CHILDREN AT RISK continues its fourth year of evaluating Greater Houston area high schools in its 2009 High School Ranking Report. This report serves as a guide to parents and educators alike to understand what works in education, highlighting which schools serve as models and which schools need improvement. The Top 10 High Schools in Greater Houston (2009) are:
1. Carnegie Vanguard High School (HISD)
2. DeBakey High School for Health Professions (HISD)
3. High School for the Performing & Visual Arts (HISD)
4. Memorial High School (Spring Branch ISD)
5. Clements High School (Fort Bend ISD)
6. Cinco Ranch High School (Katy ISD)
7. YES Prep-Southeast Campus (YES Prep Public Schools)
8. Challenge Early College High School (HISD)
9. Kerr High School (Alief ISD)
10. Stephen F. Austin High School (Fort Bend ISD)
This year, CHILDREN AT RISK ranked 131 high schools in the Greater Houston area, using a new statistical method, to see how schools are preparing our children for college and the workforce. In producing the rankings, we hope not just to congratulate schools that are doing extraordinary work, but to seek a direction for education reform in the Greater Houston area.
In 2007, over 50,000 students in Greater Houston anxiously accepted their high school diplomas, in front of long-time friends and proud family members. Unfortunately, these students only represent about 62% of students who should have graduated from the same high school in four years. Not only is graduation day a wonderful occasion to celebrate with friends and family, but it is a meaningful milestone that opens opportunities for work and entrance to college, and in the long term may shape quality of life. Graduating high school helps to raise personal income and reduces public spending on health, crime, and welfare. One study estimates that for each new high school graduate, there is a public benefit of $127,000, even after adjusting for the costs of powerful educational interventions.
To calculate this year’s High School Rankings, we analyzed data from eight counties in the Greater Houston area: Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller counties. To assess how well they are preparing their students for college and the work force, we examined the performance of all eligible high schools across thirteen indicators, adjusting for the size of an economically disadvantaged student population. We weighted all indicators equally, and judged schools’ performance relative to other schools in the Greater Houston area. Because we changed the statistical method, this year’s rankings are not comparable to past years. In the future, we plan to include all Texas high schools in our analysis, as well as elementary and middle schools.
One of the most salient themes that emerge from our rankings is the importance of school structure to a school’s success. Time and again, we find that schools emphasizing small learning communities do a better job of engaging students, and ultimately producing college-ready high school graduates. In a supplementary analysis, we found school structure to be especially important for boys: boys’ graduation rates are significantly lower in urban, comprehensive high schools. Even in large comprehensive schools, schools can create small learning communities using house or family plans and increase engagement through youth development (e.g. extra-curricular activities and service-learning).
While some schools have remained at the bottom of our rankings over the years, other low-performing schools have made major changes and shown significant improvement in their performance. In this year’s report, we highlighted schools that have greatly improved over the past three years, with six of the Top 10 Most Improved high schools located in Houston ISD. Some of these schools have brought in new leadership or are using funds for innovative programs. For example, Davis HS (#4 Most Improved) hired a new principal, and has shown improvement in TAKS scores and participation in advanced coursework over the past three years. Hempstead HS (#6 Most Improved) recently received the Texas High School Redesign and Restructuring Grant, and demonstrated substantial improvement in TAKS scores. Also, Lee HS (HISD), excluded from the Most Improved analysis because of missing data, has recently implemented an innovate program called First Things First that emphasizes small learning communities, dedicated teachers, and family involvement.
This year, we also focused on the limited English proficient (LEP) student population, which is particularly disadvantaged in the Greater Houston public school system. In Region IV (Houston), about one in five students are considered limited English proficient. Although there is a significant LEP population in the Greater Houston area, many schools do not have the resources necessary to support this group. Of the expected class of 2005, only around 29% of identified LEP students were able to graduate high school in four to six years. Among the Top 10 Limited English Proficient high schools, all serve relatively small LEP populations, with less than one in ten students identified as LEP.