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THE 100 TOP U.S. SCHOOLS? 30 ARE IN NEW YORK

New York State's public schools take their share of criticism. Much of it is justified. But there's news of outstanding academic excellence to applaud, too. That's clear from one comparison of academic performance in hundreds of public schools across the nation compiled by Newsweek magazine.

Ranked by the number of Advanced Placement college-level courses taken by students in their high schools, fully 30 of the country's top 100 high schools -- and six of the top 10 -- were located in New York State.

Not Maryland. Not Michigan. Not North Carolina. Not Texas. Not California.

New York.

Nor were all of the 30 schools in New York that ranked among the nation's 100 best located in the New York City metropolitan area. Seven were in the Western New York and Rochester areas. The three from our region included Amherst High School, ranked 48; Williamsville South, 63; and Lewiston-Porter, 82.

Another factor to consider: This particular ranking excluded such elite high schools as Buffalo's City Honors, where students must qualify through special academic tests in order to get in. Thus, City Honors, one of the leading high schools in the state, was not even eligible for inclusion in this survey.

Advanced Placement exams are taken by high-school students who are so advanced that they qualify for courses at the introductory college level. The students who take them go off to college with credits already earned. Some can shave off a semester or even a year of college with these advanced courses.

Newsweek was reporting on the so-called Challenge Index devised by Jay Matthews. The index's measurement of quality based on AP exams may seem narrow, but APs are a logical indicator of the best education a particular school can offer.

Not every student will take the exams, but their availability and the percentages of students succeeding with them are important signs of what is offered to the students most willing and able to take advantage of educational quality.

It's true that New York invests heavily in public education. So the taxpayers deserve some classroom winners. It's also true that Albany's growing push for higher expectations and standards for student performance is timely and appropriate. Higher achievement is needed overall, for all students.

But critics of the schools should also notice that their investments can produce benefits.

With 30 of the top 100 schools nationwide, New York must be doing something right -- very right. That suggests other promising consequences, among them that other schools can probably do more if they put the effort into it -- and that the push from Albany now under way already has successes to build on.

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