Bruce Murphy

Two MPS Schools in State’s Top 10

U.S. News ranks Reagan and King above most suburban high schools.

By - Apr 28th, 2016 01:56 pm
Reagan College Preparatory High. Photo from school's Facebook page.

Reagan College Preparatory High. Photo from school’s Facebook page.

Two Milwaukee schools are among the state’s 10 best high schools, according to the latest rankings by U.S. News & World Report. The magazine’s annual analysis ranked Whitefish Bay High School as the top high school in Wisconsin and 194th nationally. Milwaukee’s Reagan College Preparatory High ranked second in the state and 318th nationally while Rufus King International ranked eighth statewide and 576th nationally.

These two Milwaukee Public Schools ranked above such highly regarded suburban schools as Homestead in Mequon (9th in state, 596 nationally), Brookfield East (11th in state, 680 nationally) and — gasp! — Nicolet (14th in state, 795 nationally), in addition to Germantown (20th in state, 944 nationally).

“We congratulate the students, families, educators and support staff who continue to achieve great things in our schools,” MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver said. “As we reimagine high schools, we are replicating what is helping drive these successful schools.”

The U.S. News analysis considers such such factors as student-teacher ratios and scores on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests, along with math and reading proficiency scores. Other factors looked at include college enrollment rates, graduation rates, ACT results, student attrition and counselor-to-student ratios.

Reacting to Whitefish Bay High School’s top ranking among state schools, Principal Amy Levek stated, “This recognition is a wonderful celebration for a school community that so highly values the educational experience for their kids and for our students who have worked diligently to maximize their K-12 academic opportunities.”

MPS did even better in the Washington Post’s recent ranking of America’s Most Challenging High Schools, which chose Milwaukee School of Languages (which serves grades 6 through 12) as the top school in Wisconsin and Carmen High School of Science and Technology as second-best in the state. Both ranked above the most highly rated suburban schools in Wisconsin.

Not far behind in this ranking was King (13th statewide) and Reagan (15th). Other MPS high schools with high statewide rankings included Riverside University High School (25th), Hamilton (30th) and High School of the Arts (32nd).

The Washington Post analysis rates schools “through an index formula that’s a simple ratio: the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year, divided by the number of seniors who graduated that year.”

By that analysis, Whitefish Bay dropped from first in the state in U.S. News rankings, to 19th on this one. The top area suburban school on the Washington Post’s state scorecard was New Berlin Eisenhower, which ranked fourth.

Categories: Education

22 thoughts on “Two MPS Schools in State’s Top 10”

  1. AG says:

    A very important distinction is left out here. A significant portion of the methodology for the rankings is based on the performance of “disadvantaged” stduents such as minorities and low income students. So anyone who is simply seeking to put their child in the “best” school possible shouldn’t blindly assume sending them to Reagan College Preparatory High for example to be the best decision for their child.

  2. Ben says:

    Hooray for Milwaukee Public Schools! This is awesome news! 😀

  3. Mr. Michael horñe says:

    AG: I know many fine graduates of these MPS schools. Many had family support. Good souls aided others. We must properly fund public education.

  4. M says:

    AG, I doubt parents would send their child to any school without checking out the campus and other data–unless the school is close by. There’s probably not much chance suburban families will rush to enroll thier kids in Reagan or other MPS schools–though some might choose a specalized-curriculum school–though that’s less possible now that the public-school-choice 220 program is being phased out by the state legislature–in favor of private voucher school options.

  5. AG says:

    Mr. Horne, most certainly I agree, there are many students who are quite successful after going through MPS. I think this ranking is fantastic and should be celebrated. However, I thought the article lacked context. The fact that the High Schools that ranked so well do so on criteria that ranks how they did “considering the challenges” many of their students face is important. This has both positive and negative connotations to it. On the one hand, it shows how well the school and it’s teachers performed in a way that doesn’t just pit their test scores vs other school test scores. On the other hand, if a parent has the opportunity to choose where their child goes, they shouldn’t expect the education to be the same as a school that doesn’t face some of those same challenges.

    M, yes sadly MPS isn’t usually a place where parents may seek to put their children. That is an unfortunate reality. However, you can have situations where parents may live in Milwaukee before they have kids and need to decide to stay or go once they have children (very common) or a family may be relocating from another geographical area and need to know what they are getting. Yes, hopefully parents do their research. If their research should cause them to stumble upon this article, I believe it should accurately show what is being ranked.

  6. M says:

    AG, I did not mean to imply that Milwaukee parents would not want their kids to go the MPS schools, but rather that they may be likely to check out individual schools first before choosing a specific one. I too know many fine graduate of MPS schools. That can get overlooked in all the negative stories. The rankings from both sources are impressive and should be applauded.

  7. MLA says:

    My daughter was an MPS lifer and a proud graduate of Rufus King. I have always be delighted that she received a very fine education indeed inside an urban school system. I can say without undue modesty that her background is privileged (while, professional parents) but at no time have I ever thought that she could have received a better or more challenging education at a suburban or private school. It is indubitably the case that MPS schools achieve despite challenges–signiicant underfunding, yearly attacks on the school system and and a lack of the many desirable bells and whistles (revolving stages for theater productions etc) available in weather districts. What is notable and admirable is that they deliver a superlative education despite these challenges.

  8. SteveM says:

    I think it’s sad that AG finds it necessary to backhand those schools that have made progress and have earned, yes earned, accolades. He may even be surprised to know that there are MPS schools that have a significant number of students from outside of the district. Who woulda thunk it!

    The dark, ugly side of his comment is the implication that all of those suburban schools are good. Now, he will reply that he didn’t say that, but that’s the point, he doesn’t make those statements about the other schools’ rankings. One should take note of the schools’ student to teacher ratio when looking at those rankings. Maybe that will change his view a smidge. (This is where I’ve forced him to admit that smaller classes make a difference!)

  9. Joe says:

    I think all he was saying was that the MPS scores are essentially “weighted” for purposes of this ranking based on the disadvantaged students attending the schools, which I found to be useful information. I also didn’t see AG imply that all suburban schools are good. Your knee-jerk reaction serves nobody.

  10. SteveM says:

    Calling me out for pointing out the dog whistle? Interesting.

  11. chiqueena fairconatue says:

    I’m so proud of MPS and I know our children are capable of great things! With that said when are these MPS schools going to receive funding for all of these great achievements? When are they going to get the facilities, programs, and opportunities that they deserve. My son goes to king and the school is so out dated, yes they try to keep it up but they need and deserve funding! When we travel to events at these suburban Schools that are not doing nearly as well, they are blessed with the finest things, yet at my son school their wearing coats in some class because it’s cold and the windows are so old and broke down! It’s not fair and we need to do better! I work in the brown deer school district and they offer classes there that the kids at my son school would love to have….. ITS NOT RIGHT AND WE NEED TO FIX IT!

  12. AG says:

    Thank you Joe…

    SteveM, don’t be one of those people.

    What I brought up has both positive and negative connotations to it, and it revolves around the criteria that Newsweek itself put forth for performance indicators including such things as minority populations, family income, and special education needs. I’m not really sure what you’re looking for here. If you’re not mature enough to have that discussion without crying racism you probably should sit this one out… especially since it’s only one tiny component of a much larger picture.

  13. Vincent Hanna says:

    Isn’t it also best to be cautious about putting too much weight into these rankings? Each organization that ranks schools uses its own criteria and there’s debate about which criteria is best and most appropriate to use when ranking schools or school districts.

  14. AG says:

    Vincent, yes definitely! That was the main driver of my point. The rankings all measure different things and this article doesn’t really tell us what they’re grading the schools on which will inevitably end up misleading people.

  15. SteveM says:

    Vincent, you are absolutely correct. These things only aid in the mobility of student/families that want the best for their child. Education starts in the home. To be honest, they are more reliable as the “Best Doctors” issue of Milwaukee Magazine, but that’s how some parents use them. Instead of looking for trends they look for rankings. That was my point with AG’s comments, he didn’t compare the trends of Reagan or King with Nicolet or Cedarburg, but instead claimed that the MPS schools benefited from a curve in the grading. Punishment comes in many forms.

  16. Vincent Hanna says:

    Yeah rankings make for easy headlines and bragging rights, but there’s so much more to it. I mean if someone asked me right now I’d say that Nicolet, Shorewood, Homestead, Whitefish Bay, Rufus King, Reagan, Milwaukee School of Languages, and Milwaukee High School of the Arts are all good high schools. Which one is best for my kids is not an easy answer. I’m sure the same is true for many parents.

  17. AG says:

    SteveM, you clearly didn’t understand my point. I was putting Bruce’s article in context because he left out an important aspect of what these particular rankings mean.

  18. Jerry says:

    Does anyone think that Walker or his legislators will look at these rankings and admit that MPS does know how to educate students but that perhaps factors such as economic disadvantage, single parent homes, high crime area, exceedingly high unemployment and just plain poverty impact the success of some schools as they provide education to their students! Rather it is much easier to just label MPS schools as failures and turn them over to an “education czar” who has no new educational tricks nor organizational genius that will over come all the disadvantages that students in poor areas bring each day to their schools! It is far easier for politicians to denigrate and disparage than to remedy.

  19. Dudemeister says:

    Hey hey, about time my alma mater got some well-deserved atencion. Reagan is a fine school (not least because my own mother works there); great arts program and show-stopping academic rigor.

    To be quite honest, I felt more of an intellectual, collegiate atmosphere at Reagan than at any of the post-secondary institutions I’ve attended. IB (lol) is the way to go for high schools. Of course, getting to vet and choose the admitees is a big factor too. I think RWR had a wait list of around 1500 this past year.

    For all the suburban naysayers and MPS stereotypists, I would like to point out that although Reagan is very ethnically diverse (about 54% African American my first year there, over 50% Hispanic now), there have consistently been fewer violence, drug, and alcohol related arrests at Reagan than at Greenfield High just down the street (and a whole income bracket higher). Incidences of heroin use amongst Reaganites and MPS students in general is particularly low compare to suburban districts – a usage trend with a direct correlation to affluence.

  20. I’m not an expert on the ratings calculations on both lists, but I am familiar with the basics and wanted to add a couple of important items to this conversation:

    – For the Washington Post list, school demographics are NOT considered to determine the rankings. The percentage of students considered economically disadvantaged is posted, however, the schools are ranked based on college-level examinations. (See the simple explanation here:

    – This year, U.S. News’ rankings allow schools that are in the top 10% of overall performance in their state to skip the first step of the process that looks at whether students are performing better than “statistically expected.” That first step requires that schools perform 1/3 of one standard deviation above average, factoring in the students considered economically disadvantaged. Either way, schools are evaluated in the next step for whether students who are African-American, Hispanic and low-income outperformed similar students around the state ( Contrary to what some critics (not necessarily on this board) have contended, suburban high schools in higher-income communities are not excluded from consideration. That should be evident given the top 10 list from Wisconsin this year.

    Tony Tagliavia
    Milwaukee Public Schools

  21. M says:

    Tony, thanks for clarifying the methodology and dispelling the implication that MPS schools were somehow being ranked “on the curve.” Those students, teachers and administrators deserve to bask in the spotlight created as a result of all their deicated efforts.

  22. AG says:

    M, as much as you’d like to, you can’t directly compare an MPS school to your average suburban school because most suburban schools don’t have the same challenges. If you do that, you miss out on how good of a job some MPS schools do, all things considered.

    For example, let’s compare Reagan HS to Wauwatosa West (which is a slightly above average but not spectacular school). Tosa West’s reading test schools are higher (35.9 vs 33.5), Tosa West’s math scores are MUCH higher (38.5 vs 31.1), Tosa Wests’s postsecondary readiness is higher (89.5 vs 78), graduation rates are higher (76.2 vs 70.4), ACT performance is higher (13.3 vs 7.6). The only category Reagan out performed Tosa west was in gap scores for some of those categories.

    So clearly, on a direct comparison, the kids at Tosa out perform those at Reagan. If you compare the schools the way you want to compare them, Reagan would not be very highly scored.

    However, when you consider the fact that Reagan has a lot more economically challenged students and more minority students (both categories that perform lower overall across the state) and combine it with the better gap scores, you can say they do a better job educating their students. Which is why they’re ranked 2nd in the state and are recognized for all their excellent work.

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