What Is the Purpose of Public School Rankings?

Multiple public school rankings are available, with the ranking methodology and the purpose varying for each specific ranking. Newsweek states that the purposes of its high school rankings are determining which schools help students from a variety of backgrounds thrive and which schools are most effective at preparing students for college.

Newsweek has two high school rankings as of 2015, an absolute ranking and a relative ranking. It bases its absolute ranking on each school's student achievements according to Newsweek's college readiness index. The relative ranking also uses the college readiness index but takes into account the socioeconomic status of students at each school.

High school rankings receive criticism for being subjective and not benefiting the students. For example, multiple rankings use the number of students in advanced placement courses as a method of ranking schools. These rankings are using a limited amount of data to rank schools, since having a higher number of students in advanced placement courses doesn't necessarily make a school more challenging or higher quality. It also gives schools an incentive to put more students in advanced placement courses, even if they don't belong there, and punishes schools for keeping students in standard level courses.

Local school rankings that use sensible methods to rank schools are useful for parents looking for a highly ranked school in their neighborhood or in a neighborhood where they plan to move. On the national level, rankings are less useful, as it's unlikely for parents to move somewhere for no reason other than a highly ranked public school.