Public Watchdog.org

Maine East Up, Maine South MIA In Latest U.S. News Rankings

05.08.17

A year ago the 2016 U.S. News & World Reports rankings of Illinois high schools had Maine South at 45th, Maine East at 63rd, and Maine West MIA. In our 4.22.16 post we bemoaned the fact that Maine South’s 45th place ranking was down 16 places from 2012, and that the “college readiness” rating was an unimpressive 40.8%.

But that was then, this is now. But once again we now have good news and bad news.

First, the good news: Maine East leaped from 63rd place to 37th!

Now the bad: Maine South fell out of the rankings entirely – meaning it didn’t even come in among the top 1oo.

According to the article in last week’s Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Maine East ranks 37th in state on new ‘Best Schools’ list,” May 2), U.S. News ranks schools based on: (a) reading and math results on high school proficiency tests; (b) whether “disadvantaged” student groups — identified as black, Hispanic and low-income — “performed at or better than the state average for the least-advantaged students; (c) graduation rates; and (d) how the schools prepare students for college-level work using data from Advanced Placement exams.

Maine Twp. High School District 207 Supt. Ken Wallace, not surprisingly, offered explanations that don’t seem internally consistent.

According to the H-A article, Wallace blames “flawed” state PARCC testing, unequal comparisons between schools, and Maine South’s failure to meet the performance threshold for black, Hispanic and low-income students. He also claimed that while District 207 gave the PARCC math and language arts exams to its freshman, other districts tested older students; and other districts may have selectively tested only their better students.

That might explain South’s plummet, but how does that explain East’s simultaneous rise?

We don’t know but, not surprisingly, Wallace’s explanation didn’t wash with Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News. As reported by the H-A, Morse claimed the test score comparisons across schools “are generally reliable” and that “[t]o the extent that any comparisons are unfair, in this particular case, Maine South and Maine West would have both been advantaged by the fact that they tested their students in ELA I, the easier ELA assessment.”

Morse went on to explain that because South and West didn’t pass step one of the U.S. News methodology because their performance was no better than might be expected, “given their proportion of students identified as economically disadvantaged.”

Wallace remained defiant, claiming that once D-207 schools start using the SAT the comparisons with other schools will be “apples to apples.”

Let’s hope so.

Wallace was quick to point out that typically high performers like Barrington, Deerfield and Highland Park high schools also didn’t make the rankings cut, and that the “metrics that matter the most is [sic] really the CRI [College Readiness Index],” But South’s CRI – according to U.S. News – is a disappointing 44.6, although up almost 4 points from last year.

Compare that to not only the three top suburban schools — Stevenson (71.6), Hinsdale Central (62.8) and Prospect (61.5) – but also to less prestigious schools like Hersey (58.9), Buffalo Grove (52.9) and York (50.8).

Even the three also-unranked schools that Wallace noted did better than South: Barrington’s CRI was 46.8, Deerfield’s was 58.6 and Highland Park’s was 58.3. Even our out-of-the-money neighbor to the north, Glenbrook South, clocked in with a 55.6.

What does all of this mean?

We don’t know, because we’re not willing or able to figure out how many U.S. News testing metrics – or Supt. Wallace’s metrics, for that matter – can dance on the head of a pin.

But one thing we are pretty sure of is that when parents from the City of Chicago or outside the Chicago area are looking at relocating to suburbs with the highest-quality schools, Park Ridge takes a big hit – justified or not – when its flagship high school gets beaten out by so many schools from other communities where the taxes are so much lower, especially when 70% of our property tax bills are attributed to our local public schools.

And irrespective of how Maine South compares to schools in those other north, northwest and west suburbs, we didn’t hear Wallace trying to justify South’s 44.6 CRI number.

Think about that for a minute: An affluent suburb like Park Ridge, taxing and spending near the top of the pack (at approx. $18,000 per student per year), appears incapable of educating even half of its students to the level of “college readiness.” And all we get from Wallace and the D-207 School Board is…crickets.

Are those kids arriving at South, primarily from D-64 – itself among the highest-priced elementary districts – under-prepared for high school? If so, it’s time for Wallace and the folks at South to say so. Then let Supt. Laurie Heinz, her heretofore puppet school board members, and her administrators defend their stewardship of their schools’ students.

If not, then it’s time to start questioning the stewardship of Wallace, his puppet school board members, and his administrators.

We’ve had more than enough of what appears to be a conspiracy of mutual silence and back-scratching by the folks running both D-64 and D-207.

Meanwhile, it’s well past time the Illinois State Board of Education started producing its own official “apples-to-apples” comparisons of Illinois schools – both elementary and secondary – rather than leaving the task to the likes of U.S. News, Schooldigger, et al.

Because, like it or not, comparative school shopping and community shopping is here to stay – especially when those schools consume a whopping 70% of a community’s hefty property tax bill.

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