Readers gave mixed marks to our June 2 report on the country's best public high schools. "It's great to be reminded that somewhere in our country good things are happening," one wrote. For others, our rating system didn't quite make the grade. The attempt to create "a quality ranking of high schools from Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate test participation alone is sheer mockery," a reader argued. "Never mind the actual performance on these tests or other potential criteria." Many also wondered why their own schools didn't make the top 100. Disappointed at not seeing her alma mater listed, a Baltimore School of the Arts graduate maintained that her experience in high school, although not centered on AP and IB classes, was as enriching as any other. "What really keeps standards high isn't the school's policy, but the people behind it," she said. "Success can be measured in many ways--a ratio is only one of them."
I applaud the achievements of the students in the high schools cited in your cover story "America's Best High Schools" (June 2). I have served 10 years on a regional board of education, and both high schools in our district made your list. But I take exception to calling these schools "the best." What makes a school great is its ability to address the needs of all students of all ability levels, and to prepare all of them for higher education, employment and a quality life. The overemphasis on the most elite programs and highest-achieving students ignores the fact that public schools serve the entire community and that resources should be equally distributed over programs for all students.
Lynn A. Thornton
As a senior at the 255th-ranked high school, I believe there is no question that schools offering Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses help advance the level of education they afford their students. However, deeming a group of schools to be "The 100 Best High Schools in America" based solely on how many AP or IB tests taken divided by the number of graduating seniors is ludicrous. How does that possibly create a valid inventory of the best schools in this country? Surely myriad other factors should come into play when creating such a list.
The list of "best" schools does a disservice to the thousands of schools in which devoted teachers bust their chops daily to provide a challenging and appropriate education for millions of young people who, for many valid reasons, will never see the inside of an AP or IB classroom.
Ted Hipple, Professor of Teacher Education
University of Tennessee
I am a senior at Jericho high School, ranked fifth according to NEWSWEEK's AP ratio. Unfortunately the AP system is not always all it is cracked up to be. Jericho's policy is one of "open enrollment." Under this system, anyone who wishes to take an AP class can do so if he has passed another course in that AP subject. As a result, students driven primarily by a desire to get into top colleges flock to these classes, and are rarely advised against such an endeavor. AP classes, although intended for upper-level instruction, cannot and are not taught at a collegiate level because of the caliber and volume of students enrolled. The current formula used to determine rank creates a false sense of achievement. Anyone can sign up for a class and sit in for a test. A school should not be ranked by the number of tests taken, but rather by its performance on these exams.
As a special educator, I was disappointed with "The 100 Best High Schools in America." Since when did the number of AP tests administered to students become a marker of successful high schools? In addition to educating honors students, I'd like to know how these schools are serving the other end of the spectrum: disabled students, students of color or those from low-income families. Although some of my students with disabilities will never pass an AP test, they are receiving a quality education alongside their nondisabled peers. Many of the schools on your list are claiming to hit a home run when the students they educate were born on third base.
Jenna Mancini, Inclusion Facilitator
Newton Public Schools
While the rest of my town erupted in euphoria over our school district's placing 191st in the ranking of best high schools, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. When are we going to stop pushing children beyond what is reasonable for their age? When are we going to start rewarding them for being well-adjusted kids despite what their report card or course load may say? Let's allow our children to enjoy their youth instead of becoming burned out as adults when the pressure is really on.
Of the top 100 high schools, 31 are in New York state, which should be a source of pride for New Yorkers. Of those 31, all but a few were located in the wealthiest districts in the nation. Politicians have long pointed their fingers at poor urban and rural districts, expecting them to make do with far less while still meeting higher and higher standards. But the fact remains that funding is one of the primary across-the-board factors in district wide student success. Your article highlights the social and economic divide in states like New York and how far we are from providing an equitable, quality education for all children.
Michael E. Parks, Professor of Art Education
Buffalo State College
Helping students succeed on high-stakes tests like the SAT and the AP is laudable. But rather than seeking a balance between appropriate testing and instruction, this NEWSWEEK article can only sustain the testing craze.
Eric J. Cooper, President
National Urban Alliance for Effective Education
Lake Success, N.Y.
Don't you think it would have been more telling to calculate the number of AP tests passed instead of the number taken by high-school students? It doesn't take much for a student to take an AP test, but it does require good teaching, hard work and some degree of intelligence for students to pass them.
Never Too Young to Protest
As a 17-year-old with a fairly solid grasp of world affairs, I was appalled to read comments made by the father of student Anthony Fantano ("A Generation Finds Its Voice," June 2). I am a conservative who supported Bush and the war in Iraq. However, to hear an adult say that we "don't have a full understanding of much at 17," and that his son is "spending too much energy and... emotion on something that, no matter how hard he tries, he can't change" is insulting. If each person who attended that antiwar march in Manhattan thought that they were too insignificant to make a difference, there would have never been a march. And who did Anthony's father believe was fighting this war? Many of the men and women who fought in Iraq were not much older than his son. Anthony's father is a glaring example that age doesn't determine whether one has a grasp on issues.
I watched with some amusement and some disgust as local students took to the streets to protest war in Iraq. Not one of them attends a school on your list of the top 100 high schools (cover story), and the teachers and administrators who so willingly unleashed them should have been held accountable for the vandalism, violence and property damage they left in their wake. After my brief career as an 18-year-old know-it-all and my 17 years of teaching, I'm convinced that this generation, like others before it, will find its "voice" when it has kids of its own, a mortgage, a tax bracket and real responsibilities.
Much Ado About Jayson Blair
Anna Quindlen is right on with her explanation of the situation regarding Jayson Blair ("A Correction: Not a Crisis," June 2). There seems to be much ado about keeping this case in the news. Let's just get over it and get on with reporting the news.
Here's where I think the New York Times has served the reader. I have seen a great increase in cheating and plagiarism during my 13 years of teaching. But what concerns me most as a teacher, and as a member of a society that needs a basic amount of trust to function, is the prevalence, acceptance and tolerance of such behaviors. The Times could have handled the situation behind closed doors, but I was glad the story gained the attention it did, if only to show my students that there are consequences for such actions not only in high school, but in the "real world."
New Paltz, N.Y.
Jayson Blair lied not just once, not twice, but many times. There are plenty of people who believe the Blair case is just the tip of the iceberg in "The Business." Anna Quindlen says "The Business" should serve the reader. But "serve" should mean the reporting of both sides of an issue, with editorializing limited to the editorial page. Readers want just the facts, not personal agendas. If this kind of reporting could resume, the Fourth Estate could once again assume its vital role.
If Anna Quindlen had described The New York Times as "that flagrantly left-wing newspaper," I would be willing to accept her characterization of Fox News as the "flagrantly right-wing network."
South Windsor, Conn.
In the purest sense, it is possible to agree with Anna Quindlen: "If you take the time, it is easier to be well-informed in this country than at any time in history." But people don't take the time. Most people read little, and then haphazardly. The great majority are content with information they catch on television news sound bites. What they end up with is mental flotsam and jetsam. The Jayson Blair fuss may have further alienated people from serious news reading, making the situation worse.
John Merton Marrs
Bainbridge Island, Wash.
I don't agree with Anna Quindlen that there has been an "overreaction" to the Jayson Blair situation. "The greatest paper in America" needs the "overreaction" to regain public confidence and trust. Whether Blair's reporting covered international summits or local trash collections is hardly the point. A New York Times less self-critical wouldn't meet the litmus test of "best serving the reader."
Guilt by Association?
After reading Zuza Glowacka's excellent essay ("I'm Only Guilty of Being a Good Friend," my turn, June 2) about her friendship with Jayson Blair, which resulted in her losing her job, I thought immediately of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his communist witch hunt: guilt by association. It is unfair and un-American. How could this happen?
Zuza Glowacka should learn the wisdom of the adage "You are known by the company you keep." Apparently she hasn't, since she still sees Jayson Blair as a gifted, kindhearted person. Zuza is just another of Blair's victims, and she doesn't have a clue.
John D. Sens
Eden Prairie, Minn.
Christian Zionist Zeal
Your article "a very mixed marriage" (June 2) pessimistically begins with the statement that "evangelical Christians lining up to fight for Israel may be an unmovable obstacle to Bush's 'Roadmap'." But you missed a larger point. Bush's pressuring Ariel Sharon into making peace with the Palestinians is like Nixon going to China. After 9-11, and after his largely world-defying invasion of Iraq, Bush has such strong antiterrorist and pro-Israel credentials that he just may actually succeed where so many presidents before him have failed. No one can accuse him of being soft on terrorism, or compromising on security.
I was disturbed by your recent article about the position some evangelical Christians are taking on the "Roadmap to peace" in Israel. As you say, many of them denounce the document as the "Roadmap to hell," and Gary Bauer calls "any attempt to be 'evenhanded'... 'morally reprehensible'." But it's the cycle of violence in Israel that is morally reprehensible, and any attempt to thwart the peace process is a violent act. The peace process must be supported by all sides in order for it to succeed, and the inflammatory position taken by the evangelical Christians does nothing to help foster peace. Do we let history repeat itself, again, and perpetuate violence in the name of God? Let's remember "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."
Both sides are playing each other for fools. Right-wing Jews happily accept support from evangelicals because they don't take the apocalyptic fantasy seriously, while Christians are delighted to use Jews to bring about their perfect world. Evangelicals may want to soft-pedal their anti-Judaism for now, but if Israel ever stops dancing to the Christian tune, the love affair will end really fast. When did the Jewish state turn into a vehicle to fulfill Christian prophecy?
Department of History, Hamilton College
Howard Fineman chose to use a partial quote in a manner that distorts both what I said and the position of my organization. While it is true that some Jews question "getting into bed" with the religious right, the point I made to Fineman in a lengthy conversation was significantly different: namely that the ADL does not see a contradiction between appreciation of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's strong support for Israel and our willingness to openly differ with him on a range of social and church-state-separation issues.
Jess N. Hordes
Director, Government and National Affairs Anti-Defamation League
The Truth Is Out There
Michael Isikoff's June 2 periscope article makes me wonder exactly what the White House is trying to hide ("Censoring the Report About 9-11?"). The Bush administration's redacting and reclassifying the congressional report about September 11 reminds me of the tactics of the former Soviet Union, using "national security" as a catchall phrase to keep embarrassing information from getting to the public. Thanks go to Isikoff for not following the lead of others in the media. Many in this country hope that our media and Congress will wake up from their stupor and force this administration to fess up to the truth on this issue.
John H. Bohn
Classy Is Cool
As an artist, I may be a bit more funky than many people, but I object to your calling Coach's traditional bags "stodgy," "dowdy" and "doomed to style obsolescence" ("Put Me in Coach, I'm Ready to Pay," June 2). The briefcase I tote to school is a Coach bag. I bought it for its simple, classic lines, its practicality and its ability to last despite the abuse it takes when I cram papers into it every day. Coach's bottom line may improve with its recent whimsical, non leather trendy items, but in doing so, Coach has abandoned the very customers who kept coming back in the past. I used to rely on it for top-quality leather goods. Now I find its merchandise to be just another copy of all those "name" producers.
Bette Ann Kelly
Jay Garner and Iraq
Your statement that Jay Garner and other officials were fired from their positions in Iraq is simply false ("Giving Peace a Real Chance," June 2). At Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's request, Garner began in January to assemble a team from across the government and the private sector that would be ready to deploy to Iraq after the conflict, address immediate reconstruction and humanitarian needs and lay the groundwork for a longer-term Coalition authority. At that time, Garner indicated to the secretary that his goal was to deploy for about 90 days, and to be prepared to turn the operation over to a senior civilian administrator. Garner deployed in mid-March, and we expect he will return by mid-June. Ambassador Jerry Bremer is now building upon the solid foundation Jay Garner laid for him.
Asst. Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
Department of Defense