Exam Schools: The Ups and Downs of Selective Public High Schools

Exam Schools: The Ups and Downs of Selective Public High Schools

The plight of low-performing students dominates our education news and policies. Yet America's high flyers demand innovative, rigorous schooling as well, particularly if the country is to sharpen its economic and scientific edge. Motivated, high-ability youngsters can be served in myriad ways by public education, including schools that specialize in them. In a new book from Princeton University Press, Exam Schools: Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools, co-authors Chester Finn and Jessica Hockett identify 165 such high schools across America.

In this Fordham LIVE! conversation, they and others will examine some of the issues that selective-admission public high schools pose. Who attends them? How are their students selected? Are such schools the future of gifted education or do they unfairly advantage a select few at the expense of most students? Just how different are they, anyway?

Authors Finn and Hockett will be joined by a pair of educators instrumental in the creation of two of the "exam schools" profiled in the book: Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University and a key player in the establishment of D.C.'s selective School Without Walls, and Geoffrey Jones, founding principal of Alexandria's Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

We all love teachers but do we all love ed reformers?

Mike and Kathleen wonder why education can’t stay out of the debates and pick the top edu-initiatives on the ballot. Amber describes the spectacular growth in non-teaching staff.

Amber's Research Minute

The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools by Benjamin Scafidi (Indianapolis, IN: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, October 2012). - Download PDF

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) just published a short yet important paper on how states can improve the talent among their ranks of principals. The paper focuses primarily on how states can strategically and thoughtfully engineer a pipeline of talented principals. According to the authors, states can activate three levers to build this pipeline: (1) collect administrative staff data to project the need for principals—and, geographically, where the need will be; (2) join principal preparation programs to their graduates’ results, in order identify the most effective prep programs; and (3) connect school building performance results to principals and encourage districts to reward effective principals and help struggling ones.

The 21st century principalship will be a leadership position that requires a host of skills. Principals will have to manage people, whether parents, teachers, or kids. They’ll have to manage processes, which will range from teacher evaluations to budgeting. They’ll have to understand data, including value-added growth models, which are based on complex statistical models. And they’ll have to do all this within the context of being educational experts and instructional leaders. They also have to help motivate their staffs and their students. It won’t be an easy job—though,...

The day after Superintendent Gene Harris announced her 2013 retirement from the Columbus City Schools (CCS) last month, Mayor Michael Coleman declared he’d play a greater role in improving the city’s schools. The district has been plagued in recent months by a data-tampering scandal and its unrelenting news coverage, and academic achievement has been stagnant for several years now. Coleman and City Council President Andrew Ginther have launched what is effectively the start of the post-Gene Harris era with a briefing about the district from Eric Fingerhut, corporate Vice President of Battelle's Education and STEM Learning business and the Mayor’s newly appointed education advisor; Mark Real, founder of; and John Stanford, deputy superintendent of CCS. The briefing is one of four intended to bring city leaders up to speed on the state of the city’s schools and related issues.

So what did they learn? There were at least three major takeaways.

The city’s footprint is significantly larger than the district’s. The distinction between kids who live in the City of Columbus and those who live within the boundaries of Columbus City Schools (CCS) is important – and something most residents and observers would find surprising. Columbus’s population has doubled since 1950...

After Chicago: The future of teacher unions

After Chicago: The future of teacher unions

The membership of the Chicago Teachers Union approved a new contract last week but the legacy of the rancorous strike is far from settled. Did the experience prove Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker right? Will unions continue to impede reform—and add to costs—so long as state law gives them expansive collective bargaining and striking rights?

It’s all French to me

Rick and Mike pick apart an egregious example of Continental Achievement-Gap mania and take on differing proficiency goals based on student race and ethnicity. Amber asks if we’d be better off spending our edu-dollars in very different ways.

Amber's Research Minute

How Do Public Investments in Children Vary with Age? A Kids' Share Analysis of Expenditures in 2008 and 2011 by Age Group by The Urban Institute - Download PDF

1984 in 2012?

Aaron Churchill drops by to explain Ohio’s attendance foibles and debate the merits of another kind of student tracking. Amber asks if super sub-groups are all that super.

Amber's Research Minute

Shining a Light or Fumbling in the Dark? The Effects of NCLB’s Subgroup-Specific Accountability on Student Achievement by Douglas Lee Lauen & S. Michael Gaddis for EEPA

The Fall Classic

Mike and Dara analyze the NAACP’s definition of discrimination and grapple with the unpleasant reality that Ohio’s online schools mostly suck. Amber looks at what it takes to exit high school these days.

Amber's Research Minute

Center on Education Policy, State High School Exit Exams: A Policy in Transition (Washington, D.C.: George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, September 2012)

Today’s post is a bit of a Board’s Eye View swan song, as I am embarking on two new projects that take me off “the board” as they widen my “view” considerably. I will be helping David Steiner, dean of education at Hunter College and former New York State commissioner of education, establish a new Institute for Education Policy at City University of New York. We hope to make the Institute an important forum for issues facing K-20 urban education. I will also be helping Ann Tisch, founder and chair of The Young Women’s Leadership Network, create a new and innovative curriculum for urban high school students. This too will be an exciting project, designed to bring essential twenty-first-century skills to our urban students.

What I hope to bring to both endeavors are some of the insights gleaned while serving on my small public district’s board of education and writing for the last twenty-five months (this is my 400th blog post for Fordham, but who’s counting?) about school governance...

The lessons of school board service do not quickly dissipate. My feelings about BOE service are similar to those of the new Bridging Differences interlocutory Pedro Noguera (taking Diane Ravitch’s...

The laugh factory

Mike and Rick wonder if there’s still room for ed reformers in the Democratic Party after Chicago. Amber analyzes why American students continue to struggle with the SAT. And Rick makes a few jokes at Karen Lewis’s expense.

Amber's Research Minute

The SAT Report on College & Career Readiness: 2012 - The College Board Download PDF