For the first time in years, no Memphis or Shelby County school can claim bragging rights for being on Newsweek's list of America's 1,000 best high schools.
Tennessee has eight schools on the list, including two Nashville schools in the top 50 (Martin Luther King and Hume Fogg). Little Rock also has two schools in the top 50 (Central and Mills University Studies). Neither of the Nashville schools that cracked the top 50 was in the top 1,000 in the previous survey. Meanwhile, White Station High School in Memphis came off the honor roll after making it in two previous years. So did the schools change that much since the 2004 survey? Maybe. Maybe not.
"I rank to get attention," survey designer Jay Mathews says in the FAQ. Newsweek's list, first published in 1998 and four times since then, includes only public high schools. Mathews, the Washington Post's education reporter, says too many private schools won't provide data. The list also excludes "public elites" whose students have an average ACT score of 27 or above or an average SAT of 1,300 or above.
The article says the top 1,000 includes "schools that do the best job of preparing average students for college." Several schools on the list have a significant percentage of students who receive free or reduced-price lunches, including Science and Engineering Magnet School in Dallas, which ranked eighth and has 48 percent of its students on subsidized lunch. The survey puts a lot of weight on Advanced Placement courses and tests and how many students take them. Mathews says that sending a student to college without taking AP or similar courses is "dumb" and "a form of educational malpractice."
Other Tennessee high schools on the list include Fairview, Franklin, Brentwood, Oak Ridge, Hillsboro, and Centennial (Franklin).
Bottom line: School ratings by Newsweek and U.S. News matter because they matter. Our superintendents should make sure they don't get blanked next time.
• The Memphis Board of Education this week approved funding for a new sports complex at Central High School to replace Crump Stadium. But the 72-year-old concrete monolith whose heyday was more than 40 years ago may not be demolished anytime soon.
A historic preservation issue must be dealt with first, said Joe Garrison, review and compliance coordinator for the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) in Nashville.
Crump Stadium is on the National Register of Historic Places. Unless additional engineering studies determine that it is structurally unsound and cannot be shored up, then it stays on the register. "If it's eligible, then it's hard to justify use of federal funds to demolish it," Garrison said. THC is working with the Memphis Landmarks Commission. Landmarks manager Nancy Jane Baker could not be reached for comment.
The city of Memphis Office of Housing and Community Development, the school board, and Central High School officials support the demolition and new sportsplex, which is part of a $21 million renovation of Central High. Superintendent Carol Johnson told the school board that delaying capital projects makes them more expensive.
Garrison, however, said Memphis must show two things: a need for a sportsplex and a compelling reason for putting it at the Crump Stadium site and not somewhere else. "Memphis has a lot of open spaces," he said.
Garrison is optimistic that "we're going to get through this" in amicable fashion. But a confrontation may be inevitable. The issue is not whether Crump Stadium is stable but whether it is useful and worth keeping. Most Memphis decision-makers have said no.
• The plagiarism police at The New York Times are out for blood. A Harvard student's chick-lit book is the latest offender. In a story, "Second Ripple in Plagiarism Scandal," the following similarities to another book are noted: A "full-fledged debate over animal rights" is "a full-scale argument about animal rights." A character in one book says, "The mink like being made into coats." In the other book, "The foxes want to be made into scarves." A heartthrob in both books has "eyes so dark they're almost black."
That's not plagiarism; it's imitation and trite writing. There isn't a print journalist in America who could survive such scrutiny.