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

From island living to East Coast urban, these top 10 cities offer families the best public schools for places with populations above 300,000.

By GreatSchools Staff

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Pittsburgh, Pa.

Pittsburgh

Education quality score: 56.56
Median home price: $79,380
Population: 311,218

Pittsburgh Public Schools is on the move. A few years ago, the district — the second-largest in the state, with 26,000 students in 66 schools — made a commitment to improve its faltering performance, and the steady improvements in rankings and test scores are proof that its efforts are taking hold. AYP scores are rising every year and even exceeding expectations, while student performance at all levels continues to improve. And Pittsburgh — called one of the most livable U.S. cities by everyone from The Economist to the Places Rated Almanac — has a low cost of living and low crime stats. Besides, it’s the home of the first Big Mac and the banana split. What family could ask for more?

Explore Pittsburgh schools

Photo credit: sidehike

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

04/26/2012:
"Pittsburgh Public has many options for students and families. The poster who has issues is simply wrong. I have been in nearly 30 schools in their system over the span of 3 years. They are doing things better than many school districts. A) They have highly qualified teachers and some of the most rigorous performance evaluations for staff in any state. They are called RISE, look them up if you want to see how teachers are assessed. B) They have a magnet program, with a diverse set of academic offerings. Students can choose to enroll in a "specialty school" with a specific approach. For example, there is Allderdice, which is the Science and Technology high school. It doesn't matter where you live in the city, if you can get there, you can attend that school. It is a blue ribbon school by the way. Very few schools are awarded that prestige in the US each year. There are schools with a language focus, science focus, theater and arts (Well known, CAPA). They have traditional academies that are very structured and the kids wear uniforms. They have the basic schools too. There are so many options between home schools, magnet schools, and choices. C) Through funding sources like Heinz and PNC, they are offering The Pittsburgh Promise. It is a program that gives scholarships for attending the schools. A student, with proper attendance and grades can earn $4,000 per year for college. Many colleges in the area accept the scholarship. Students can graduate with about $20K for college, just by attending high school. It is a really awesome opportunity for many families. D) Pittsburgh is a wonderful city filled with Universities and a culture of learning. Students from Duquesne, Pitt, CMU, and other colleges contribute volunteer hours, tutoring, student teachers, etc to the district. E) They have partnerships with Americorps, PNC grow up great, and many many more. There may be some issues at some schools. This is a city, not a country club. Parents can be involved. Parents have a voice there. Students have choices. They also have some of the most dynamic teaching staff that I have ever seen, and I have been in several districts. "
04/23/2012:
"Tampa.... Are you kidding me? We live in a blue ribbon, A+ rated school and the kids hardly get homework and get half day once or twice a month reserved for teaching planning. The staff, administration, cost of living and weather are excellent, but the education program is extremely behind. Every school in Florida is focused on passing the FCAT, with little opportunity to really teach the students. Many parent I talk to have pulled their kids into private school or have moved up North for better education. Tampa should not be on this list. "
04/6/2012:
"This just completely blew your credibility. I live in Portland, Oregon and am researching other districts across the nation with the thoughts of relocating. The Portland Public School System is in shambles. Cuts in state and federal funding have created a 28 million dollar funding gap this year. 100 plus teaching positions will be eliminated next year as well as severe cuts in services for kids. The student teacher ratio in my sons kindergarten class is 30 to 1. The school system has consistently struggled over the years, which leads me to speculate how you cam to your position that this is a "Top Public School" system. "
03/26/2012:
"I have to agree with other posts. Honolulu being in this listing destroys its credibility. We are actually leaving the state because the school system is so disheartening. And our son is at one of the top schools in the state. Private schools aren't excessively expensive, but with the high cost of living and much better schools on the mainland, moving is the best option for our family. I am assuming one factor going into calculating the schools "education quality" is funding. While Hawaii has more money available in the budget per student (on paper), less than half is actually spent to educate students at the school level. We have been told by administration only $5,400 is available while the budget clearly shows over $12,000 is allocated. Without proper audits, elimination of redundant spending and a reduction of administration at the district level, the true amount of funding going to actually educating students will not be realized. My son is in first grade and there are ! 28 students in his class......with no teacher's assistant. That also blows the 14:1 ratio suggested. We have friends in other states with students in first grade and they average about 16 students in class and it seems that most have either a full time assistant or at a minimum a shared assistant. Friends (and we have had several) who have already left the state say that their students are struggling in other schools because they are so behind. It's sad that the article doesn't take into consideration what another poster suggested: national test scores, graduation rates, and secondary education attendance and completion. Closer evaluation should be used to judge schools and districts. It appears the criteria for this article isn't complete or appropriate. "
09/6/2011:
"Honolulu made the cut? Speaking from experience, this is the only known positive article ever written about Hawaii Public Schools. Unionized teachers with a botched union leadership, there is no realistic chance of getting rid of the incompetent teachers. The huge kicker was when our Lt. Gov. suggested a financial audit of the Dept. Of Education and was promptly "roadblocked" by the department "heads" stating it was not necessary, even though their excuse is always "no budget to hire better teachers, blah, blah, blah...". "
04/4/2011:
"Would you believe that Torrey Pines High School ranks on top of Beverly Hills??? Well it does..."
03/15/2011:
"Are you kidding me? Hawaii has the worst public schools in the country based on literacy, graduation rates and test scores. I know-I grew up in Honolulu and went to public school. "
11/29/2010:
"Wow. Amazing. I was clicking through this list thinking I was reading some factual information until I saw Honolulu on this list. I was like 'ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?!?' Honololu on the recommended PUBLIC SCHOOL list? No way. We have some of the WORST public schools in the country. They are constantly rated at the bottom of the list in the country. I am completely blown away and I now know little to NO trust in anything this website has to say. Is there some sort of kick back going on here? Wow. Yes this is an awesome place to live, but most people here work as much as they can to send their kids to whatever private school they can afford to. We send out son to one of the cheaper ($9k a year!) private schools and even it is not that great. Education is NOT a top priority on this island. -Dave"
09/8/2010:
"Sorry too, to the poster below me! But I totally agree with this article putting Virginia Beach Public Schools in the top 5. My experience with my 3 kids have been totally opposite from yours. My family came from Japan, and right from the moment my kids were enrolled in VBPS schools. We were so impressed by the number of programs and options offered to students, discipline in the schools, dedicated teachers and staffs. We as a family, realized how lucky we were and opted to take advantage of what VBPS offered. I'm happy to say that my kids are now consistent principals lists and honor roll students. Their SOL's are all passed/advanced and Stanford 10's are in the stanine 8 or 9's. note: gang activities? What are you talking about? VBPS do have an alternative middle school and high school, where students with questionable behaviors and grades are placed in. "
08/26/2010:
"Sorry - I attended Virginia Beach public schools and made the mistake of starting my son in the 'top' elementary school there. The system is so incredibly disorganized; gang activity in the schools is not acknowledged by the Administration, the technology offered is primitive...I had to pull my son out and send him to private school. If the Virginia Beach public school system is #5 in the country, that is a sad statement for the quality of the public school system in the USA."
08/16/2010:
"Honolulu?? That one choice alone destroys the credibility of this article. I speak from experience. My children have attended public school in three states. I tried to keep an open mind about Hawaii public schools when we moved here. I learned the hard way. Furlough Fridays were a disgrace. My daughter's elementary school (one of the better ones) was ok - the GT program was the redeeming factor, but most kids don't have access to that program. My son attended the public middle school, which was horrible. The teachers don't care and the pricipal is so unprofessional it's a joke. If you need help they are living on 'island time' - multiple days to get any response if you're lucky enough to get a response at all. This year I put my daughter in private school because I refuse to subject her to that substandard middle school. My son is now in the public high school. We're only a few weeks into the school year so it's too soon to evaluate the high school experience, b! ut instantly I had the confirmation that I needed that the private school I selected for my daughter will be worth every penny. The teachers answer emails within hours. The assignments are challenging. The standards are high. Did the researchers consider the ridiculous grading system for the Hawaii elementary schools? I don't need to write pages about the serious problems in Hawaii's public schools - it's all out there and easy to find online. What a shame the author of the article didn't bother to do any research. "
08/16/2010:
"It seems a bit misleading that Virginia Beach would make a list of best schools. Great Schools offers only a score of 7 out of 10 for any of it's highschools and I went to the 2010 Newsweek best schools list and Virginia Beach rates extremely low. In Fact Princess Anne has the highest rank at 123. Perhaps they are on the rise but I haven't found anything to support this as a great school district. "
08/16/2010:
"Obviously this writer does not have children in Wake County Schools. The people voted for a new school board because the 'best schools' have limited seats and buses rule the road. Also, Cary is part of the Wake Co. school system and had a voice in the vote to change a badly broken system."
08/16/2010:
"There is NOTHING great about Raleigh's schools, except for a few fine teachers. Based on experience, I choose to home school my children. Those in favor of 'diversity' refuse to admit that the policy has not helped the children who need help. The magnet High Schools, Broughton and Enloe, are providing 'private school' education at tax-payers' expense for 'some' students, while the graduation rates for minorities at these schools is below the average of the non-magnet schools. The magnet students are segregated from the base students within the school. It's way past time to admit the integration policy has not achieved any significant results. Wake County already had, and continues to have, schools that are 70% F&RL under the past 'diversity' board members. Segregated schools existed before the new board was elected. Some need to stop making everything about race and put energy toward making changes that actually result in a quality education for all. I wonder how many hours the members of the NAACP and Barbour's 'church' spend volunteering at the schools, doing their part to help the children that have no good role models at home, or in their neighborhoods? Public schools cannot make up for poor parenting. School is a resource, responsible parenting is the primary source for success in life. "
08/16/2010:
"Check news reports on Wake County School Board meetings. Supporters of the current system disrupt meetings and get hauled to jail in the name of civil disobedience. This is what the current system has produced! Not what we want our children to learn. But the voters had the final say--at the polls with no police needed. Legally and quietly."
07/19/2010:
"Good article! Thanks."
07/19/2010:
"Thank for sharing this articles. I really like the area and wish to move there!"
07/19/2010:
"Raleigh? For real? I live here, and I must ask who paid the staff off to put Raleigh on the list. The school district has no concept regarding growth management. I've been redistricted 4 times in 3 years (no 'choices' here)! If you review our test scores, they've been steadily on the decline, with the majority of our schools failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress, many going on the fifth year of failure. Budget cuts have our classes overcrowded, with most bumping the state caps (24 per class is typical for K-3, while grades above that routinely have 32-34). The district is building new schools in hopes to reduce the overall number of students in 'portables' (aka trailers) below 35%, but they fail to manage these projects. On the most recent attempt to build a new school, the whole construction budget was blow on site prep without a single brick being laid. The district keeps putting band-aids on the problems, such as allowing students to take the EOGs several times! and counting only the best scores. Of course, one can't forget the constant bussing and integration debates (regardless of moral stance, our neighbors in Mecklenberg abandoned bussing in favor of community schools years ago, and have better results to show for it). I could go on, but please, if you really think you want to be here, do your research and come for a visit."
05/10/2010:
"Have you not done your homework in researching Honolulu's public schools? Hawaii ranks 48th worse among the states in public schools. If you have any opportunity to go private you do starting as early as possible. This article makes me distrust all the information on this website. "
04/13/2010:
"This is a joke. Our public school system is broken and the biggest budget item in the State. Furlough Fridays have resulted in 163 day school years plus the students get out at 1:30 on Wednesdays."
04/12/2010:
"No way! How much did you get paid to say that Honolulu or ANY Hawaii public school belongs in the top ten??? The shortest school year, 163 'days', the shortest school day, barely 6 hours from foot off the bus to foot on the bus, 17 furlough fridays, labor disputes, lack of parental involvement, etc. This sounds like a survey fueld by the American Association of Realtors to boost real estate sales, not a data driven survey. Interesting to note that not one public school was named by name with their test scores. This pick is bogus."
04/9/2010:
"Overall, I am encouraged by the recommendations to have better communication, collaboration, and accountability between Program for Students with Exceptionalities and general education administrators and principals. I agree that organization could be more efficient. I disagree, however, with the recommendation that the Transition department lose a position. This is an area of vital importance as students are being readied to enter the workforce, and is very specialized within the special education regulations. The district can not afford to lose personnel in this area."
04/8/2010:
"The previous post about Pittsburgh Public Schools is just ridiculous. While Pittsburgh does have unaddressed issues with teaching to the average, high cost to the taxpayer per pupil, and 100% African American schools, it is utterly false that the district closes their ears to parental input. Every month there is a district wide meeting called the EFA Parent Meeting where the superintendent is present 4 times a year. it is open for ALL parents. There is also a parents hotline that is available for anyone who has concerns, and a portal for parents to monitor student attendance and grades in almost real time. If any parent WANTS to be involved Pittsburgh Public Schools offer plenty of opportunities. I suggest you come to an EFA meeting before you vent your frustrations on the web."
04/8/2010:
"I would have to disagree with the article praising Honolulu as a great place to raise and school children. The public school system here is terrible and with the introduction of 'Furlough Fridays', it's about to get a lot worse. Also, the cost of private school here is huge. Oh and then there is the huge crystal meth problem here on the island."
04/8/2010:
"Well, I DO live in Pgh. And the schools are very good here. My sons attended the publics here and we are very satisfied. I see we're the only rust belt city, heck, the only one from a northern clime, and I think this says a lot. Pittsburgh is awesome and the schools are but one reason why."
04/7/2010:
"Pittsburgh Public Schools used to be wonderful 25 years ago. Today they are a mislead district that is resegregating the student population and providing poor quality of education to children trapped in high poverty communities -- and average education to everyone else. They do not comunicate sufficiently with parents and pretty much ignore any concern or issue expressed by the broader community. Pittsburgh needs to get it together."
04/7/2010:
"As a resident of the Houston, Texas, area, and someone who grew up in San Jose, and also still has a Mother living there, I have to wonder exactly what 'standards' the people who devised this list are looking at? First of all, these are NOT what I would call the BIG cities, for since when are Mesa or Portland considered big cities? If you are going to have just three sizes, you should have the BIGGEST cities in the BIG category! The schools in my area, specifically the Cy-Fair school district, are full of exemplary and recognized schools, and do VERY, VERY well! Not one single school district or schools in any large city in Texas could qualify? REALLY? And yet you chose Honolulu???? Because of ONE school, not even a district? California schools were great when I attended them in San Jose, but they are failing miserably now. I think there was a HUGE bias in this so-called 'top ranking', and by EVERYONE'S standards who ACTUALLY have children in these districts and schools,! you did a terrible job! I think you need to leave politics OUT of your calculations, for it is pretty obvious that is why you included the places that you did, and omitted cities that TRULY deserved to be in there!"
04/7/2010:
"I see the problem. If EVERYONE went to public schools and put in the time and effort - as well as what money you can afford in the way of taxes specifically targeted for the schools - most private schools expect you top contribute, then the public schools wouldn't be in such trouble."
04/6/2010:
"As one of the editors of these stories I wanted to respond to some of the comments about this big city list. According to our data, these are the best that big cities have to offer -- but when compared to other mid-sized and smaller cities they wouldn't make the list. (The educational quality score signals this at the top of every slide.) So while the list is indeed accurate (according to test scores and other objective criteria available to us -- check our methodology story) some schools in these big cities may not meet residents' standards. (A couple of cities were cut because of their high unemployment rates.) As a parent of children in San Francisco public schools, I know exactly what you are referring to. At the same time, this list speaks to the reality of the largest public school districts across America. "
04/6/2010:
"As one of the editors of these stories I wanted to respond to some of the comments about this big city list. According to our data, these are the best that big cities have to offer -- but when compared to other mid-sized and smaller cities they wouldn't make the list. (The educational quality score signals this at the top of every slide.) So while the list is indeed accurate (according to test scores and other objective criteria available to us -- check our methodology story) some schools in these big cities may not meet residents' standards. (A couple of cities were cut because of their high unemployment rates.) As a parent of children in San Francisco public schools, I know exactly what you are referring to. At the same time, this list speaks to the reality of the largest public school districts across America. "
04/6/2010:
"I live in one of those 'Florida' areas and know the other quite well. Let's just say...there is absolutely no merit to this report at all. I just wanted to put that out there lest someone 'move' here for the schools."
04/6/2010:
"As a resident of Hawaii, seeing Honolulu here makes me seriously doubt the accuracy of this list. Hawaii's schools are consistently ranked among the worst in the country. Finding a good public school here is like finding a needle in a haystack. Most of the best-performing students flee the public school system to the state's many private schools. As proof, Hawaii has the highest private-school participation rate in the country at nearly 20 percent. Great Schools, you really need to reexamine your methodology on this one."
04/6/2010:
"you must be thinking of a different Mesa. The Mesa I see has pockets of good like many cities, but also a large population of low income, illegal aliens. So I cannot imagine their public schools are all so great.. Plus AZ is in a financial crisis and many of the disctricts are cutting back staffing and increasing class size."
04/6/2010:
"Tampa, I don't think so!!"
04/6/2010:
"Caveat emptor! The recent changes implemented by the Republican backed Wake County School Board are threatening the underpinnings which made Raleigh schools the envy of the country. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2010/0324/Busing-to-end-in-Wake-Cou nty-N.C.-Goodbye-school-diversity Basically all the things that made Raleigh better than average are being systematically dismantled by the right-leaning members of the Board. "
04/6/2010:
"Hello, I love living in Honolulu, but if you ask any local, the public schools in general are not favored. Many scrimp and save to send their child to private school because of the low scores and under-funding at public schools. The information you have for the student ratio of 14 to 1 may be true of the charter schools, but my son's public school kindergarten class has 28 students. In order to send my son to a public school that has decent scores, I had to apply for a Geographic Exception (GE). After being turned down by three schools through the lottery system (everyone is trying to get their kid in those schools because they are good), I kept looking but had no chance at other schools because the lottery was over, and the waiting lists long. I looked into two charter schools, but am uncomfortable with the office-setting and no playground. I was finally able to find a school on the windward side that accepted us. I am very happy and don't mind the beautiful 10-minute ! drive, but it took some work to find this school. Our plans are to start private school once our son reaches intermediate school."
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