Defying history and stereotype, the South's schools rise





Sometimes the reaction is a guffaw, sometimes a snort. Either way, it's the disbelieving sound of people learning that an unassuming suburban school called Jefferson County IBS in Irondale, Ala., about as deep in the South as you can get, ranks in the top five high schools in the United States.

"People still have stereotypes of what ... Alabamians are like, and because we talk slower maybe they think we're not on the ball," says Linda Jones, an administrator at the school.

Southern school districts still lag behind the US average on standardized-test scores, and many see their students, especially blacks and Hispanics, drop out. Yet 50 years after the "Little Rock Nine" integrated Central High in Arkansas, hundreds of Southern high schools, many still under desegregation orders, have quietly become educational powerhouses, muscling out California, the Midwest, and New England when it comes to school innovation, excellence, and standard-setting.



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