Back in 2002, Westchester Magazine did its first issue dedicated to Westchester schools. Almost every year since, we have included a data chart describing schools, including data on class size, graduation rate, guidance counselor availability, and more. You can find this year’s chart on the next page, and, below, we describe the importance of the measurements on the chart.
Some measures—Gross Per Pupil Expenditures, or how much the school spends to educate each child—testify to the resources available to students. Median Household Income gives a sense of the wealth of a school’s community, which correlates with student achievement. (To figure it out, we’ve used the income for each high school’s ZIP code, since district-specific data are not available.) The Percentage of Students in Poverty shows the number of school-age children (5 to 17) in each district whose family’s income falls below the poverty line, and it gives a similar portrait of the district in economic terms.
Other measures describe the learning environment: Percentage of Teachers with MA or PhD and Average Class Size are both presented here and are known to correlate with student performance. Student-to-Guidance Counselor Ratio describes student support, especially in the college application process. Percentage of Students in Extracurricular Programs is here because studies have shown a correlation between involvement in extracurricular activities and higher grades.
Next, Mean SAT Scores reflect scores on the popular standardized college admissions test. Aspirational Performance Measure (APM) is calculated by the New York State Department of Education based on the percentage of students who achieved a certain combination of scores on their Regents exams.
Finally, Percentage of Students taking AP/College-Level Courses and The Four-Year Graduation Rate can indicate how well a school has kept its students engaged, involved, and challenged.
Why Some Schools Don’t Participate
In addition to the chart, our high schools coverage has included descriptions of excellent programs, explorations of extracurriculars, reporting about difficulties affecting schools (and, often, how they have overcome them), in-depth looks into the college application process, and more.
The chart, however, has been a source of controversy, as some schools have chosen not to participate in it. (Because the New York State Department of Education publishes this data only with a lag of more than a year and many measures can change rapidly, we must ask the schools to supply up-to-date data.) One district that has repeatedly declined to participate is Lakeland Central School District in Shrub Oak. Superintendent George Stone says, “Our objection to comparisons between schools is based upon two points: first, the variance in relative wealth of districts, and, second, the diversity of student populations. In Lakeland, for example, we have a reputation for outstanding special-education services. Many families with special-needs children move to our district specifically for our services. We are proud of what we accomplish with special populations, but they are counted in your comparisons, and they simply don’t compete on the same playing fields.”
Despite the multifaceted nature of the coverage within the chart and accompanying it, those public schools declining have said that “ranking”—as they often refer to data that is, in fact, organized alphabetically by schools’ names—is not an accurate reflection of their overall accomplishments. (Some private schools, in contrast, don’t appear on our chart simply because they were not able to respond to our requests in time.)
Hearing about this discontent, in 2011, we scheduled a meeting with superintendents to find out how to alter our coverage more so that boycotting superintendents would participate. As a result, we further broadened our subjects, bringing in superintendents, principals, and a teacher for an on-the-record “roundtable” about the elusive aspects of education, asking districts what made them exceptional, and profiling students, among others.
Despite this meeting and these adjustments, though, no schools rejoined our 2012 coverage, and few gave any explanation as to why. Subsequently, multiple requests for comment from Dr. Phyllis Glassman, former superintendent of the Ossining Union Free School District, who represented the boycotting schools at the meeting, yielded only a letter dated from before the meeting and requesting changes that had already been made. Similar requests, before Glassman’s retirement this past January, eventually led to the same letter this school year.
It is important to mention that most districts in the County choose to participate, and we are grateful to them. In addition, this year, four of the districts that had declined in the past have changed their stance. Dr. Brian Monahan, interim superintendent of the Hendrick Hudson School District (who also was a panelist for the roundtable) relates, “I do appreciate that surveys are necessary and readers are drawn to articles that include charts. My experience as part of the Westchester Magazine panel gave me confidence that the goal of the editors is to give readers as accurate a picture as possible.”
The fact remains that Westchester is well known throughout the country for the caliber of its schools. This reputation, however, bears with it a high price tag in the form of taxes (a high percentage of which goes to the schools). For that reason—and many others—Westchester’s public has a vested interest in information on its schools, which is, of course, why such information is released by the State government in the first place.
We regret that we cannot supply up-to-date information on every school and on the wide variety of topics that we propose to cover. We only hope that, in the future, those withholding that information will reconsider and help us inform the public.
Click here to download the Private High School Chart.