The Top 50 School Districts 2008

In years past, we’ve focused our rankings on high schools, mainly because only the secondary level provided enough academic performance data to do the job. But now, testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act allows achievement tracking across all levels of instruction. We’ve used this flood of figures to identify school systems that stand out from their peers.

[sidebar]To come up with an overall ranking, statisticians I. Elaine Allen and Julia Seaman compared district-wide classroom quality indicators such as standardized scores and graduation rates for 105 school districts in the eight-county area. In a separate set of calculations, they ranked the performance of each district’s individual elementary, middle and high schools against their counterparts; the results, combined and weighted by number of students enrolled, are a fascinating snapshot of relative strengths and weaknesses among — and within — districts. Be aware, however, that the differences measured are small; most districts could potentially be ranked 10 places higher or lower on either list.

As a bonus, Allen and Seaman pinpointed districts that provide extra bang for the buck — that is, deliver academic outcomes greater than expected given school spending levels and housing costs to live in that district.

The Rankings
Click here for a chart with full rankings. (Downloads a PDF)

How We Prepared the Rankings
Our rankings were calculated by I. Elaine Allen, Ph.D., the research director of the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and Julia E. Seaman, a research chemist at Genentech in San Francisco who holds a B.A. in chemistry and mathematics from Pomona College in Claremont, California. The analyses are based on the latest data available from the Pennsylvania and New Jersey departments of education at the time of collection by Philadelphia magazine. “District” was defined as a system of schools providing instruction from kindergarten level through 12th grade; in New Jersey, which in some areas has complicated cross-district feeder arrangements, certain schools serving up to K-8 were combined with their appropriate high-school districts for analysis and ranking. On the chart, these aggregate districts are listed only under the name of high-school district.

Several statistical techniques were used to combine and rank the school district data on performance, including factor analysis, standardization of scores, and Grey relational analysis, to create a common metric for comparison. If a school had a small amount of missing data, the mean of the missing item was used, so as not to bias the outcomes and so we could include the school’s results within its district. These techniques were also used to rank elementary, middle and high schools within districts. Finally, we examined performance with respect to costs in each district, to identify overperforming school districts.

Rankings for performance were calculated using a weighted average of academic variables including fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade test scores in reading and math, SAT scores, student-faculty ratio, percent of graduating seniors, and percentage of graduates intending to enroll at two- and four-year colleges. Cost measures examined to identify overperforming schools included cost per pupil; average teacher salary; median house price; and salary, cost and house price per SAT point and per advanced percent in reading and math. Individual school performance ranks were aggregated by type of school and by school district with weights by number of students.

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  • Murray

    I would like to know what specific criteria you used to determine rank. Did you use PSSA testing results? Can you provide you analysis of stastical data. I live in Lower Moreland and I know our PSSA results were the highest in the district, ahead of Upper Dublin, Methaction and Hatboro-Horsham.
    Thank you

  • momo

    Uhh, it's right above your post.

  • Laura

    Some pretty big teacher salaries for some pretty low ranked school districts! Pennsbury? What's up with that? I just spent a TON of $$ at Staples for school supplies and teachers are being paid THAT much??? Another reason we need to move towards merit pay

  • Terry

    We live in the Pottstown/Limerick area, but our children are in Boyertown School District. I realize that Boyertown HS is in Berks county, but we are in Montgomery county and the elementary school our children attend is New Hanover/Upper Frederick in Montgomery county. I didn't see BSD listed. Do you have any information for them?

  • Barbara C

    This study is skewed as it includes New Jersey and not only Pennsylvania as one would think. This is the Philadelphia Magazine is it not? I would expect a study of Pennsylvania only and a separate study for New Jersey only for a true picture.

  • Ben

    This analysis doesn't seem to represent the full potential of an education in a District. An argument can be made for the positive impacts of diversity on a student's academic and professional career.

  • Howard

    I would like to see the criteria and the associated weighting factors. It seems that SAT scores and 4 yr college play a big part. It also looks as if the lower the financial status of the district and the higher their scores, the better the district. That may be but how much weight do you give it? This looks interesting but I can't really evaluate it.

  • Jason

    In addition to improving academic performance schools are also asked to build student character. This is a quality that cannot easily be quantified. Also, this analysis favors schools where students go to college and take the SAT's. The challenge of motivating and inspiring students to reach higher cannot be placed solely on the schools. I personally would argue against college enrollment factoring into the quality of a school.

  • Fred

    This is a note the tunnel-visioned dope who posted that "This study is skewed as it includes New Jersey…": South NJ and North DE are parts of the Philadelphia Area and clearly belong in the study. Try turning your nose down a little so you can actually see your feet.

  • Kristin

    I would like to know if you took into account not only how many students went on to college, but ALSO how many actually stayed and graduated from college. My children attend the Coatesville Area School District and I had been told by someone that though other school districts may send more students to college, of the percentage that go on to college, CASD has a much higher percentage than many other school districts of students that actually graduate from college. I would be interested to know if this was taken into account when comparing the Districts. By the way, CASD does an excellent job, especially considering that they have a wide range of student abilities that they have to teach to.

  • Jon

    $84K per yr for Council Rock? Plus they get the summer off! its a joke!
    Teachers should be paid upon merit! We pay so much in taxes and the teachers get paid more than most jobs!

  • John

    I noticed Waterford Township whose middle and high school students go to Hammonton public schools was not rated. It's a shame because I think Phila. Mag. missed out on a great school system whose staff bends over backwards to help their students.

  • Eileen

    It would appear that those who object to teacher salaries have no idea how much time an average teacher puts into the school year. It is not a 40hour week job, like most parents attend. The average parent does not bring home 5-6 hours of grading a week, on top of teaching for 6-7 hours in day and an additional 1-2 hours spent performing administrative tasks, not to mention 1-2 hours per day spent prepping for class. Teachers are required to be educators, counselors, advisors, coaches, and caretakers, for which they receive a salary that only covers 1 of those positions. Oh yes, how about all the training, conferences, and classes a teacher is required to attend? And, in the end, those parents who scream about paying high taxes and moving towards merit pay for teachers are typically the ones who enter a teacher's classroom and demand special treatment for their son or daughter and use that very line "I pay your salary" as justification for berating a teacher for doing their job. I

  • Kathryn

    It continues to amaze me how a community gets upset when the see what a teacher makes. Teachers are required to continuously take classes, obtain a Masters degree in their field and keep up their certification in order to stay employed and that is the tip of the iceberg. They are required to raise test scores in some districts where parents put absolutely no effort into their child's education and then get berated when it doesn't happen.If you value education in your community, then you want top people who are supported to get the job done. Even the highest paid teachers around here are not paid enough. Taxpayers are upset because it is money out of their pocket. The amount will never be agreeable to those who are not wise enough to truly value education. To the person who complained about buying school supplies in Pennsbury – teachers are not required to buy your kids notebooks.

  • Jason

    First I would like to address the comment "Some pretty big teacher salaries for some pretty low ranked school districts!" If you notice in the article, schools are penalized for having large salaries. For instance, if two schools A and B had the same test scores but teacher salaries were higher at school A, school B would be ranked higher because they achieved the same results with less pay. It is unclear to me from the article but I think schools are also penalized for having a higher student:teacher ratio.

    Second I would like to comment on the idea of Merit Pay and “over-paid” teacher salaries. New legislation requires teachers to be highly qualified. Teaching is a profession, by law, and teachers deserve to get paid adequately as any professional would. Merit Pay as an idea is good but would be hard to translate into practice because there are many factors that effect student achievement unrelated to what happens in the classroom.

    Third, I would hope that these threads w

  • john

    The Teacher's Personal Financial Burden
    Days/Yr 180
    Hrs/Day 5.5
    School Yr 990 990

    Days/Yr 180
    After Hrs 1.5
    Added Hrs 270 270

    Total Hrs/Yr 1260

    Typical Wks/Yr 50
    Working Hrs/Wk 40
    Typical Parent's Yr 2,000 2,000

    Teacher Yr vs. Parent Yr 63%

    Teacher Salary $63,000

    PLUS Retirement 25%
    Annual Retirement Benefit $15,750
    Total Compensation $78,750
    Teacher/Parent Ratio Hrs. 63%
    Equivalent for 2,000 Hrs/Yr $125,000
    Equivalent Hourly Rate: $62.50

    If the reader is unhappy with the $63,000 salary implication, just imagine what $84,000 implies!

    The last great monopoly in America is the teacher's union. The clock is ticking.

  • Susan

    I graduated 20+ years ago from one of the highest ranking schools, and I could have gotten significantly more out of my education. You can have the best teachers, facitilies, etc., but if the students don't commit to their own education, the best resources are going to waste.

  • Jeff

    Why do the top NJ school districts rank so low for their ES and MS yet rank much higher for their HS?

  • Colleen

    First let me first disclose I am not a Teacher. I am shocked by the number of people who think teachers are paid too much. Did any of you read the full article? Did you see how much $$ goes into private schools and that private schools regard their caliber of teachers their most important asset? Did you miss the fact that the "under paid and under funded" public schools have no shot of competing with some of these private schools? The fact is while it is true that students will only get out what they put in, the caliber of teachers have a tremendous impact on their success. Schools compete for the best teachers based on salary (amoung other things)much like most professions. Many, many suburban teachers have Masters Degrees…. also keep in mind that these aren't starting salaries either. Lets stop skimping on the education of our future. Combined, this country probably spends more money on Fast Food than on public education.

  • Jason

    First, let me thank you John for being open about attaching your name to your comments. I respect that and will in turn do the same. I was once a teacher and have insight into the job requirements that you may lack. It is very easy to have the perception that teachers only work when the students are there (ie 180 days per year). This number is in fact wrong. For instance, North Penn teachers are required to work 192 days a year plus whatever time the teacher decides to put in above that. In addition most teachers volunteer to help out with school activities and athletics and all teachers are required to attend courses and workshops throughout their teaching career. I think that, unfortunately for the teachers' sake, you share a very common misconception about the amount of time that teachers actually spend throughout a year involved in activities directly related to their occupation. I welcome further discourse on the matter if you feel it necessary.

  • rebecca

    Having raised 2 children in NC schools, we moved here 5 years ago. We had 1 child in council rock (elem) for 3 years and now 2 in Pennsbury. It is not about the kids here. I have been appalled that the calendar is so chaotic as it revolves around the teachers. And there are not enough sinks by the cafeteria for the kids to wash up before lunch when they come in from the goose poop covered playground. The buildings are old and falling apart held together with band aids. Lunches run from 11-2 an hour past federal guidelines! NC has almost no teachers unions, 3%. And even with the lower income levels there, the schools have few of the issues that are here. I have been disappointed and appalled. I think the link to unionization is very clear. Throw in the involvement of churches in creating good childcare which is non-existent here. Unfortunately job is here for now. I feel like we have moved to Russia. People need to wake up and get involved and find out what goes on in the schools. Paren

  • amy

    My children have recently moved from private education to public. The education they received thus far puts them ahead of the majority of kids in public as I compare material covered. All studies regarding school rank should be taken with a grain of salt. There are so many variables that most parents are not aware of when interpretting rank. For example, the top ranked district most likely is a sample of kids from mostly the same socio-
    economic group, whereas some districts have a far more diverse population. It doesn't mean that your child is neccessarily receiving an inferior education. Look at the size of your districts learning support units. I would suspect that the top ranked school does not have as large of a population with need of learning support(or a smaller ratio). Are these things taken into consideration? Also, I have no problem with teachers salaries. These people are making impressions on our children everyday and probably seeing them more than most parents. Pay them

  • Andrea

    I don't object to most of the salaries, but what really bugs me is when people keep saying teachers are underpaid by saying the need to take classes & bring work home. HELLO if you are a salaried employee for any company you don't work 9-5, there plenty of times you are working at home at night & if you travel for work you don't get paid extra for that either & that often entails traveling nights & weekends. You also don't get 10-12 weeks summer vacation & vaction days during the year. I know teachers work hard, but I'm tired of the complaining that they work above & beyond their class day – WE ALL DO

  • Joe

    A good education always stars from home and school should only enhance it. These rankings not only show which SD has better school system but also shows how that SD's family values education. As far as the teachers go, US is the only country in the world where teachers get no respect. If they teach in an opulant district they are looked down upon and if they teach in a district where they make little more money than the average salary of the people in the SD then everyone cries foul. Poor teachers can't win… All I can say is I wouldn't be here today, if I didn't have great teachers.

  • Kelly

    I'm not a teacher but I'm sitting here reading these posts so many of you have so elequently written…and I just would like you to think for a moment: Why am I able to write so well? Why is my vocabulary so expansive? My thoughts linked together so well? If you were born with this intelligent skill, congratulations. If you learned to do so, like myself, go thank your teachers. Where did you learn about unions, the skill of debate, federal guidelines and state guidelines? Thank you teachers. Why are you able to balance your budget, make wise decisions to refinance your mortgage when there's low interest and measure the area of your dining room to buy properly sized furniture? Thank your teachers. Are you able to talk about this upcoming election an an intelligent fashion that shows you understand our democratic system? Thank your teachers. "Highly educated" implies you went to school for a long time — was it the school or the teachers there who earned you such a title. Te

  • Susan

    I'm shocked by the comments that teachers are overpaid. Clearly, you know nothing about the profession. Moving beyond the argument that we work much longer hours and days than people stereotypically believe (because we do), let's evaluate our salary based on product and need. At the age of 22 I made more money working in finance than I do after receiving a masters in education and becoming a teacher. I work 20x harder, have taught hundreds of children how to read and write and have given them the confidence and ability to become successful students. At my job in finance – I sat in my office, plugged away at excel and waited for the time to pass. Teachers are educators, part time parents, counselors, parent coaches and above all professionals. Or as my friend likes to call me a "life shaper." Yes, I enjoy 6 weeks off in the summer – it is needed to recharge, attend teacher workshops and plan for the upcoming year. Oh, and to work a second job because as a teacher I can barely

  • Tracy

    For crying out loud! You people are driving me crazy! I am on here trying to find the best place to move to and trying to find some of the better school districts for my 3 children. Instead, I have to read people bickering about teacher salaries~! Pay the teachers! They deserve it! ALL TEACHERS! My family is moving to Philly from WI and i am trying to find good neighborhoods and good schools! I am not here to ready about people upset about paying taxes to support our teachers!

  • rebecca

    Schools here are unionized and there is no law against strikes as they have in 37 other states (see stopteacherstrikes.org.) There is only so much money in the budget. If the teacher pay is high then there is less for the kids. It is not about the kids here. It is about the teachers. Parents are having to raise money for basics like playground equipment, donate baby wipes because the schools are too crowded or too inflexible to figure out how to use the sinks they have. The money that PTOs raise goes mostly for teacher technology bells and whistles that they don't use and don't need. If there is any left over then it might go for the kids. Just because you donate money for one thing does not always mean that it is used for that. Get involved and hold them accountable. As a rule of thumb, the farther you get away from crime and liberal areas (Trenton, Philly) the better the schools are.

  • Anonymous

    Our school district is William Penn and boy did we make a mistake moving to Lansdowne!! We should of stayed in Philly, the schools are poor for the amount of money we pay in taxes! Highway robbery.

  • Caroline

    The only accurate part of this study is money paid to teachers and on students. Let's face it some of the testing is done as soon as the students return from summer vacation and naturally produce low scores. then they are tested again latter in the year. So of course their scores go up. Too much time in the class room is taken away to produce results for these tests. All you have to do is look at our community colleges and state colleges and it becomes very clear that the number of high school graduates who have to go in to pre English Comp. courses and Basic Algebra courses because they can work at college entry level is easy to see the majority of kids are being left behind. After all the money we spend in taxes and students can not graduate high school ready to enter college One courses is nothing less than a disgrace to our system. Let's us take all of Pa's tax dollars and spread the money out evenly for education. Also, I would love to see a full study on how manykids are tutored

  • Char

    I am a teacher and I agree with everyone who advocates for teachers salary. Teachers are not overpaid, but severely underpaid. Just because we have the summers off does not mean anything. I am home right now typing my lesson plans for next week. I come to school 1/2 hour early to read over my lesson plans, set up the classroom, read and write notes to parents, and set up for the next day, as well as other things. I stay 1/2 hour or more setting making future plans. Teaching is a very rewarding and we deserve vacations and extra pay, plus more. If you are not a teacher, call a school and volunteer for a day to observe just why we deserve our pay plus more, holidays and summers off. After a few hours of 25-32 children in a class, I bet you will understand that our pay is warranted (plus more) and we deserve our vacations.

  • Barbara

    I agree teachers should be paid well. I'm not a teacher but a nurse, another profession that is poorly paid the longer your in it. Lets not forget the great benefits paid to teachers. My bi-weekly $$ taken from my paycheck for health insurance is way more then teachers. Also for co-pays etc. Not a bad retirement package for teachers either. You would laugh at my retirement package as a nurse. So I think you have to look at the ENTIRE picture just not the salary. I bet teachers don't have mandatory overtime, work holidays, and weekends like nurses. I went into nursing to help people not for the money. Hopefully teachers feel the same.

  • Janice

    We moved into the Central Bucks school district over 10 yrs ago b/c of its reputation for excellence in teaching, and have not been disappointed. I'm a bit puzzled by the precipitous drop in rankings at the high school level, esp. given the high PSAT & SAT test scores I've seen for this district. Which of the factors in your analysis caused the huge drop?

  • clarence

    Sept philly mag

  • Stacy

    It's amazing how some parents think their child is the only one in the classroom and if we are not bending over backwards to attend to their child, then we are not doing our job. Those that complain about teacher's salaries, go into your child's school for a day and see how you do handling a class of 30 middle schoolers that seem to have lost the definition of respect, and then tell me it's not fair to have summers off. One thing a parent can do to help the teachers that are trying to make our society more successful is to teach your children how to respect each other and adults.

  • miss
  • laura

    It seems like an obvious choice to support merit pay when people don't know how classes are assigned. Should I be paid more because I am lucky enough to be assigned a high number of "gifted" students or penalized if I choose to teach in a district where students are coming to me with so many strikes against them that getting them to finish school is an accomplishment. Maybe we should give everyone merit pay – Sorry to you oncologist working so hard in a field, but you just are doing a "good job" since all of your patients don't survive. How about penalizing parents for not doing their job at home? Why is it that teachers are being required to teach things like "character education" which should be what parents are doing! Apologies to all of the many supportive parents I've dealt with over the years. It's a shame the nasty ones seem to be more vocal!

  • Sirish

    Well i respect all the teachers that they put in extra wark and constantly have to upgrade themselves. BUT YOU GUYS ARE NOT ALONE. most jobs require that, all the people i know work at least 4-8 extra hours every week, on top every few months we end up working either all night or all weekends. and since i am in technology sectors we have to constantly upgrade our skills buy attending courses, reading at least 3-6 book every year, attend seminars, web casts etc., now we also don't get any pension or much of the benefits that you get. also no summer, spring or winter vacations either. so all teacher STOP CRIBBING and don't think you are the one doing the hardest job in the whole world i think most of us parents are doing if not tougher job than at least equally tough job. an by the way i have double masters. so education wise also some of us are not less educated either and i don't think that all the teachers are MASTERS! (ha ha).
    I want teachers to think that they are above all parents

  • Kyle

    The statistics and not the rankings should be used. This system penalizes school ditricts that have high teacher salaries. If you are wealthy and can afford high taxes then some of the districts were taxes thus teacher salaries are high would suit you. Also note that 2 of the best high schools in the area are in one of the lowest "ranked" school system. Philadelphia's Central and Masterman are 2 of the nation's best, but are located in Philadelphia county. Therefore it should be noted that note every situation is the same. There may be an increasse at the high school level for some wealthier districts because at the lower school levels many parents place thier children in private school. Also as noted before diversity within the school district may be some parents concern and not others. For parents with children of color other districts with more racial and ethnic diversity would rank higher as well. I feel for the family from out of state becasue they may note get a clear picture of

  • Kyle

    Your correct. Central bucks being 44th may reflect high salaries or other stat. measures not hardcore performance. For the family looking for diversity central bucks may rank even lower than 44. Central/Masterman kicks all district high school's butts in academics, diversity etc.

  • Sherree

    I’m surprised Pennsbury is ranked as high as it is considering qualitative factors. The high school campus is a mess with kids having to travel between two buildings. Internal and external communication is dreadful. S:F ratio of 16:1? Huh? Class sizes are in the high 20s even in honors courses. With block scheduling they blow through material as fast as possible, and if he kids don’t understand it, tough luck. Teacher quality is mediocre; surely not worth $78K+ not to mention the generous benefits. We rely very heavily on tutors, but as a rule we never hire anyone from Pennsbury. Why should I pay them $50-60 an hour to do what they should be doing in class? My overall observation is that PHS prepares most students for 13th grade/high school part II and that’s about it. Bare minimum. If you want more for your kids, it’s going to cost you.

  • mikg

    I graduated CR in 93 and wasn't thrilled with it then…Highest average teacher salary by far and ranked 15th is infuriating. We need merit based pay and CR is the perfect example

  • Melvin

    As a teacher in the NYC public school system for 40 years, I can tell you without any hesitation that there is no correlation between teacher salaries and student achievement. Whether my salary raises were high during the good times or low and sometimes non-existent during the bad economic times, as a committed professional, I always gave 110%. Now if there were truly a correlation between scores and salary, every parochial school in the nation would be shutting down.Unlike the public schools, it's these schools where teachers get one third to one half the salary of their public school counterparts where there is truly more bang for your buck.In short, "You can't put in what GOD's left out. And it's the parochial schools that see to it that they get out what GOD's put in!

  • drkmoonglw@aol.com

    I don't think that teachers are trying to claim, in any way, that theirs is the only profession that works hard and has to deal with a multitude of difficult conditions. The difference between teachers and other professionals, however, is that because everyone has gone to school and most adults pay taxes, everyone feels like they "know" what being a teacher is all about, and they feel that they deserve to dictate what happens in the classroom and with teacher's careers. When was the last time you've heard so many people argue, for example, that accountants are paid too much? Or nurses? Or architects? These are all careers that require a certain amount of training and skill, the same way that teaching does. Yet most people realize that they are unqualified in these fields and leave the running of them to those with the proper expertise. But unfortunately, teachers’ careers ARE greatly determined by the general populace, many of whom, naturally, are ignorant of effective education

  • Barbara

    All I can say is my daughter graduated from Methacton High School in 2007, was not in the top 10% of her graduating class but is now maintaining a 3.7 GPA at Penn State with a dual degree and a minor and is in the top 15% of an 80,0000 + student University. The teachers at Methacton earn every penny they are paid and I am grateful to them for all the time and effort they have afforded both of my children. I am not a teacher nor is my spouse. Teachers are greatly under appreciated! They are by far the most important people in our society as they are holding our future in their hands. Fortunately, the hands in the Methacton School district are very capable.

  • tiffany

    Salaries listed are AVERAGE…so who ever said merit pay CLEARLY has NEVER set foot in a classroom…nor dealt with the politics, the students, the PARENTS,the law…shall I continue…EDUCATE yourself before you speak

  • aill

    come on! i wanted 2 read the best schools 4 my kids & i hav 2 read a article!

  • r

    The student to teacher ratio is misleading. I work in one of the top school districts listed and the classes are now at 30 to 32 students. The only instructor is the teacher, there is not an aide in the classroom. Now that we are moving towards differentiated instruction the preparation for each lesson and modification that must be in place are quite challenging for one person to handle.

  • Jeremy

    Public education is the most charitable institution still standing. Public educators are required to educate all children – all races, all disabilities, all languages, all intellects, and all behaviors. I love how my church flies a banner that says we save the taxpayers so much money – this is the same church that just kicked out three kids because they did not know how to deal with them, and also refused to accept a student with disabilities. Keep up the good work. You should all be ranked #1.