Elite or elitist? Lessons for colleges from selective high schools

An in-depth report on the state of specialized high schools across the nation.

NYC specialized high schools are the only “one-exam-only” admissions in the nation

reformers might do better instead to look to Chicago’s use of area-based geographical tiers. One advantage of this system is that it retains the high-stakes entrance examination but takes inequality into account by having students with similar backgrounds compete against each other rather than pooling students from all backgrounds into one group.

The most radical option is for cities to simply abolish their selective high schools.

NYC selective high school admissions uproar a symptom of a much bigger problem

Multiple studies have found no difference in college enrollment, college quality or graduation rates of kids who just barely met the test score cutoff for selective public schools like Stuyvesant and those who just barely missed the mark and then attended more ordinary public high schools, Valant said.


Valant would like to see selective schools drop their test-in requirements and instead award admission to a set number of top-performing students from every district or system middle school. The resulting classes would be more diverse and formed with anobjective, open access measure of long-term performance.

Evidence on New York City and Boston exam schools

The current admissions approach almost certainly shuts out many gifted, disadvantaged students. When we rely on parents, teachers, or students to make the decision to apply to a program for gifted students (by, for example, voluntarily signing up for a test), evidence indicates it is disadvantaged students who disproportionately get shut out.

But getting rid of the test is not the answer.  Well-educated, high-income parents work the system to get their kids into these programs. The less transparent the approach (e.g., portfolios or teacher recommendations instead of a standardized test) the greater the advantage these savvy, connected parents have in winning the game.