Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review: Exam Schools

About the Book:
What is the best education for exceptionally able and high-achieving youngsters? Can the United States strengthen its future intellectual leadership, economic vitality, and scientific prowess without sacrificing equal opportunity? There are no easy answers but, as Chester Finn and Jessica Hockett show, for more than 100,000 students each year, the solution is to enroll in an academically selective public high school. Exam Schools is the first-ever close-up look at this small, sometimes controversial, yet crucial segment of American public education. This groundbreaking book discusses how these schools work--and their critical role in nurturing the country's brightest students.

The 165 schools identified by Finn and Hockett are located in thirty states, plus the District of Columbia. While some are world renowned, such as Boston Latin and Bronx Science, others are known only in their own communities. The authors survey the schools on issues ranging from admissions and student diversity to teacher selection. They probe sources of political support, curriculum, instructional styles, educational effectiveness, and institutional autonomy. Some of their findings are surprising: Los Angeles, for example, has no "exam schools" while New York City has dozens. Asian-American students are overrepresented--but so are African-American pupils. Culminating with in-depth profiles of eleven exam schools and thoughtful reflection on policy implications, Finn and Hockett ultimately consider whether the country would be better off with more such schools.

At a time of keen attention to the faltering education system, Exam Schools sheds positive light on a group of schools that could well provide a transformative roadmap for many of America's children.

My Comments:
My daughter attends our district's magnet school for bright kids so this book caught my eye when it was offered on NetGalley.  I enjoyed reading about magnet schools in other cities and the authors' discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of such schools.  Basically, I found that their thoughts mirrored mine.  The schools do a good job of preparing kids for college, of offering high-level courses, often in districts that have less than admirable ratings for their neighborhood high schools.  The question is whether the kids in these schools achieve more because they are in these schools than they would achieve if they were in their neighborhood high schools, or if the high scores of these magnet schools are earned in  the admissions office rather than in the classroom.  

Mention is made of NCLB's emphasis on testing and on schools improving scores yearly.  The authors point out that most of the kids in these schools have high test scores to begin with and that the emphasis on test-taking vs. critical or imaginative thinking is a disservice to these kids.

If you are considering a magnet school for your child, I think you'll find this book to be an interesting and informative read.  Grade:  B.  

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