Archive for Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Lawrence schools rank No. 2 in national magazine study

May 11, 2004


Lawrence public schools are among the best-performing in the country, according to a new national ranking.

Expansion Management magazine, a national publication for companies looking to expand or relocate, ranked Lawrence secondary schools No. 2 among those in the nation's 370 metropolitan areas.

"The reason we do the rankings is to give companies an idea of how to compare the work forces they may encounter in different communities," said Bill King, the magazine's chief editor. "The quality of the work force is far and away the number one consideration a company has when they're thinking about relocating or expanding."

For the rankings in its most recent issue, the magazine surveyed districts in all 370 metropolitan statistical areas in the country and compared the performance of 2,800 school districts with enrollments of at least 3,300 students.

Several factors were taken into account, including graduation rates, ACT and SAT results, teacher salaries, per-pupil spending and the education and income levels of the adult population in the community.

Lawrence Supt. Randy Weseman said the result was a solid measure of a district's quality.

"This is a big deal," Weseman said. "We're a very good school district. This is a quantified analysis. It's not just somebody saying 'Hey, I was in Lawrence, Kansas, once and it's a neat place.'"

Lawrence posted its highest score in the graduate outcome section, which measured test scores and graduation rates. It ranked in the 94th percentile in that category, which carried the most weight among the study's authors.

In the category that measured the community's financial commitment to education, Lawrence ranked in the 68th percentile. It ranked in the 67th percentile in the community index, which measured the education and income levels of adults in the community.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines the Lawrence metropolitan statistical area as Douglas County, but the magazine's rankings included only districts of 3,300 or more students. In Douglas County, only Lawrence met the criteria.

Area economic development officials said the ranking could provide a significant boost to their efforts to attract new businesses and jobs.

"This is absolutely huge for economic development," said Lynn Parman, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. "I don't think there is another ranking out there that shows how good of a choice we can be for new businesses."

Weseman said he wasn't surprised by the rankings but said it should be good for morale across the district, which is faced with budget constraints due to continuing cuts in state funding.

"What surprises me is that we're finally getting recognized," he said. "When you sit where I sit, you tend to hear what's wrong with things."

The top 10

Here are the 10 metropolitan areas with the highest-ranked public school districts, according to a study conducted by Expansion Management magazine.

1. State College, Pa.

2. Lawrence

3. Charlottesville, Va.

4. Iowa City, Iowa

5. Eau Claire, Wis.

6. Madison, Wis.

7. Dubuque, Iowa

8. Sheboygan, Wis.

9. Cedar Rapids, Iowa

10. Sioux Falls, S.D.

-- Journal-World reporter Terry Rombeck contributed to this report.

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