In May, valley resident Elizabeth Schwerdtle and several other Blaine County School District patrons criticized the district for promoting the fact that Wood River High School and Carey School had been ranked by Newsweek as among the 2,000 best high schools in the United States. The critics claimed that the rankings were misleading because only 2,500 high schools in the country applied to the Newsweek survey and that the rankings were based on self-reported and not independent data.
However, documents show that Schwerdtle earlier encouraged the district to seek ranking by Newsweek. During public comment at a school board meeting on March 12, she was critical of the fact that none of the district’s high schools were ranked by either Newsweek or in a different ranking system by U.S. News and World Report.
Earlier, in a letter to the school board dated June 26, 2012, Schwerdtle promoted the Newsweek ranking system as a “nationally recognized benchmark.”
“Applying to the Newsweek list is something Liz Schwerdtle and others have encouraged the district to do for a long time,” said Heather Crocker, district communications director. “At the March 12 meeting, she spoke about the U.S. News and Newsweek lists, reminding the board of trustees that we had not made both lists. This has come up publicly at other meetings as well.”
When the latest Newsweek rankings were released in early May and Wood River High School was ranked 865 and Carey School 1,001, Schwerdtle offered a different opinion of the ranking system, referring to it as “misleading” and a “marketing scam.”
“Applying to the Newsweek list is something Liz Schwerdtle and others have encouraged the district to do for a long time.”
District communications director
After the School District issued a news release on May 7 announcing the rankings and claiming that Wood River High School and Carey School were “two of the best high schools in the nation,” Schwerdtle wrote a letter to the school board criticizing the announcement and requesting that the “misinformation” be corrected on the district website.
She explained in the letter that the Newsweek ranking system was earlier considered respectable but that Newsweek changed its data collection procedure two years ago and is now “done on the cheap with a small, self-selected group of schools who self-report their numbers in the survey.”
“In fact, the supposedly national rankings included data from less than 2,500 schools out of over 21,000 nationwide,” Schwerdtle wrote in the letter. “So, over 80 percent of the schools that Newsweek surveyed are now being referred to as one of America’s best high schools. That would be like 80 percent of students being referred to as the best in the school.”
Thus far, the School District has not complied with Schwerdtle’s request that the so-called “misinformation” be corrected on the district website. Instead, the website still lists the original news release regarding the Newsweek rankings.
Schwerdtle issued the following written statement to the Idaho Mountain Express regarding her change of mind about the Newsweek ranking system:
“This top high school ranking got us some publicity nationally, which is a good thing. The unfortunate part is that it was actually hard not to be on the list, since Newsweek gave four out of five schools that answered their survey an award for being a top U.S. high school. The district obviously cares about rankings, since they applied to be on this list, which is a good thing. So now let’s do it. Let’s earn a spot on a national ranking that has some integrity. The community would welcome that.”
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org