Best of Boston rankings may punish Belmont High

Boston Magazine is set to release its September issue with the annual ranking of the Top Massachusetts Public High Schools, and we already know that Belmont won’t make the Top 10 again this year. That’s because the magazine has already released its Top 10 districts, and Belmont’s name isn’t on the list.

Once again, its posh Weston atop the list of the school’s best public high school. Dover-Sherborn, Lexington, Wellesley, Concord-Carlisle, Bedford, Brookline, Wayland, Newton North and South fill out the list of the state’s best high schools, according to this story in The Globe.

Belmont ranked a paltry 29th out of 150 in last year’s high school rankings, despite landing numerous, national awards, including a Silver Medal on the U.S. News and World Report list of Best High Schools and an award from Forbes Magazine and Great Schools that listed Belmont as the top district among towns with a median home price between $600,000 and $799,000.

Why the sharp discrepancy in rankings? Simple: the Boston Magazine list ranks all the state’s school districts on their deviation from a mean for each of the data points that Boston looks at. Those include touchy issues for Belmont like Student-teacher ratio, where Belmont had the highest ratio (15.7:1) of any school in the top 50 districts, excepting Boston Latin. Per pupil spending is another measure that Boston weights heavily – and we look bad there, too – well below the state average and a full $2,000 per child per year less than the lowest spending high school in the Top 10 (Wellesley High, as it turns out). Not that I’m making comparisons, but…ah what the hell…Weston spent $5,700 more per student than Belmont in 2009. In other areas, we do well: MCAS and SAT scores, graduation rates, etc. all push Belmont up to the top 20% of school districts state wide despite high achieving, middle class communities that are outspending us.

It will be interesting to see if Belmont hangs on to 29 or slips further in the 2010 rankings, but with the failure of the Prop 2 1/2 override in June leading to larger class sizes, among other district-wide changes, its safe to assume that Belmont will be moving down this yearly ranking rather than up it. And, as we’ve pointed out before, lower rankings tend to be bad for homeowners in a variety of ways.

I have no doubt the No Freeloaders of the world will take all kinds of umbrage to these rankings: how subjective they are, how our kids get a great education whatever these studies say. But the bottom line for Belmont is really what prospective home buyers (read: families) read and perceive about the communities they’re considering plunking their hard earned cash down in. In all likelihood, Boston Magazine is going to give them a couple dozen towns to consider before “Belmont,” and that…just…sucks.

My 2c.