Houston's Best Public High Schools

Counting down: Our sixth- through tenth-place finishers

For instance, Eastside High in Gainesville is ranked fourth in the survey. But the state reports that just half of Eastside's students are meeting high standards in reading. The Florida DOE gave Eastside a "B"-rating from 2001-2004 and last year demoted it to a "C"-rated school. Eastside ranked so high in Newsweek, it turns out, because it runs an in-house IB-program.

Two other Florida high schools -- Pensacola, which ranked eighth in Newsweek, and Hillsborough, which ranked tenth -- get a "D" rating from the Florida DOE. At these schools, fewer than half of students meet reading standards.

Most absurd of all, Newsweek's choice for the fifth-best high school in America isn't even a high school. H-B Woodlawn in Arlington, Virginia is a countywide secondary program. That means any school in Arlington County can participate.

Megan Altobelli stopped worrying about her class rank after recently being admitted to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Daniel Kramer
Megan Altobelli stopped worrying about her class rank after recently being admitted to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
With more than 3,ooo kids, Kingwood High School is frequently a sports powerhouse.
Daniel Kramer
With more than 3,ooo kids, Kingwood High School is frequently a sports powerhouse.

While many students in the program take AP courses, fewer than half of them received a passing grade in 2003. This demonstrates the cafeteria-sized loophole in Newsweek's formula.

"Students don't have to pass the AP/IB tests in order to garner their school a high ranking," says Sanborn, who analyzed the Newsweek data. "Heck, they don't even have to be able to read the test questions. They only have to sign up and show up."

The Houston Press/Children At Risk survey sidesteps this pitfall by selecting a wide range of factors deemed critical to a school's success. Of course, any rating system is bound to provoke some dissent. Some of the statistical results surprised us and no doubt will surprise you: A few well-known schools did not make the top ten.

But the aim, Sanborn says, is simply to provide a sense of how schools rate and to tip our caps to the academic trailblazers.

"There are some really good things going on in public education in Houston," Sanborn says. "Our top schools are as good as any in the nation."

And now, the schools we ranked sixth through tenth:

6. Aldine High School (Aldine ISD)
Total Enrollment: 2,191
TEA Self-Reported Graduation Rate: 93.8 percent
Freshman-Senior Graduation Rate: 82 percent
Average SAT Score: 874 (out of 1600)
Economically Disadvantaged: 70.7 percent
Demographic Breakdown:
25.4 percent African-American
2.7 percent Asian
65.8 percent Hispanic
0.1 percent Native American
6.0 percent white

Most students who attend elite high schools know their schools rock. It's drilled into their heads year after year by teachers and administrators.

But kids at Aldine High School can't seem to believe their school ranks among the best.

"Honestly, I am shocked," says 17-year-old junior and band member Gina Roberts. "When we're publicized, it's in a bad way."

Indeed, it seems Aldine students each year must confront some grisly, unspeakable tragedy that dominates local news coverage.

In January 2006, students walking home from school witnessed the aftermath of a double murder that occurred in a local music store less than a mile away.

In October 2005, a 16-year-old Aldine junior wrapped his parents' Honda around a tree during a 90-mile-an-hour joyride that killed his five-year-old sister, a 16-year-old Aldine student and two teens from nearby Sam Houston High.

In November 2004, former Aldine football star Demarco McCullum was executed for fatally shooting a man ten years earlier.

In September 2002, a 15-year-old Aldine sophomore was kidnapped and raped at knifepoint while waiting for a school bus.

And the list goes on.

Students testify that violence regularly occurs in and around the northeast Houston school. Some are matter-of-fact about it.

"It's high school," says 18-year-old senior Brittmy Martinez, shrugging. "You have to have a thick skin in high school."

Administrators ask students to alert them to simmering conflicts before they boil over. When successful, assistant principals mediate and resolve disputes before a first punch is thrown. "Without that," Principal Cecil Hutson says, "I'd hate to think of how many fights we'd have."

Though such serious disciplinary problems usually spell doom for a high school, Aldine students are thriving.

The school's demographics have changed dramatically in recent years. More than 60 percent white two decades ago, Aldine students today are predominantly Hispanic. Many come from low-income, single-parent families, and nearly ten percent arrive with few English-language skills.

Though best known for its rich sports tradition -- the school won state and national football championships in 1990, and this year's boys' basketball team is ranked in the top 20 statewide -- it's the school's academic record that's turning heads. In 2004 and again in 2005, Aldine ISD was cited among five finalists for the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education, the country's largest education award.

This year Aldine became a Small Learning Communities campus. Starting in tenth grade, students select from four concentrations: health and human services, industrial engineering, law and public service, or business and fine arts.

"All research now says that the big traditional high schools aren't getting it done," Hutson says. "This way, there's more ownership, more buy-in by the students about what they're learning."

7. Friendswood High School (Friendswood ISD)
Total Enrollment: 1,839
TEA Self-Reported Graduation Rate: 93.8 percent
Freshman-Senior Graduation Rate: 84 percent
Average SAT Score: 1101 (out of 1600)
Economically Disadvantaged: 2.1 percent
Demographic Breakdown:
2.2 percent African-American
3.0 percent Asian
6.7 percent Hispanic
0.2 percent Native American
87.9 percent white

Ask Dr. Myrlene Kennedy about Friendswood High School and the 70-year-old principal gives a history lesson that weaves together the school, the surrounding area and her own coming-of-age biography.

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