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Top public schools in 2010: midsize U.S. cities

From Southwest suburbs to Southern tech towns, these top 10 cities offer families the best public schools for places with populations between 100,000 and 300,000.

By GreatSchools Staff

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Irvine, Calif.

Irvine, Calif.

Education quality score: 85.23
Median home price: $643,830
Population: 201,160

As cities go, Irvine is a special case. It emerged during the 1960s, when the Irvine Company enlisted architect William Pereira to plan a community around a new University of California campus. Each neighborhood, or village, was designed around an architectural theme, among them Spanish Mission, Tuscan, and Atlantic Coast. Today Irvine is an urban area with a strong, diverse economy, and its top employers include UC Irvine and a number of high-tech companies.

Irvine's school district is excellent for a variety of reasons: Anchored by a top university, the region is well educated and has generally high income levels and a low crime rate. Would-be researchers will be happy to know that UC Irvine's libraries are open to the public. One caveat: If Irvine sounds too good to be true, it should be noted that it has the highest median rent in the country.

Explore Irvine schools

Photo credit: debaird

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

04/11/2011:
"Can anyone tell me more about their experiences with Chapel Hill/Carborro? Thank you for the enlightening information on Wake County Schools. I am new to the triangle area and am currently doing my homework on the best schools for my dyslexic children coming to NC from MA where they attend private schools for language based disabilities which is paid for by the school district and the state of MA. I am well aware these are no such excellent schools in NC so that is where I must begin. Chapel Hill/Carborro schools seem to be the best fit so far thanks to a higher socioeconomic status of the area. I will be looking into the Hill Center as well to supplement public school. Please share more information with me especially if you have children with Dyslexia."
03/14/2011:
"You've got to be kidding. Most people try to escape the Wake County public school system any way they can. That's why our charter schools hold lotteries and stop at around 200 on wait lists! That diversity policy is totally misrepresented across the country. NC waters down it's state test every other year so it looks like students are achieving. They teach to the lowest denominator, and shuffle families around every 2-3 years. They'll even split families - assigning a 4th grader to one school, and a kindergartener in the same family to another. Totally absurd! I live within a mile of an elementary school and have never been allowed to send my kids there! The reason the new school board exists is because most of the voting public got pushed over the edge and got rid of the people that were standing behind a 60 year old educational policy that was introduced to address decades old social issues that don't exist anymore. Cary has remained more immune from the negative! effects due to the more recent and rapid growth, but believe me when I say that I can't wait to move to another state this year for this reason alone."
01/24/2011:
"Could you just print the list and give us the choice when we want the detail? I read this a bit and then just called it day. It is too annoying."
11/29/2010:
"Seems, judging from average home price, the best schools are in the wealthier towns. Why is that? What can be done to get a town with below average home prices into the best schools category?"
08/30/2010:
"Cary NC has great public schools? Are you kidding me? Nearly a third of Cary families will not even send their children to a Wake County Public School (WCPSS) because they are so bad. Check out the SAT scores of the local high schools - they are much lower than suburbs in other parts of the US and are an embarrassment to the community. As for the 'high passing rates' on end of grade tests, NC has one of the easiest testing systems in the nation. The 'diversity policy' is a huge county wide forced-busing mess that causes students to be assigned to certain schools so that the failing scores of disadvantaged students can be hidden among a higher number of passing students. WCPSS has a lower graduation rate for disadvantaged students then the state average so everyone (middle class and disadvantaged) comes up as losers in this system."
07/19/2010:
"NO! Scottsdale is not a good place to send your children. Especially Ingleside Middle School: Staff are know to verbal embarrass students in front of their peers and parents. The teachers change they grading and assignments at will. And if your child has any kind of learning difference, document every single conversation and keep every correspondence from staff, teachers and Administration. Beware!"
05/10/2010:
"Yes, Scottsdale is a great place to live and you never have to shovel snow :-) However you do need to know that Arizona is now 50th (rock bottom!) for what it spends on Education per child, per year. Sad but true! I think the new Scottsdale Superintendent, Dr. Gary Catalani, is a leader with vision. He understands the challenges that public education is presently facing. I believe he is doing the best he can with the budget cuts he is having to deal with. The Scottsdale school district, for the 2010-11 fiscal year, is facing $18.4 million in budget cuts alone. As Superintendent you can only do 'so much' for the students and teachers when you have so little money to do it with! Our Governor and the State legislature don't have the backbone to do the right thing! They have created this present 'nightmare' for AZ public education! They are allowing the future of all children, in public schools, to be determined by a vote! On May, 18th, in a special election, voters decide whether to preserve Education in AZ or not!!!! Please know that in a State with a large voting population of retirees who have 'paid their dues' and don't have much of a vested interest in passing this measure the outcome is scary! "
05/6/2010:
"No Arizona school can be rated as a good school. Arizona ranks 49th or 50ieth in spending and quality of education on most lists. The label 'excelling school' is a sales term made up by the disticts to 'sell' the schools and make the parents feel complacent. Our state AIMS test is terrible. We face more budget cuts. The state of Arizona has a high retired population that have already 'paid their dues'. If we didn't have family here, we'd get out of this state. Don't move to Arizona. Scottsdale, specifically, is good at selling outsiders anything."
05/6/2010:
"Scottsdale has a large district staff that stifles the schools. The Superintendent needs to go back into real retirement instead retire on the state's time. Principals hands are tied when it comes to real solutions for the drastic cuts in education. Our famous governor put education on a sales tax increase ballot chopping block. Stay away from Arizona if you want to educate your kids. I'm shocked that Great Schools didn't do their homework."
04/13/2010:
"Don't buy what you read on Cary, NC - and that the diversity policy is what makes the schools great. By shuffling kids around like cattle, to make sure that no school has more than 40% children eligible for 'free and reduced lunch' (a system highly wrought with fraud, I will mention - as I've seen estimates as high as 60% of the families who receive this benefit lied about their incomes to get it) - they've created a system where all schools are just mediocre, and it makes it easier to hide the low graduation rates among the economically disadvantaged. Would you be proud of a 55% graduation rate for minorities? I can't believe Wake County is proud of it. Also, unless you can get your child into a magnet school (less than 50% who apply actually get in), then you can count on your public school not offering you many electives. Public schools are not allowed to offer electives, because they will 'compete' with the magnet schools who get special funding. Let me tell you, t! his school district has been run into the ground for years, and is such a complicated disaster it's almost laughable. To tell you I am horrified by the mess they've created here is an understatement. PLEASE do your homework before moving to Wake County, if you have school-age children. Your children can get a much more high-quality, more stable public education elsewhere."
04/13/2010:
"This is the FIRST artical that actually addresses my concerns I would like to move south but could not find any info on schools. Thank you and keep the info comming."
04/8/2010:
"The so-called diversity program in Cary, NC (Wake county actually)were a joke. The policy hurt many more than it helped. My three kids spent there entire school career worrying which school they would be attending the following year. Every year there was redistricting. They would often ride a bus past two schools, to a third that was much further away. When we literally lived right beside one elementary and middle school, they were bused 10 miles away so poor kids could ride an hour on a school bus to attend our highly rated school. The school board taught my kids that liberals with good intentions, rarely think things completely thru. And that while giving to one group, take away from another that actually earned their spot. The end of the diversity program came too late for my kids, but I'm glad the end of it will now help many other kids."
04/7/2010:
"As a Naperville resident I'm very happy with the education our daughter is getting. It's a truly great place to live and bring up a family."
04/6/2010:
"I'd like to know how you included Overland Park, KS in the top 10, but ignored Liberty, Blue Springs, and Lees Summit, across the border in Missouri, who all have better school rankings (according to Great Schools)"
04/6/2010:
"I wonder how long it will take before Florida's public schools suffer at the mass teacher exodus in light of HB7189. Newly graduating education majors are heading out of Florida now."
04/6/2010:
"Its obvious that those schools designated a quality schools correspond to the high socio-economic level of the community."
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