The Dangers of Ranking Schools

According to Forbes’ magazine’s list, Lawrenceville is the 14th best private school in America. Lawrenceville, with our 27% Ivy/MIT/Stanford “pipeline” matriculation rate, 1:8 faculty to student ratio, 76% rate of “faculty holding advanced degrees,” and $270 million endowment, measures up only 14th among all other private schools. After feeding all the above into its magical formula, Forbes’ magazine had the confidence to publish a list definitely named “America’s Best Prep Schools.”

Forbes’ list is only, at best, an estimation with too many assumptions to guarantee credibility. Does an acceptance rate for an already arbitrary list of 10 “top” colleges correlate directly to quality of education? Factors like legacy, selectivity of the high school, and athletic commitments, all need to be considered before the quality of the school’s education can even begin to be measured through the acceptance rate. Endowment is not a measure of education either. A school’s endowment is only marginally related to the financial success of all its alumni, which in turn is only marginally related to the quality of education received at Lawrenceville.

There is, however, a much larger problem with Forbes’ list. The very attempt to categorize and list well-respected schools hints at something more dangerous than a reputable finance magazine being irresponsible and misleading with its statistics—the idea that schools can be quantified to begin with.

Here is what Forbes’ has to say about selective private schools: “Their aim is to provide students with education that funnels them into the very best universities.” Read carefully; the sentence implies that education is the means by which these private schools achieve their real aims—a “funneling” into the “very best universities.” Certainly, college, jobs, and money are all important, but to confine the amazing experience of Lawrenceville to a numerical ranking is ignorance.

In a modern society so deeply rooted in materialism and financial success, it is easy to view education as a mere stepping stone to careers, and, by extension, also easy to rank schools if the only criteria are college, jobs, and money. Education, however, has no formula, and cannot be reduced to a mere stream of calculations and percentages. The beauty of Lawrenceville is intangible, inexplicable, and cannot be summarized with just a matriculation rate, a faculty to student ratio, and an endowment figure. Lawrenceville is not about SAT scores, G.P.A., or AP tests; it is about the infectious energy of House Olympics, the quiet elegance of a snow-blanketed campus, the absolutely indescribable joy of a Head Master’s Day. Next time, Forbes’, use this quote from an actual private school student: Lawrenceville has been and always will be my number one, no matter what any silly list may claim.

-MKL