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

From Boston burbs to Midwestern towns, these top 10 cities offer families the best public schools for places with populations between 10,000 and 100,000.

By GreatSchools Staff

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Belmont, Mass.

Belmont, Ma.

Education quality score: 98.01
Median home price: $694,300
Population: 23,216

This bucolic Boston suburb, bordered by upscale towns like brainy Cambridge and beatific Arlington, has a surplus of stately manses (thus its moniker, “the town of homes”), verdant open spaces, and stellar schools offering a bounty of academic bells and whistles.

Of the schools — four elementary, one middle, and one high — Belmont High is the district’s all-star, winning the 2009 gold medal from U.S. News & World Report, which also named it the country’s 100th-best non-private high school and Massachusetts’s second best. Belmont High offers a stunning 16 Advanced Placement courses, has outstanding athletic departments, and boasts a nationally recognized music program, rated among the top 100 for public schools. High expectations for excellence begin early. From elementary school on, students receive stellar test scores and high marks. The district’s secret? Being an affluent town hardly hurts. But Belmont has a long-standing tradition of community service: Parents and town organizations contribute significant money and time to enhance the schools; in turn, kindergarten through 12th-grade students are expected to participate regularly in community service, from working in food banks to hosting relief fundraisers.

Learn more about schools in Belmont, MA.

Photo credit: Liz Bolton

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/18/2010:
"Neighboring Framingham does not fall within the 'Sudbury District' for any purpose - certainly not for schools and the Sudbury Valley School, which is amazing, has nothing to do with the Town of Sudbury, Mass. or it's school system."
08/11/2010:
"Talk about expensive! And racial diversity! Forget about it!"
07/19/2010:
"I would like to explain a few things I've noticed in this article. This article mentions 10 of around 20,000 communities in the US, the top .05% in America. The list would have to include about 200 towns just to mention the top 1%, and 2000 towns to list the top 10%, which is still a tiny sample size. Basically, it is unfair to say that this list precludes school districts in other metro areas than Boston from being excellent. As someone who moved after a few years of having kids in a Boston area system, I can give a few theories as to why these systems rank so high. MA has more colleges and universities per square mile than anywhere else on the globe, the largest industries in the city are heathcare, law, higher education, and biotech/hightech research, which means many highly educated people live in the area. All school districts are defined within towns or pairs of towns, not county wide, and Boston has no complex charter or magnet school system, which means the best and ! brightest students stay at the local open enrollment schools and strenthen the specific town's school district instead of taking from it to aid a more general county (think schools like Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax County, VA). MA teachers are required to have masters degrees. Lastly, towns in MA tend to be very small (they were formed in the 1600 and 1700s based on church walkability), and therefore socioeconomically homogenous with notable exceptions. This means there is quite a bit of social stratification town to town and the wealthiest areas, which have some of the highest property taxes in the highest taxed state in the US can lavish money on the small local student populations, though it is worth noting that while Boston is expensive, jobs pay more so some of these towns (especially Acton) are not as out of reach as they may seem from the numbers. Education is so instilled as THE core value in these communities that where I lived, for example, more than 70% of tax rev! enue went into the local public schools. My childrens' former ! high school boasted SATII and AP scores higher than Phillips Academy, Andover, which is widely regarded as one of the best prep schools in America. I now live in a CT suburb of NYC and while the school systems are certainly excellent, the different combination of people, values, and opportunities don't always add up to putting ever possible resource into the schools and honing them to the lean, mean extent that some of these MA towns have. I'm not saying this is better or worse though. I quite prefer living close to NYC for the recreational opportunities, the weather, the beaches, and the convenience (in some of those communities, there is nothing to do that doesn't revolve around the schools, one of the reasons I took my current job). My children, while they claim they are not as challenged, are also less stressed out and happier, which I enjoy seeing as a parent. These comments are meant to be taken generally, and represent simply my opinions and observations."
07/19/2010:
"Well, I'll agree about the athletic programs at the High School (I just went to their website) but how did the Sudbury school district became so good?"
04/27/2010:
"I have to agree with the majority of the reponses! I had to look twice to see if I wasn't misunderstanding and hit a website for the best schools in MA! I'm from Iowa, they have excellent school systems here and was the home for the Iowa Basic Skills Test that students throughout the nation have taken for decades! Also, Iowa has one of the lowest high school graduation dropouts and one of the highest ratings in students graduating from high school and going on to college. This was clearly a biased report!"
04/19/2010:
"Of course MA has a lot of schools on the list - as a state, their educational standards are more stringent than the national average. And of course a lot of them are concentrated in wealthy areas with good colleges! That doesn't mean it's a bad article it just is more proof of what you clearly already knew. "
04/12/2010:
"Really?? I think you need to do a little more homework to come up with a representative list from across the US. The concentration in Mass makes one question your credibility, work ethic and bias."
04/7/2010:
"Not surprise Chicago is not in the List. Property taxes are very high in the suburbs – and the schools have no standard’s. High cost of living & bad schools."
04/7/2010:
"More than half of these schools are in Massachusetts in places no one can afford to live. Is that really the best research you could do? This article is pathetic, and I wouldnt accept it from my seventh grade son. I would tell him that EVERYONE knows that the best schools are in the expensive places with good colleges. Now how about you do some actual work?"
04/7/2010:
"I would agree with this article. I was looking for a place to raise my daughter and Massachusetts came up quite frequently. The reason I did not choose Massachusetts was because of the weather. I choose Sammamish and am very happy with the schools and the town. Blackwell is an outstanding school."
04/6/2010:
"Mercer Island - you don't need a ferry. It's connected by bridges. A little more fact-checking, please!"
04/6/2010:
"Nice article. I am glad Chicago was not included on your list of top schools in large cities - the Mayor appointed a CEO of Schools who has NO teaching experience, many great veteran teachers are pressured out of positions in favor of younger, inexperienced teachers who many cannot relate to nor adequately nuture the over 80% minority student body, scandals in placement of students to selective enrollment high and elementary schools, and overcrowded classrooms are just a few perfunctory problems facing children attending Chicago Public Schools."
04/6/2010:
"All these rich Boston suburbs. Ridiculous. Your criteria must certainly be skewed."
04/6/2010:
"Why didn't just write the article about Mass. and Wash. and leave the rest of the US out of it. That is what happen as it is. Guess the rest the country hasn't a chance to educated their children?"
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