Inside America's Most Selective Public High SchoolsBook - 2012
What is the best education for exceptionally able and high-achieving youngsters? Can the United States strengthen its future intellectual leadership, economic vitality, and scientific prowess without sacrificing equal opportunity? There are no easy answers but, as Chester Finn and Jessica Hockett show, for more than 100,000 students each year, the solution is to enroll in an academically selective public high school. Exam Schools is the first-ever close-up look at this small, sometimes controversial, yet crucial segment of American public education. This groundbreaking book discusses how these schools work--and their critical role in nurturing the country's brightest students.
The 165 schools identified by Finn and Hockett are located in thirty states, plus the District of Columbia. While some are world renowned, such as Boston Latin and Bronx Science, others are known only in their own communities. The authors survey the schools on issues ranging from admissions and student diversity to teacher selection. They probe sources of political support, curriculum, instructional styles, educational effectiveness, and institutional autonomy. Some of their findings are surprising: Los Angeles, for example, has no "exam schools" while New York City has dozens. Asian-American students are overrepresented--but so are African-American pupils. Culminating with in-depth profiles of eleven exam schools and thoughtful reflection on policy implications, Finn and Hockett ultimately consider whether the country would be better off with more such schools.
At a time of keen attention to the faltering education system, Exam Schools sheds positive light on a group of schools that could well provide a transformative roadmap for many of America's children.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. is a former assistant US secretary of education, currently president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow at Stanford (Hoover Institution). Jessica A. Hockett is an education consultant. They have produced a well-written book designed to educate general readers about selective public high schools. These schools teach limited numbers of students selected from large, competitive application pools. They often offer specialized instruction, focusing on math and science, or the arts; many of their teachers have MFA or PhD degrees; they are geared to prepare students for college; many focus their curriculum around the Advanced Placement (AP) test system. In these ways, they match stereotypes about private schools. However, they are public schools. Students do not have to live in the district, but applicants are public-school students, and do not pay private-school fees. The authors carefully debunk a number of stereotypes about these "exam schools," through profiles of eleven selective public high schools around the country. They show, for instance, that such schools are racially diverse, their curricula vary, and they are as likely to be founded to serve student groups that have been ignored or disenfranchised as to serve a community's aristocracy. Though the book argues such schools are the best available solution to public education, the authors are also willing to define shortcomings. The clearest criticism is that while who attends is set entirely by the school's admission tests and policy, the contents of these tests and policies is rarely questioned. The book looks at similarities and differences in all the schools profiled; the similarities include an intense work ethic for principals, teachers, and students, community pride in the school, that the schools profiled are relatively new, and that using incentives helps students do well. The final section offers transparency: questions about what is the best schooling solution asked from several different perspectives, the survey questions the authors used with the sample schools, the criteria by which the schools were selected, and notes on each school profiled. Annotation ©2013 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)