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What's Wrong (and Right) With America's Best Public High Schools

by Jay Mathews

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8129-2447-9
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

 A probing examination of the strengths and weaknesses--but mostly the weaknesses--of our nation's top-rated and best-funded public high schools. Washington Post education reporter Mathews (A Mothers Touch, 1992) paints a compelling portrait of the educators, parents, students, and curricula of wealthy Mamaroneck High School in suburban New York, while also offering running commentaries on the other elite schools that he has visited during the past three years. While he does grant these schools their victories, he is extremely critical of their approach to students who arent overachievers. Mathews is especially perturbed by the school's enthusiasm for the tracking system, which relegates economically and socially disadvantaged students- -particularly blacks and Latinos--to the lower educational ranks and denies them access to the school's most challenging courses. He is concerned, too, with the lack of scholarly research thus far into the ``odd and potentially harmful ways these schools have stratified their students.'' Since the elite schools seek mainly to benefit their majority constituency--which happens to be the upper-class and motivated students--it should come as no surprise that this constituency's parents and the educators who establish school policies are reluctant to change their ways. The school budget in Mamaroneck is also designed to accommodate the most productive students. Though Mamaroneck offers more advanced- placement courses and science options than most of the college-bound students will ever have the time to take, those are the last classes to fall off the roster, even if enrollment is slim. Theyre also the least welcoming classes to the suburb's disadvantaged students. Fact-filled and engaging, a trenchant study, indispensable to the policy-makers for America's top 230 high schools (as ranked in the book's useful index). (Author tour)