Young, Gifted & Neglected

If you missed the NYT op-ed by Chester E. Finn Jr., a longtime education analyst who heads the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, it’s worth a read. The good news, New York City has 24 EXAM schools that met the criteria for his study.

The op-ed hits the main points that those of us who’ve found the ‘right fit for our child’ already understand.

…Every motivated, high-potential young American deserves a similar opportunity. But the majority of very smart kids lack the wherewithal to enroll in rigorous private schools. They depend on public education to prepare them for life. Yet that system is failing to create enough opportunities for hundreds of thousands of these high-potential girls and boys. 

Mostly, the system ignores them, with policies and budget priorities that concentrate on raising the floor under low-achieving students. A good and necessary thing to do, yes, but we’ve failed to raise the ceiling for those already well above the floor.      

In his op-ed, he describes the three systemic failures: weak early identification of the gifted and talented, insufficient amount of classrooms for these learners at the primary and middle school levels and budget constraints that cut needed services for them and high schools with some AP or honors classes but without students who are prepared to succeed in them.

In his video on YouTube, Exam Schools & 3 Myths, he explores what he describes as EXAM Schools and dispels the myth that they are bastions of  privilege for rich white kids, but rather ‘private schools at public expense for poor kids, working class kids and lower middle class kids who are able but whose families don’t have the wherewithal to send them to private schools…’ He concludes that the jury is out as to whether those same kids would have done as well at other schools.

For more on the research he published on EXAM Schools, Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica A. Hockett, see the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

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.

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