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EXAM SCHOOLS by Chester E. Finn Jr.


Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools

by Chester E. Finn Jr. & Jessica A. Hockett

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-691-15667-5
Publisher: Princeton Univ.

A cogent exploration of the struggle to balance equity and excellence in America's most academically selective public high schools.

Finn (Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, 2009, etc.), former assistant U.S. secretary of education and a current fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, and educational consultant Hockett focus on public, self-contained, college-preparatory high schools that have a competitive admissions process. Within those parameters, the authors found 165 that met their criteria, in 30 states plus the District of Columbia, as the country's most elite, out of more than 22,000 public high schools in the country. They surveyed these schools on a range of issues including teacher selection and the diversity of the student body. The authors visited 11 of the schools, observing classes and interviewing teachers and students, and they offer detailed profiles of each and examine the qualities (serious and purposeful learning environment, eager and talented pupils) and practices (low teacher turnover, "overwhelming advocacy from the parents of their students") they have in common. Instead of merely being schools chosen (or not) by parents and children, these public schools can select their students, which raises the incentives to meet their standards. Along with selectivity, Finn and Hockett examine thorny issues such as purposeful diversity and demographics, political support and the emphasis placed on exam scores. One fact of note: “Asian pupils are found in these selection schools at four times their share of the larger high school population.” Throughout the book, the authors return to the question of whether the public-education system has "neglected to raise the ceiling" while struggling to lift the floor, looking closely at how schools can meet the needs of students at vastly different levels.

A fact-driven, clear text that will be of interest to educators as well as parents of students at selective public high schools.