Archive for Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lawrence high schools left off prestigious list of top U.S. schools

June 16, 2010


The List

• Ranks schools with an index number by dividing the number of advanced placement or international baccalaureate Cambridge tests taken in a year by the number of graduating students.

• Schools with at least one test taken for every graduate made the 1,623 school list.

• Free State High School, with 321 tests taken and 368 graduates in 2009, had an index of 0.87.

• Lawrence High School, with 222 tests taken and 350 graduates, had an index of 0.63.

• The complete list is at

Eight Kansas high schools made the list of “America’s Best High Schools” released Monday by Newsweek magazine, but neither Free State nor Lawrence High school made the cut.

To make the list — which includes only 6 percent of all high schools in the nation — schools must have more advanced placement or international baccalaureate and Cambridge tests taken in a year than the number of graduating students. The numbers, taken from the 2008-2009 school year, create an index ranging from 1 to 15.

Free State was close, missing the list by 47 tests taken, while Lawrence High would have needed 128 more tests to make the exclusive list.

But are the rankings an indication of the country’s best schools?

Lawrence High Principal Matt Brungardt said advanced placement testing is simply one indicator used when measuring school success.

“I don’t necessarily know if that tells you how good a school is,” he said.

Lawrence High School does encourage students to enroll in advanced placement courses, he said, but “it’s not to get on a Newsweek list.”

Free State Principal Ed West said he hopes to make the list next year and may be aided by what he anticipates will be a smaller graduating class. Because the list includes tests taken by all students — while the number will be divided by fewer graduates — they might be able to hit the magazine’s criteria.

“The ratio itself is kind of fun, and it would be great to get,” he said.

The more important issue, West said, is the value of advanced placement courses, which he calls a “high-level challenge” for students. The classes are intended to be at the level of first-year college courses, and if students can succeed in such a class, they gain confidence in their ability to master future college courses.

“It tells the students, ‘Yeah, I can do this,’” he said.

Five of the Kansas schools on the list were in Johnson County: Blue Valley Northwest, Blue Valley North, Blue Valley West, Shawnee Mission South and Shawnee Mission East. Wichita East, Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences in Kansas City, and Manhattan High also made the 1,623-member list.


workinghard 7 years, 10 months ago

But, but we have two great football fields, doesn't that make us the best?

smercer 7 years, 10 months ago

p> ranks schools across the nation on a number of factors on a scale of 1(worst) to 10 (best).
Lawrence High 5; FSHS 6; Blue Valley W 9; BV N 10; BV 9; BVNW 7; SM East 10; SMN 5; SMNW 8; SMS 8; SMW 5; Olathe NW 7; Olathe E 8; Olathe N 5; Olathe S 6.

So we are at the bottom of the group tied with SMN, SMW and Olathe N.

Here is a news flash for the school board: Capital outlay funds can be spent on improved labs, better votech facilities, equipment for labs and advanced courses, and computers. It doesn't have to be spent on outdoor facilities. It can be spent on things that help educate our children on science, math, reading, and languages.

maxcrabb 7 years, 10 months ago

I know you've only been posting since March, but I wish you had started sooner.

sourpuss 7 years, 10 months ago

But, smercer, if the high schools start spending money on education instead of on bureaucracy and athletics, then the kids will be SO disappointed when they get to college!

I second - spot on.

Stuart Evans 7 years, 10 months ago

you do realize that all that writin' and learnin' leads to sinnin' don't ya?

Alabamastreet 7 years, 10 months ago

I'm no fan of the new football fields, but get real, those schools that ranked high in Johnson County still have sports facilities at least as nice or nicer than those in Lawrence. You can draw one clear conclusion from this: Rich schools and rich families produce better results. Why? Multitude of reasons, I'll let the board analyze that. But you can't ignore it.

workinghard 7 years, 10 months ago

But maybe the money they spend on equiptment for the classroom is a higher percentage than what Lawrence does. You are comparing the football fields but lets compare the classrooms and supplies.

weeslicket 7 years, 10 months ago

just because i think this quote is a funny as all get-out:

“The ratio itself is kind of fun, and it would be great to get,” he (Free State Principal Ed West ) said.

fucing hillaireeoous.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 10 months ago

The problems could be within the BOE and upper level administration decisions. Lawrence High School at one point in history was well known for academics.

Now the board spends too much effort closing schools. And too many of them want to build new large schools instead of making what we have better. They have been led to believe that larger schools are more efficient.... It's not the efficiency necessarily or the size of the school it's the quality of education. USD 497 does not NEED large schools to obtain academic achievement.

Then things took a new direction aka spending big bucks on sports to be sure USD 497 wins championships. They were doing it without reckless spending.

People/ parents and administration from JOCO are very well represented in Topeka,Kansas when doing battle for public education money. From my observation USD 497 is very quiet in comparison.

Other school districts also realize USD 497 is missing in action.

USD 497 does have strong representation among elected officials however it's the low numbers of parent and administrative bodies.

My suggestion is to get behind SOS( Save Our Neighborhood Schools) significantly if a change is expected. Put these people on the school board. Attend their meetings. Send them money.

"Here is a news flash for the school board: Capital outlay funds can be spent on improved labs, better votech facilities, equipment for labs and advanced courses, and computers. It doesn't have to be spent on outdoor facilities. It can be spent on things that help educate our children on science, math, reading, and languages. " I agree

Paula Kissinger 7 years, 10 months ago

I have 2 children that graduated from FSHS and neither of them knows anything about what is important for higher education or skills to obtain gainful employment having taken all of the "required" courses. Neither knows history, proper spelling, proper grammar, where certain countries are located, how government works and many other things that I consider important. They did learn how to skip class, buy drugs, blend in and get by. What a waste of 26 years of combined "education". I am so glad it is over !

GardenMomma 7 years, 10 months ago

Sounds like you could have stepped up and supplemented their education and made sure they were learning the things you consider important.

Don't blame the educational system for your failure to teach your children the "important" things in life. As a parent, that is your job.

overthemoon 7 years, 10 months ago

I'm sure you're being sarcastic. I hope you're being sarcastic. Even more than money, parents play the greatest role in how well kids do in school. How do a parent stand by and let this happen? If they think the kids will magically 'get educated' simply by dumping them at school in the morning, they do not understand their responsibility. Unfortunately, we, as a community and a nation, have created a generational trend toward stupid.

eric1889 7 years, 10 months ago

Moon, I couldn't agree with you more. I love the saying, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. Teachers do a great job of informing students of what they need to know, but it is ultimately up to the student to want to learn. As for pitbull, I doubt your children learned how to skip school or buy drugs at school. Where were you as a parent when they were skipping school or doing drugs? Or do you believe that it is the educational system to do both teach and discipline your children?

Jock Navels 7 years, 10 months ago

how educated your children are is your responsibility...nobody elses. Looks like you didn't do a very good job of raising your kids.

weirdalfan27 7 years, 10 months ago

I teach in one of the Johnson County high schools. Don't think that having a high number of students taking the tests is a good thing. It says students TAKING the test, not students PASSING the tests. I have witnessed first-hand that as schools strive to meet this criteria, honors classes have been "dumbed down." Students who don't belong in honors classes are encouraged to take them because they boost this score. The honors teachers end up lowering their curriculum so these students keep up because if they can't, they will drop the class which means one less student takes the test. Also, teachers who provide a rigorous curriculum, actually prepare the students to do well on the test (and for that matter, succeed in college) are pushed out of those classes in favor of the more popular (easy) teachers. Having "tough" teachers teach the class leads students to drop the class, which means fewer students taking the test.

Don't think this score is any indication of how "good" a school is. In my experience, it can actually mean the opposite.

overthemoon 7 years, 10 months ago

Interesting perspective. A little investigative reporting would be good right about now.

Bud Stagg 7 years, 10 months ago

I couldn't agree more. However I have the other side to show. Teachers not motivated or qualified.

I just had a child graduate, what a disapointment the AP program is at FSHS. We have family who teach in the BV district and actually teach AP classes. They were Amazed at how little the teachers were doing.

20 year old movies every day while the teacher plays solitaire on his computer. 5 of the suggested 12 labs taught in bio classes. When I asked the Asst. Prin. about this, he said "well our kids who take the test get between 2's and 4' on a 1-5 scale". I had to inform him that 2's and 3's are basically not good enough for these kids, they are smarter. When I asked why on the last 3 tests that over half the kids failed the test, he had no answer. I said, "Tests are given to see if learning is occuring." If half the "AP" class fails the test, it's not the kids.

We as parents need to know what our kids are doing and what the teachers are doing. We need to step up.

P.S. I understand the AP Bio teacher is being replaced. That doesn't help my child now. I will say not all the AP teachers were bad, some were of the tough variety and my child responded well to it.

weirdalfan27 7 years, 10 months ago

I agree. I graduated from LHS several years ago. I had some serious AP teachers, but many were not. I remember one AP History teacher who skipped the Korean War because it "wasn't important" and glossed over the Vietnam War and WWII for that matter. He was more interested in the player piano he had in his room and showing videos. There will always be motivated and unmotivated teachers. Unfortunately, the chances of having an unmotivated AP teacher may be increasing now that schools are trying to "achieve" this ranking.

They don't care if a student passes the test or not because that's not what Newsweek is grading them on.

overthemoon 7 years, 10 months ago

AP stands for Advanced Placement. The curriculum and course work, homework etc is supposed to be at a collegiate level. This isn't No Child Left Behind testing. Its supposed to show that a student is ready to do advanced level studies in a university setting and therefore be able to skip the onerous 101 courses of freshman year. The situation you describe is appalling.

A 2 is a marginal score. A three is acceptable. Depending on the college, credit is given for a 5 and sometimes (like at KU) for a 4. Basically, a three or below means the student shouldn't be in AP level classes.

LadyJ 7 years, 10 months ago

weirdalfan27 ---Thank you for this insight.

Stephen Roberts 7 years, 10 months ago

Merrill- the board does not spend too much time talking about closing schools, they spend too much time listening and not enough time creating a plan. If the people who are a part of the SONS group really do care about the education of all of Lawrence, why don't they leave their nice jobs at KU and start teaching at USD497??? Oh yeah because they wouldn't be tenured.

As for me, why don't I well because i would tell the district administration that they need to "break" the teachers union. It has grown too powerful and has helped retain crappy teachers. They are in the process of discussing their next contract. Teachers get no raise and the district will kick in $500K to help cover medical costs. The rest of the district takes a pay cut. Sounds fair?? No??? Do you think the teachers will suggest a pay cut like the rest of the district?? Teachers may be underpaid. but there are many people in the distrtict who are also underpaid based on the expanded roles and responsibilities.

I asked a teacher once who was complainin about being underpaid if in all of her classes was she told she was going to make $75K teaching? Did she do any research to see how much teachers make here? Did the USD497 offer her a job for one amount nd then start paying her a lower amount.

All of her answers were no and she said "but in CA, NY, & JO CO teachers get paid more."

I suggested she or try to work in JO CO but she refused because she went to KU and liked living in Lawrence. I gave up, i have learned that you can't debate with stupid people.

overthemoon 7 years, 10 months ago

"i have learned that you can't debate with stupid people"

And unfortunately, a lot of them are charged with teaching our kids. Throughout our 13 year experience with USD 497, we watched the education deteriorate. And every year there was some spectacular new young teacher who got a pink slip at the end of the year and the tenured ones who just take up space stay on and on and on. Actually had a jr. hi algebra teacher tell me that her only job was to get the kids to the end of the year. She said they weren't going to learn anyway, so she wasn't going to make the effort to learn about some of the amazing computer math games. When kids from that class hit highschool, they are not ready for hs math. She's still there.

eric1889 7 years, 10 months ago

I'm sick and tired of people saying that the union allows for crappy teachers to keep their jobs. This is entirely untrue. The union calls for a teacher to earn due process after 3 years of teaching. This is not the same as tenure. A teacher can be let go for no reason at all during their first 3 years of teaching, after due process, the district has to have a reason to let the teacher go. I'm pretty sure if the administration says and can prove that a teacher is ineffective, then that teacher will no longer have a job in that district.

overthemoon 7 years, 10 months ago

I spoke with the principal about this. Nothing he could do, so he said. He was well aware of the problem. No heres the kicker...the inaction on the part of the administration had something to do with football. No kidding.

The proof in ineffectiveness was shown when these kids hit high school and the math teachers are appalled at the students' lack of preparation for HS math courses.

independant1 7 years, 10 months ago

Oh no! LHS/FSHS are not popular. The shame of it all.

How about challenging students.

Like pushing/cajoling/influencing them to take algebra/physics/chemistry/calculus or analog&digital circuits/programming/mechanical drawing or speech/forensics/creative writing, votech is for some but HS is for a foundation that lasts a lifetime but no,

it's the family's fault

There are small schools out in the flatlands of KS that still offer Latin & Hebrew.

it's the family's fault

mhh1955 7 years, 10 months ago

LHS is my alma mater and I taught at both LHS and FSHS - so I support both schools, academically and athletically.

This statistic, however, is a bogus one. As weirdalfan27 says, this is about the number of students taking the test, not passing it. It would be easy for both LHS and FSHS - simply require all seniors to take the ACT test. That number, combined with the students who already take AP Tests would put both schools onto the list.

The problems with doing that are these: (1) this statistic assumes that all students are headed for college - as we all hopefully know, many students are better served by a career or technical school, (2) there is a cost to these tests, and unless the school district is willing to pay for all those students who can't afford to take them, the test would be a burden on the families, (3) it would seem that it would be possible for all seniors at a school to take the ACT, code their names on the answer sheet, make patterns with the answers, and turn the sheet in - does that really say anything about the quality of the education?

I am all for student improvement, I am all for academics over athletics (although both are important), and I am all for measuring the quality of our schools - I am not for meaningless statistics which don't truly measure whether or not students are learning and improving.

Shaun Hittle 7 years, 10 months ago

Another factor mentioned was socio-economic status factors in the schools that did well on the ratings. From my understanding, it costs $86 to take the test, which for some, might be cost prohibitive.

Shaun Hittle LJW Reporter

overthemoon 7 years, 10 months ago

It seems expensive. However, my child took five exams and scored 4's or 5's - high enough on all to get college credit for all and skip all the agony of the 101 courses. That equals about 300 dollars per course. An investment well made.

overthemoon 7 years, 10 months ago

oops, $250 per credit hour is $750 per course skipped. So an even better investment.

deskboy04 7 years, 10 months ago

I think that the schools do a good job. My son graduated from Lawrence High and he was well prepared for attending college. He had teachers who worked hard at their jobs and cared about him. No school district is perfect, but I think most of them try hard.

jackson5 7 years, 10 months ago

We don't all agree on the merits of the Newsweek rating. How about just looking at graduation rates? And how about just looking at a school with the same socio-economic mix as Lawrence so we don't have to compare ourselves with rich BV and SM?

Olathe North has the same socio-economic make-up as Lawrence High. KS DOE even lists Lawrence High and Olathe North as comparable schools on this dimension.

In 2008 (the latest year reported), Olathe North had 91.5% of students finish HS. LHS had 80.2% finish high school. At LHS, 3 subgroups of race/ethnicity had less than 60% finish high school. While no subgroup at Olathe N was less than 60%.

For AfricanAmerican students, LHS had 68.4% complete high school. At Olathe North, 93.9% of the the African-American students graduated.

Lawrence used to be the premier school district in the state. No matter which measure we use (NEwsweek, website ratings, or graduation rate data), Lawrence could do better. We are losing our best teachers to BV, Olathe, Mill Valley, SM and even Topeka. Let's turn this around Lawrence!

Paul R Getto 7 years, 10 months ago

The rankings for these schools, like those for universities, are arbitrary and not always plugged into what students and the community need. Lawrence has some fine schools and good support for those who choose to take advantage of their opportunities. Education is a community effort and all of us need to step up and help out. A kid can get a fine education nearly everywhere, but it 'takes a village,' you know. One pertinent comment above: Income and achievement are related; that's not rocket science. Most school improvement efforts are designed to attack this problem, but it's a hard pull. Lawrence High, for example, has about 34% economically disadvantaged students, which is about the state average.

overthemoon 7 years, 10 months ago

Please stop. It is time for us to put this sort of nonsensical generalization aside. It isn't true and it does nothing to solve a single problem.

overthemoon 7 years, 10 months ago

And if he were to go searching, he'd find that what he thinks is a 'liberal' agenda item actually fits the actions and policies of the conservative party for the past 20-30 years. Classic case of projection. My hopes for getting past the partisanship and black and white name calling will never be possible when a goodly portion of the population are delusional.

eric1889 7 years, 10 months ago

Our salaries do not determine how hard we work as teachers. We went into the field to help students and children. However, I see no problem in fighting for higher salaries. Name another professional that earns a masters degree and gets paid less than $40,000 a year.

smercer 7 years, 10 months ago

Pay is used to attract, retain and reward employees. Period. We lose great teachers (yes even nationally award winning teachers) to higher paying districts every year. We miss out on great job candidates because we are under market. Staff morale is dropping because of how they are treated by the district with regards to compensation. So yes, the overall impact of education is diminished.

You are correct that good teachers keep trying their best regardless of pay (within reason). But let's put this in another context: In 2008, Bill Self guided KU's basketball team to a national championship. But Self makes much more money now than he did in 2008. Do you think that he works harder now? Do you think that he tried less hard in 2008 when he made less? Of course not. We pay him his new market rate to reward his efforts, to retain him, and to keep KU's reputation as a great place to be a coach. He deserved a raise and so do our teachers in Lawrence.

independant1 7 years, 10 months ago

Nope to ...If they are not getting the money does this mean...

Merit increase ha! Anyone who works for a living knows pay is not always tied to performance in the real world. About the only living where effort pays off is in sales where pay is a function of comission, one is only limited by how relentless they are in pursuing the almighty dollar.

Where there is a union, pay is defined in the contract. How/Why is it that pro athelete pay is so astronomically high? Did collective bargaining get the star his mega million contract? And what does society get in return for all that money high priced pro athletes receive as compared to the impact Teacher/Doctor/Minister/Nurse/Policeman/EMT/Mom (i mean policeperson and parental unit, pardon the gratuitous sexist slur).

Life is not fair dang it.

jayhawklawrence 7 years, 10 months ago

If this is the criteria to get on the list, I think to call it a prestigious list is a bit presumptuous.

I think there is a lot of room for improvement in the US educational system, but until that day comes, we need to encourage kids to read and motivate them by our example and our love for them.

Inspire your kids to aim high and set realistic goals. We have up to 50% drop out rates in this country and the blame is squarely on the parents.

One last complaint. Stop putting kids in a box and putting a label on them. Each person is an individual, not a number. Explore their gifts and they will be inspired to discover them on their own.

We have great schools in this town. Stop complaining.

da2yl2on 7 years, 10 months ago

Not going to lie, I do choose not to go back to my hometown, but I am proud to say that HHS was given a 9 by, woop woop!

Shardwurm 7 years, 10 months ago

I disagree to an extent. I think in that case teachers would be 'teaching the test' like the do now for the State Assessments.

The solution I offer to solve the problem is eliminate tenure and the teacher's union. Also, allow the customers - parents and students - to have some input (maybe 10 percent) to the evaluations.

We constantly get bombarded by propaganda about how poor the teachers are and how they're SO underpaid and they're just angels trying to make ends meet. The truth is that the're just like any other organization - about 20 percent are top-performers, 40 percent are average to above, the other 40 is a waste. want good teachers? Eliminate tenure so the deadweight can be fired. Eliminate the union so that the low-performers get paid less and the high-performers can be rewarded. And give your customers a vote in how they're doing.

Do these things and the quality of education will go up and so will the salaries of those who deserve it.

Really23 7 years, 10 months ago

There are kids standing in the classrooms room because there aren't enough chairs, and not enough books for all the kids... maybe some basic funds would help.

I am happy to pay taxes if it goes to education! I also happy to pay teachers more, but they need to be accountable. If a teacher's class is consistantly scoring poorly on tests... then that teacher is not teaching well.

Lawrence really needs to elect some people who have knowledge and intregrity to spend our tax dollars well, then this town will be worth the money.

Michael Rowland 7 years, 10 months ago

Durp durp durp, I are going to spend all tax moneys on FOOTBALL for teh high schoolers and none on making the edukayshun systems better, then I will wander why my school not make teh top 6 persent.

avoice 7 years, 10 months ago

Numerous commenters here have stated, in effect, that parents (not teachers or schools) are responsible if their children fail to receive an appropriate education in the k-12 system. The most common supportive argument is the notion that parents are supposed to be supplementing the "free" public education by getting their children into additonal/special/enhancement programs of some sort. As we all know, such programs come at a cost. Another idea expressed by a few commenters is the notion that wealthier families equal better educated children. Indeed, there are studies over decades that bear this out. Hence, we can make a strong argument for private schools and/or charter schools and/or families providing direct payment to public school districts in order to obtain these obviously necessary enhancements.

When even the usual proponents of the U.S. public school system begin to loudly proclaim that parents need to be providing their children with something more than that which is available for "free" in the classroom, perhaps we can finally agree that the system as it stands is inadequate, that it cannot appropriately educate all the children to the extent that is needed in our society, and that the time has come to do away with our one-size-fits-all system.

gphawk89 7 years, 10 months ago

"left off the list"

The title of the article makes it sound like the schools should have been on the list and were inadvertently left off. Neither school met the criteria so they were not on the list, period. Whether the criteria is appropriate for determining which schools are "best" is a completely different issue.

Armored_One 7 years, 10 months ago

It is the teacher's responsibility to form the basis of education, the base of the pyramid, so to speak.

The role of the parent is to either expand on that, and raise the pyramid higher, or to find the help need to do so.

I had to spend several hours a week helping my oldest with his history 'homework', and I use that term very facetiously, after reviewing with him what was covered in his class that day. Major topic were not covered with anything approaching the depth that it was when I went to high school, but then again, I went to high school in a different state, let alone a different school.

My son, using the notes we wrote together from his textbook, plus the supplimental work I did with him, went on to score one of the top grades for his final exam in that class. One of his friends, in the same class in the same period, didn't have that same level of support at home and based on just the school work he did, he scored lower.

Teachers are slowly starting to fill the void that truckers left when society stopped degrading them the way they did in the 70's. It's sad, but it's the truth.

Fund the blasted schools. Who cares if they can throw a baseball 90 miles and hour if they can't spell baseball in the first place?

Start it in kindergarten and just hammer it from there. I can only pray that I am offsetting the damage schools are doing to the children these days. Hells, in Omaha, they actually have a district policy that if a teacher can avoid it in any fashion, they will not give a student a 0 if they fail to turn in completed homework.

TopJayhawk 7 years, 10 months ago

The NEA is about itself.
It does not care about the children. It does not care abouit fairness. It is a union pure and simple. But they lie and say they are looking out for the kids.....They look out for the NEA first, teachers second, and everything comes after that.
Get rid of the NEA and tenure. The above writer was exactly right.
At least be honest about where your priorities lie.

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