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Chalkbeat: Attending a Selective High School Does NOT Confer Advantage

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This is a story that made me happy. I graduated from a non-selective, open admissions public high school in Houston. It was untracked (but unfortunately it was racially segregated like all schools in Houston because I graduated in 1956). I never heard of selective admissions until I came to New York City. Or tracking or magnet schools (which were originally designed to promote racial integration, not as havens for white students).

Matt Barnum writes about studies showing that it really doesn’t matter whether a student goes to a selective high school.

“Studies looking at the test-in schools in those cities and in Chicago have found that students receive little if any measurable benefit from attending them. Students with similar qualifications who attend high school elsewhere end up with comparable SAT scores and college admissions offers, they find.

“There is perhaps too much attention on these test schools as if they’re lifesavers, and we have evidence that maybe they’re not,” said Tomas Monarrez, who studies segregation at the Urban Institute….

”In a 2014 study titled “The Elite Illusion,” Pathak and other researchers compared students who just made the cut to attend a test-in school in Boston or New York City and similar students who fell just short. (Notably, the Boston schools, unlike New York City’s, don’t rely exclusively on test scores for admissions decisions.)

“The difference in test scores, including on the SAT and Advanced Placement exams, between the two groups was largely nonexistent.

“Perhaps more important to parents and students is whether attending one of those household-name schools helps kids get into a better college. The answer, according to a separate study focusing on New York City’s specialized high school graduates between 1994 and 2013, is not really.

“There was no evidence that those students were more likely to enroll in college, complete college, or attend an especially elite institution than comparable students who went to high school elsewhere. There was also little difference between students who just missed the cutoff for Stuyvesant but got into another of the test-in schools, like Bronx Science.

“The Boston study came to similar conclusions.

“In some cases, there were even negative effects: Students who just made it into Brooklyn Tech were actually 2 percentage points less likely to graduate from a four-year college as a result….

”The many clubs and activities found at some exam schools may expose students to ideas and concepts not easily captured by achievement tests or our post-secondary outcomes,” wrote the Boston and New York City researchers.

“That idea strengthens the case for adjusting the selection process to admit more black and Hispanic students who otherwise wouldn’t have access to those resources.

“It is still important to try to open the door of these schools,” The Urban Institute’s Monarrez said. “But perhaps [we should] just not think of these schools as the best and only answer to these problems.”


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