At Whitefish Bay High School on Milwaukee’s North Shore, students aren’t modest about their academic fortune. “A 3.0 here is worth a 4.0 at other schools,” asserts Whitefish Bay senior David Brown. A few miles away at Nicolet High School, students offer a similar appraisal of their institution. “Parents want a high-powered environment,” a Nicolet […]

At Whitefish Bay High School on Milwaukee’s North Shore, students aren’t modest about their academic fortune. “A 3.0 here is worth a 4.0 at other schools,” asserts Whitefish Bay senior David Brown. A few miles away at Nicolet High School, students offer a similar appraisal of their institution. “Parents want a high-powered environment,” a Nicolet senior concludes.

The adjective is no accident.

High school may be where power starts in modern life today. The quality of our schools drives politics. Education helped George W. Bush reach the White House. It’s also a linchpin in many a family’s decision on where to buy their next home.

Education polarizes us as well, yet we have a curious disconnect: We distrust our national social institutions while we favor those in our backyard. Voters hate Congress and like their congressman. The same is true for schools. Slightly more than half of the people the Gallup organization polled last year gave the nation’s school systems a grade of C. Yet the same number – 51 percent – awarded As and Bs to their local schools.

So how do we give grades to our own local schools?

Assessing the quality of schools is a daunting task. “The most important indicators of quality are things like whether kids come home babbling excitedly about something they figured out that day,” argues Alfie Kohn, author of The Schools Our Children Deserve.

Yet there are tools.

To read the full story — including the top 25 public and top 5 private college prep schools, an informational chart including all high schools in the metro area, school rankings factoring in poverty, and the results of our exclusive teacher survey — download the PDF here.

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