School Rankings Are Meaningless

They’re making the rounds again.

Several different school rankings show up in social media every year. Of course there’s US News & World Report for high schools and colleges. I also regularly see updated rankings from and music school rankings from

You’ll generally see them posted by:

  • Proud alumni
  • Residents/current students
  • The schools themselves
  • Students looking for schools
  • Anyone whose ranking has gone up considerably

I am proud of the school district I work in. I am proud of the universities I attended. I could proudly post rankings for all three.

But here’s the thing: the rankings are meaningless.

Just as standardized test mostly tell you which students are good at taking standardized tests, school rankings generally tell you which schools best fit the criteria that the publisher has chosen.

Seeing schools suddenly dip or climb in rankings tells you that the criteria have changed – not that the school suddenly changed.

It’s great to take pride in your school’s success – but don’t look for that success in these rankings.

You might ask, “But they’re all in good fun, and who’s getting hurt?”

There are two reasons I’m troubled with their existence and popularity.

  1. Students considering music schools should be looking for the right fit for them. One right teacher can make a music school perfect for you. The “best” music school in the country might leave you underwhelmed, underwater, and under stress. It concerns me that students looking for colleges or music schools might discount their own best school because it doesn’t appear at the right place on the list.
  2. Our government officials are making decisions about school funding, and absent experience in the schools, they are undoubtedly looking to these rankings for insight. Knowing that they are merely reflections of criteria, I am anxious that state and federal legislators might alter their opinions of public schooling based on these rankings.

I am not a strict relativist – I agree that some schools are objectively better than others and that you can get a better education in one place than another. But none of these publications has found a way to rank schools that has real value.

Share them if they validate you – that’s what they’re designed to do – but please don’t think that they are meaningful evaluations of the educational institutions.