How One ‘Ordinary’ Brooklyn High School Produced Six Nobel Laureates, a Supreme Court Justice, and Three Senators

Verba, it turns out, was a graduate of James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York. So is Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. And the Senate minority leader, Charles Schumer. And even a former Republican senator from Minnesota, Norm Coleman.

At least six Nobel laureates also attended the school: Gary Becker and Robert Solow in economics, Arthur Ashkin and Martin Perl in physics, and Baruch Blumberg and Stanley Cohen in medicine.

The secret doesn’t seem to have been any of the obvious factors. It wasn’t a particularly wealthy group of students, like, say, those who attend Phillips Andover Academy or other private high schools that have produced lots of prominent professionals.

“An ordinary middle- and lower–middle-class high school,” is how Verba described it in a 2011 interview with the Annual Review of Political Science.

It was, Fish said, “just a district school,” not a magnet school and not an exam school that required for entrance a high score on a competitive standardized test.