Best Schools 2011: The Rankings

Our exclusive ranking of the region’s Top 50 school districts.

Edited by Janelle Nanos


boston best schools

Photograph by Angela Coppola

How are the schools? It’s a question you’ve gotten used to asking. Whether you’re thinking about a move or wondering if you should stay put, you ask your friends, your in-laws, your stockbroker, your real estate agent. You ask everyone. There’s just so much riding on the answer, from the value of your home to how likely your kid is to get into a good college (assuming you still think college is a worthwhile investment, something more and more of us are questioning these days, as you can see here).

So to answer that all-important question, we ran the numbers. We compared test scores from elementary, middle, and high schools in 135 districts, then looked within those districts to determine how schools were improving (or not) over time. Next, we called superintendents, principals, teachers, coaches, administrative assistants, and guidance counselors to ask: How many AP classes do you have? Can a kid play freshman sports? Do you offer pre-K of any kind? Will a child’s passion for math, science, or writing be fostered here? (The vast majority were helpful, though we did get hung up on once because it was Field Day.)

Finally, we crunched the data and came up with this, our exclusive ranking of the region’s 50 best school districts.

Click here for the rankings

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  • D

    IF Cambridge ranks 25th, when every single test score — MCAS and SAT are so low, there is something wrong. How could anyone not see the error? Cambridge should be about 100th, based on all its achievement scores listed. You’ve got to be kidding. Seriously — look at the scores then explain how it got ranked so high.

    We spend $25,000 a student for those results? I am ashamed of my city. As a taxpayer, I want a refund.

  • Mike

    There are some great school districts outside of the 495 belt, yet I don’t see any on your list. How come?

  • Jeff

    Good point – if you look at it, the high per pupil spending is what got Cambridge ranked so high. High spending does not equate to high achievement. If anything, you should rank scores in correlation to how little was spent per pupil.

  • Mike

    Top 35 last year? Now it doesn’t make the top 135? Explanation?

  • RR

    Where is Westborough. Ovbiously it is not THAT bad! The author(s) need to make all corrections and repost the article.

    RK

  • Sean

    is this number possible? seems out of sorts, next highest is 203 points lower.

  • Tom

    Ranking Winchester (clearly a top 3!) as well as Westford and Belmont so low is a joke! All due to low per-pupil spending. In fact spend more (C R&L is >2x) and get same scores (C R&L is much lower) and watch your ranking improve. Winch is ranked below Manch/Essex,No/Southboro, Ham/Wenh,Westwd,Bedford – yet not one of 12 reported scores matches or exceeds Winchester’s. Embarassed for the magazine.

  • Pat

    This article is very misleading. You need to describe the geographic boundaries of the schools that you are ranking. Based on past rankings you have somehow changed your criteria. In order to maintain any integrity you need to make quite a few corrections.

  • Karen

    I would be interested in knowing what portion of the “per student” expenditure is for special education services (especially for out-of-district placements as, if included, this would skew the ‘per pupil’ expenditure average). Also, for families that have a special needs student, a of ranking of how these public schools rate in helping our special kids become successful students would be extremely interesting and useful (# of programs in place for learning strategies, pragmatics, sensitivity training, does the school offer enough support in-house, what percentage of the students are placed out-of-district, # of special education qualified teachers, support of administration for a strong special education program).

  • darcy

    what happened to Westborough School District? It has been in the top 20 for the last four years, and appears nowhere in this year’s ranking?

  • v

    Boylston/Berlin ma school district was ranked in the top 500 schools in the COUNTRY….and it doesn’t make the Massachusetts list, but Chelsea does? Really? It’s unfortunate there are no great schools outside of route 495.

  • Caroline

    Everyone who is complaining that the list doesn’t include districts outside the 495 belt…the magazine is called BOSTON Magazine and the rankings are for schools around Boston. I’m sure there are great schools out there but people in an around Boston don’t care about schools outside 495…likewise, I’m sure people out there don’t care about these schools.

    • Tina

      I get that the magazine is called Boston Magazine, but I beg to differ on your opinion that those outside of 495 don’t care about the ranking inside 495 and vice versa. I personally do care, it is something I look at and think about when deciding where to move. I have live inside of 495 and outside of 495, but am always interested to see how the different school districts compare.
      If you can work in Boston and live in any of these communities (including those outside of 495, which is possible I use to do it) then you care.

  • Bill

    Too much emphasis placed on $ spend/student and student/teacher ratio. Although these are important factors, overall student performance should have a higher % weight.

  • Donna

    I’m confused as to the obvious change in methodology you are using this year. Groton-Dunstable was 31st last year, and this year, despite reduction of class size and increased funding per student, doesn’t appear in the rankings at all? If there was an exclusion of schools outside of 495 this year, please say so in the article, otherwise the implication is that schools outside of 495 were considered for inclusion and didn’t qualify. Also: where is the expanded list, this year?

  • dan

    I lived in Dover and the schools are good, but #1 – I don’t think so.

    Your metrics pander to the realtors who advertise in your pages.

  • glenn

    I did a bunch more analysis of this data here:

    https://pub.needlebase.com/actions/visualizer/V2Visualizer.do?domain=Boston-Public-Schools-2011

    I also incorporated some public demographic data (income, race breakdowns, lunch-subsidy percentages) for extra perspective, which reveals some pretty interesting correlations (and non-correlations).

  • Fawn

    Thanks for this amazing look at the data, glenn! Well worth a look. The quant difference is amazing without those two misleading numbers.

  • glenn

    The state has detailed figures about spending here: http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/search/search.aspx?leftNavId=11238. For example, the breakdown of spending in Cambridge is here: http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/finance.aspx?orgcode=00490000&orgtypecode=5&.

  • Jennifer

    I agree with many of the comments regarding the missing schools. There are many excellent schools systems that this article has neglected to mention. Aside from the few already discussed (Westboro, Groton), Harvard is another. Yes, this is “Boston Magazine”, but there are many towns included on this list that border the above mentioned towns (such as Nashoba-Bolton/Stow/Lancaster, Littleton, etc.). It certainly doesn’t give a clear picture for folks looking to compare schools, when one town is listed and a town immediately bordering is not.

  • glenn

    Thoughtful comments are welcomed and encouraged. We reserve the right to remove impersonators, personal attacks, threats, or offensive language. In other words, be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation.

  • glenn

    I found that the percentage of students receiving subsidized lunches is a disturbingly good predictor for school quality as measured by test scores. My next question was whether, when you adjust for expectations based on this percentage, per-pupil spending was correlated with quality. That is, does spending more money in school counteract home poverty?

    No, not much.

    https://pub.needlebase.com/actions/visualizer/V2Visualizer.do?domain=Boston-Public-Schools-2011&query=Throwing+School+Money+at+Home+Poverty

    https://pub.needlebase.com/actions/visualizer/V2Visualizer.do?domain=Boston-Public-Schools-2011&query=Throwing+School+Money+at+Home+Poverty

  • glenn

    I’ll try this again:

    https://pub.needlebase.com/actions/visualizer/V2Visualizer.do?domain=Boston-Public-Schools-2011&query=Throwing+School+Money+at+Home+Poverty

    If that doesn’t take you to the page labeled “Throwing School Money at Home Poverty”, look for that listing in the index…

  • glenn

    A couple more errors I caught while cross-checking these figures against the DOE’s:

    Manchester Essex’s SAT Reading score is 559, not 599 as listed. I’m guessing the correct figure could lower ME’s rank.

    Ashland’s SAT Reading score is 531, not 537 as listed.

  • Patrick

    Why is Westborough not included in this year’s ranking when it has been included in the past?

  • Scott

    Winchester is in the top 5 for almost every category of the achievement test scores. Why is it ranked so low at #20?

  • Scott

    Winchester is in the top 5 for almost every category of the achievement test scores. Why is it ranked so low at #20?

  • shirly

    I spoke with BM. Evidently, they decides to focus on districts verses high schools and that being said, it was more comprehensive so they tuned in to schools within the 495 belt. I still cant figure out why they included Bellingham and Bolton (both on 495) and not Westborough. Regardless, I think BM needs to disclose when it changes it parameters. Many schools are now on the list and shouldn’t be due to many good school districts that were not considered. Very unfortunate and inconsistent.

  • glenn

    Winchester ranks 90th in per-pupil spending and 93rd in students per teacher. My re-ranking, which ignores these two factors, ranks Winchester 3rd, after only Lexington and Acton.

  • Aruna

    Westborough has a great school system and was ranked 15 last year. Its puzzling that BM would just leave out schools and not make it clear and upfront as to why certain schools were left out of the rankings. How are these rankings valid if the neighboring school districts are in and some are left out.

  • Alan

    Why do you print these silly articles. This is America. The median home price in a town or neighborhood tells you all you need to know about the quality of the schools.

  • glenn

    Median Home Prices are wildly misleading in urban areas with high concentrations of rented apartments, and even in the suburbs are signficantly worse predictors of test scores (at least) than the percentage of students who receive subsidized lunches.

    Which doesn’t prove that you’re wrong, but the data definitely doesn’t prove you right…

  • Anne

    BM really should be clear about its region as Westborough was always highly ranked in recent years and now not listed. Yes it’s “Boston” Magazine but lots of us living on 495 commute to Boston and therefore consider ourselves in the region. We’re 45 minutes from Boston and BM is sold at the local supermarkets so we’re in your readership area. Guess I’ll buy Worcester Mag instead.

  • glenn

    Using my scoring, Westborough would be tied with Sharon for 14th.

  • Deanna

    Just an FYI – Billerica School District has both full and half day K available!

  • Concerned

    The test scores at Manchester Essex are glaringly low. Should there not be a penalty assessed for such high spending per student with such poor results?

  • Concerned

    The test scores at Manchester Essex are glaringly low. Should there not be a penalty for the high spending per student with such poor results?

    These rankings don’t seem very sincere.

  • Debbie

    No Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, or O’Bryant? I get the inside 495 thing – what’s the explanation for leaving Boston public off?

  • Debbie

    check out newsweek – http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/features/2011/americas-best-high-schools.html – BLS top of the Massachusetts high schools

  • JB

    Hey Everybody,
    If you’ve read Boston Magazine articles in the past, then you’ll realize that it is not about journalism.

    The article is not meant to rank schools. It is meant to further the socialist agenda of taxing more to justify spending more. They want you to believe that spending more equates to better education and if you’re not for better education, then you’re against children. They don’t care to explain how spending more equates to better education. If they did, then they would expose the truth that it does not. And that would be contrary to their agenda of taxing more.

    So relax about the schools not on the list or the ranking of any given school. The author and the magazine simply want to impress upon you that you should pay more money in taxes to the government to run the schools. And if you don’t believe in that, then they’ll say you’re against children and education.

    But they’ll not deal with why per pupil spending is a criteria for ranking.

    Boston Magazine is a sham and a tool for big government, socialist Massachusetts.

  • MelindaP

    I wanted to know why you had Nashoba Technical high school listed and not Nashoba Regional High School in Bolton?

  • michael baltay

    Glenn,

    It looks like you did a nice job. with objective analysis.

    Can you please send. Me your spreadsheet or repost it?

    Appreciate it Michael.Baltay@gmail.com

    Thx

  • Aruns

    Hi Glenn

    Thank you for the insight. Could you please re-publish your rankings. I was not able to open it with the link you provided. I am a mother looking to move to a newer town for my daughters’ education!!! Your rankings will be very useful. Thank you

  • Deb Dickerson

    My grandson just moved to Boston from Kentucky this weekend. The Boston School District is set up differently than I am used to. How can I find a ranking of the Boston area schools. They live very close to Boston Logan Airport. Is there somewhere that I can find a ranking of the elementary schools based on the accountability reports?