Any braggart would rather tout graduating from the top school in his or her field of choice than the school in the 42nd slot, as that prestigious-sounding ranking makes that person feel they’ve done better in life.
Often, the greatest purpose of these superficial rankings is to allow for such silly bragging rights. It sounds cool, if not exactly modest, to say, “My degree means more because it is from an academic institution that is higher up on the list than yours.” Amid all the ego massaging, the origin of these numbers becomes lost on us. People don’t know or care how the list was made, and instead they just focus on the end result — the final placement. Basically, several people who think they have a better grasp on what’s good for us than we do come up with some incomprehensible and nonsensical formula that ultimately determines the school’s (or whatever’s being measured) fate.
Newsweek magazine recently released its annual list of America’s Best High Schools. To determine this, Newsweek used an index that divided the number of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests taken by students at public high schools by the number of graduating seniors. Education experts have questioned Newsweek’s calculations, saying that AP and IB tests should not be sole indicators, but rather should be one of many factors.
Some educators feel Newsweek’s way of calculating discriminates against schools with a large student population or ones that offer a diverse curriculum. Schools wanting to earn a higher place on the list simply focus on these advanced tests. Teachers may start teaching toward the test, preparing students for a one-day exam, but not much beyond that.
Also, these rankings, coupled with laws like No Child Left Behind, could likely give more money to these supposed “good” schools, all the while allowing other schools to be ignored. This allows rich, high-ranking schools to soar higher up on the list, while the poorer schools suffer even more.
Rankings represent an oversimplified and dehumanized way of judging the world. Instead of judging a book by its cover — thanks to the old clich?, we all know that’s wrong — we judge the book by where it places on the New York Times’ “Best Books of All Time” list.
In this fast-paced TV and Internet generation, most people like things in short snippets. Much like David Letterman’s popular Top 10 lists, people can decide upon their college choice in a matter of minutes. While this is great on some level — no one has the time to thoroughly research each and every school — it also makes the whole process too simple, especially considering the way these rankings are calculated.
After all, how often do these studies ask students what they think about their schools, classes, or teachers? Probably not too often, considering how much more time and effort would have to go into studying each school. But what often makes one school better than the other is the relationship between the students and teachers.
Admittedly, this is too personal and subjective to be measured systematically. After all, one student’s favorite professor may be another’s least favorite. These rankings lists simply do not reflect what a person might find great about a school. Instead, a school visit, meeting a teacher or two, or reading up on the professors and the classes offered are better options. They’re not as easy, but they will help people get what they truly want.
This brings up another point about Newsweek’s study of the nation’s best high schools. Why even measure high schools when students really don’t choose which high school they attend? As we all know, where a person goes to high school is largely determined by residence. Perhaps such a list just allows students (from the higher-ranking schools) who are applying for college to have something else to brag about on their admissions applications. Sadly, if college admissions really do allow such rankings to determine enrollment, students from areas that do not have any high-ranking schools suffer a great disadvantage.
Rankings, rather than bragging or unfair competition, should be used as a guide, but not a final deciding factor in making life’s important decisions. It sounds cheesy, but only you (or people who know you well) can decide what’s best for you.
In closing, this opinion article has been rated No. 8 of all the editorials I’ve written, which was based on a carefully computed mathematical formula of taking the number of two-or-more syllable words, dividing it by the number of minutes it took to write the article, and multiplying it by an absurd inspirational-factor index.
James Zvonec is a graduate student studying mass communication.