Newsweek magazine has named Summit Preparatory Charter High School one of 10 "transformative" high schools in its annual report on the "best" public high schools in the United States.
The "transformative" label is based on three principal factors: high academic performance, a substantial number of students qualifying for federally subsidized lunches, and a policy of choosing students by lottery, Newsweek reporter Lauren Streib told the Almanac.
"The schools that did the most with the least," she added.
Requests to fill out an online 16-question survey went to between 10,000 and 15,000 schools, Ms. Streib said.
Menlo-Atherton and Woodside high schools received requests but did not respond, she said.
Summit, located in Redwood City, graduated its first senior class in 2007. A significant number of its students live or have lived in the Almanac's circulation area.
"We're really doing things that very few high schools in the country are doing, and that's exciting," Summit Executive Director Todd Dickson said in an email. In an interview, he said he was referring to Summit's practice of having every student take several advanced-placement (AP) classes, at least three AP exams, and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
But does Summit have an advantage in tending to attract students with high hopes and caring parents who help their children turn hopes into achievement? Mr. Dickson noted that Summit's freshman classes, on average, have lower standardized test scores from middle school than the average in the Sequoia Union High School District.
"If parents really cared, they would be doing better," he said. "(That issue) just doesn't hold water for our particular school."
Summit was one of two California schools designated as transformative. Texas had six.
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In 2006, the Newsweek survey listed 1,231 "best" public high schools, including Menlo-Atherton High School.
The number of schools rose steadily until in 2010, there were more than 1,600, always including M-A. Starting in 2009, the list included Woodside High and Summit Prep.
Woodside Principal David Reilly said he recalled responding to something that seemed related to a survey request. Mr. Reilly and M-A Principal Matthew Zito did not respond to requests for comment on the 2011 list.
The list shrank because a new team took over, Ms. Streib, the Newsweek reporter, said. The magazine ended its joint effort with the Washington Post and enlisted an education advisory panel to work on a new formula to evaluate schools, Ms. Streib said. One panel member helped in compiling the data, she said.
The panel included Linda Darling Hammond, a noted professor in the education school at Stanford University and co-director of Stanford's School Redesign Network.
"I have not seen the Newsweek article and don't know how they came up with their ratings," Ms. Darling Hammond said in an email. "I did have a conversation with a Newsweek reporter about indicators they might consider beyond AP scores."
Previous Newsweek rankings relied significantly on the number of AP tests given at a school divided by the number of graduating seniors.
For 2011, what mattered were the average scores on AP and aptitude tests, the number of AP classes offered, how many AP tests were taken per graduate, and rates of high school graduation and entrance to college.
The formula will evolve, Ms. Streib said, adding that 2011 was "a transitional year" in this Newsweek tradition.
The Newsweek story mentions the 2010 movie "Waiting for Superman," a harsh critique of comprehensive schools and the teaching establishment with a notable local angle: it singles out Summit Prep for explicit praise and Woodside High for implicit criticism.
"I haven't seen that movie," Ms. Streib said. The story mentioned it because it attracted press and significant attention to the education system, she said.
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