Ranking High Schools and Courts on Their Performance

The 2009 U.S. News & World Report second annual rankings of America’s best public high schools came out this week. The rankings were done by School Evaluation Services, a K – 12 education data research firm run by Standard & Poor’s, based on an analysis of the performances of 21,069 public high schools in the 2006 -2007 school year (see www.usnews.com/highschools).

The annual rankings of high schools hold two important lessons for judges and court managers, especially those who bristle at the idea of comparative performance measurement. (See “Ten Reasons Not to Measure Court Performance,” Made2Measure, November 19, 2008)

The first lesson is that performance matters to citizens. The U.S. News & World Report rankings are based on the key principle that a great high school must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show that it successfully educates all of its students across a range – a balanced scorecard – of performance indicators. Little else matters to parents as much.

The hallmarks of a high-performing court are the political will and the capacity to produce measureable outcomes that matter to the public and other stakeholders. The best courts ask themselves “How are we doing and how could we improve?” They measure their performance on a regular and continuous basis to gain knowledge and insight into new realities, opportunities and necessities and to convert that knowledge and insight into effective strategies for improvement.

The second lesson to be learned from the U.S. News & World Report rankings is that similar comparisons and rankings of courts are likely to occur with increasing frequency. Court leaders are well advised to be prepared with their own court performance data.

Just last week, the Michigan State Court Administrative Office took great pains to inform a state-wide gathering in Lansing of 100 chief trial court judges and court administrators about “current misinformation” about the cost-per-case and clearance rates of Michigan trial courts compiled and presented to state and national groups by a Michigan State University academic researcher.

The fact is that the best high school, colleges and universities, cities, public parks and, yes, America’s courts are of great interest to citizens. Courts not producing performance data to satisfy this interest are going to be asked why they’re not (see “How Do we Stack Up Against Other Courts? The Challenges of Comparative Performance Measurement,” The Court Manager, Vol. 19, No.4 (Winter 2004-2005).

See also “Toward the 50 ‘Best in Class’ Courts,” Made2Measure, April 23, 2008

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