers
While security guards may be commonplace at some public high schools, other districts have resorted to undercover cops to keep their kids safe. Learn about why schools are bringing undercover police officers on campus and what it means for your student.
Parents send their children to school every day in hopes that their kids will get a good education in a relatively safe environment. However, drug sales and gang activity often impact a student's ability to learn and feel comfortable in the place they spend the bulk of their time every day. While few argue that drugs and gangs have become a major problem in middle and high schools across the country, not everyone agrees what should be done. Some schools have brought in undercover officers who pose as high school students with the goal of routing out the guilty parties and removing them from the school environment. While the approach has proven successful, questions still remain about whether this is the right way to put a stop to illegal activity in public schools.

Undercover in Florida

In one of the biggest stings ever to hit public high schools, more than 30 people have been arrested in Palm Beach schools for selling drugs in an undercover operation dubbed "Operation D Minus." The students responsible for the drug sales were identified by undercover police officers who posed as students in the schools for the entire school year. These youthful officers were assigned to attend classes, eat lunch in the school cafeteria and even take tests with the other students, in hopes of discovering the root of the drug problem that had grown by monumental proportions among high school students in the area.
According to a report at WPTV, one of the female officers
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Pepper Spray at School: From Lawsuits to Hospitalizations
A rash of pepper spray incidents at public schools have resulted in hospitalizations, lawsuits, and many tears. Learn about pepper spray prevalence, from being used to discipline students to a self-defense measure against bullies.
Pepper spray is a common product used both for self defense for civilians and by members of law enforcement. More recently, the chemical has been used in schools, both by staff and students, as a mode of discipline and self protection. While some students and school officials believe the use of pepper spray is warranted in some situations, many other students and their parents are voicing concern about dangerous chemicals used on students without good judgment. To help you make your own decision, we'll analyze a few of the pepper spray cases that have recently come to light in school districts across the country.

Birmingham Schools Using Pepper Spray as Disciplinary Measure

School resource officials in Birmingham public schools have been using the pepper spray they are given to provide discipline in a host of situations. In fact, the use of pepper spray has become prevalent enough to prompt a civil rights group to protest its use. According to a report at al.com, the Southern Poverty Law Center has demanded that school resource officers in Birmingham city schools refrain from using the chemical spray on students who are fighting, talking or otherwise disrupting school activity.

In a letter written to Birmingham board attorney Afrika Parchman, the group states, "The use of such weapons against school children is a clear and egregious violation of students' rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Moreover, the use of chemical weapons on school children is detrimental to their
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Evaluating Public Schools

School Zoning

Learn more about zoning rules, how they impact schools and your child. This section offers information on the history of school zones, what they are, and how they work. Get information on who decides school boundaries and the impact those decisions have on the community.

Getting Started

An overview of school designations, best practices for evaluating your options, and tips on choosing the best school for your child. Learn about Blue Ribbon, Vocational and Special Education schools. Get tips on finding the right school in a new neighborhood, city or state.

Grading and Ranking Schools

Explore the public school grading/ranking system, how it works and what it means. Get latest national rankings and read what critics of school grading have to say. Take a look at the nation’s top performing schools as ranked by U.S. News and Newsweek.

Public School Safety

A comprehensive look at the safety of US public schools. Learn what schools are doing to combat gangs and drugs, prepare for natural disasters, and protect your children from predators. From web cameras to armed guards, see what tools public schools are employing to keep kids safe.

Public vs. Private Schools

A comparison of public and private schools, the pros and cons of each, and a look at the cost of getting a stellar education at both. Take a look at some of the most expensive schools, notable public school alumni, and learn more about “private” public schools.