So a kid without a head walks into a school…

It’s that time of year again, when US News and World Report publishes its top 100 list of the Best American High Schools. Upon analyzing the top ten schools on that list, the first thing I noticed was that only ONE school has an open enrollment policy. The others have either a merit-based selection process or a non-merit based “application” process.

I wonder what a non-merit-based application would require. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume that eligibility for enrollment is determined by how much money your parents make.

According to the US News & World Report Data:

  • The number 1 school has only 1% of its students eligible for free and reduced lunch.
  • The number 2 school has only ONE STUDENT eligible for free and reduced lunch.
  • The number 9 school, an AZ charter, has not one single student eligible for free and reduced lunch.

It turns out that the number 2 school, the one with open-enrollment policy, charges upwards of $1,000.00 in non-refundable fees, most of which go to paying for International Baccalaureate exams which are required for all students.

Several years ago, prior to receiving a charter from the state board to open a small school, I attended a workshop for prospective charter operators. One of the workshop facilitators stood at the front of the room and put the fear of God in us as she outlined enrollment policy law. We were, after all, going to open a public school. Any funny business in the enrollment department would put a stain on the whole charter school movement. She warned us, “if a kid comes to your door without a HEAD, you are required by law to take him in!”

We believed her.

In our seventh year, we still have not yet had a headless student enroll at City High School, but we have had students with severe disabilities, students who live in extreme poverty, students who are homeless or live on their own, and students who have had lengthy interruptions in their schooling thus setting them back years in certain core skill areas. We do not enroll students based on merit, have them fill out a lengthy application, or charge exhorbitant fees.

After all, we opened a public school.

Shame on those that left that workshop with their fingers crossed behind their backs.

And shame on US News and World Report for exploiting its power over public opinion with a bogus list that perpetuates, rather than interrupts, a rotten system that continues to privilege one group of students over another based on class.


Eve Rifkin

Eve Rifkin

Tucson, Arizona

I have been an educator for over 20 years. As a founding co-director of City High School, I have held a variety of leadership and teaching roles, including academic director, humanities teacher, and principal. I am currently the Director of College Access and support students as they envision their lives after high school.

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