It’s the peer effect, stupid: What makes schools like Stuyvesant great? It’s not test-based admission, but a broader culture of excellence

We’ve conducted more than 70 interviews (and counting) with adult alumni of Stuyvesant High School who graduated between 1946 and 2013 for a book we’re working on called “The Peer Effect.” (We both graduated from Stuyvesant in the 1980s.) Many of the people we’ve interviewed grew up poor, and/or were black, Latino or Asian. Some of the graduates we interviewed from earlier years were from poor or working-class Jewish families. We also interviewed a lot of former students who were brought up in white, middle-class families.

Stuyvesant is a mobility machine — students that come in poor usually are upwardly mobile. This includes students admitted under Discovery, or who barely made the cut, and even those who had “poor” grades (including those who comfortably passed the cutoff scores). The vast majority of graduates went on to good colleges and to professional careers. It’s not surprising, then, that there’s so much agita over any changes to the admission policy, even though it will only affect around 1000 seats across the schools per class.