Attention Editors of U.S. News & World Report!

Gina Caneva teaches in a high school in Chicago that received a high ranking from U.S. News & World Report, but she is not happy. 

She knows the rankings are destructive nonsense. They are a fraud.

I began teaching 15 years ago at Corliss High School in the Roseland community on the Far South Side. Then and now, the school’s student body is nearly entirely African American, and 90% are termed “low income.” Currently, U.S. News and World Report states that Corliss is in between 430-647 in their rankings, CPS gives it a Level 2 rating and the Illinois Report Card designates it as a lowest performing school. Although I don’t have the numbers from 15 years ago, without a doubt these rankings would have been similar as I remember it being a school “on probation.” This meant that it could be closed.

But inside, it was neither a school on probation nor a failing school. Teachers worked together to prepare a rigorous curriculum that engaged students at many different skill levels despite lacking resources. Many students were fully present and active in their coursework. When outsiders stereotyped my students by asking, “Do they listen to you?” and “Do you just pass them through?” I told them story after story about my students reading and analyzing the nearly 600-page “Invisible Man” and writing poetry that rivaled published authors.

But there were some obstacles a rigorous curriculum and student engagement couldn’t overcome. Back in 2004, we only had one working computer lab for over 1,000 students. When we returned from winter break, bullet holes pierced our corridor windows — a glaring reminder of the violence in the neighborhood. Students had very few resources to deal with trauma or social-emotional learning as social work services were slim to none. I remember working with a student who lost her mother and younger siblings to violence over Christmas. She did not need rigorous instruction; we were ill-equipped to supply the emotional support she needed.

My second school, TEAM Englewood Community Academy, was a start-up school that opened because a low-ranked school was closed. Again, teachers and students worked diligently together to achieve district goals. Our students rarely met them, but not for lack of effort or focus. Bodies of research support the impact of poverty and segregation as legitimate factors of limited success on standardized tests. But whatever the factors were, for my students, they proved to be too much as the school would be labeled a failure. Last year, TEAM Englewood closed in much the same fashion as the school it replaced.

Presently, I teach at the 11th best ranked high school in Illinois. Lindblom teachers work diligently and are experts in their fields. We strive to provide a rigorous curriculum as much as teachers I worked with at Corliss and TEAM Englewood did. But there are two major differences at Lindblom. First, our students meet and exceed district, state and national goals. Second, they have to test in to get accepted into our school. As a selective-enrollment school, if a student does not meet the criteria of a certain score on a placement test before ninth grade, they cannot attend Lindblom. Yet our school, with our selective population, is ranked using the same measures against schools that are not selective. Simply put, the process is unfair.