The case for closing elite schools

At New York City’s elite Stuyvesant High, 71 percent of students come from Asian families, while 2.9 percent are black or Latino. Does it matter?

Elite exam schools like New York City’s Stuyvesant High should be closed, argues Reihan Salam, a Stuyvesant alum, on Slate. “Mayor Bill de Blasio, state lawmakers in Albany, and the United Federation of Teachers have called for scrapping Stuyvesant’s current admissions formula,” which relies on an entrance exam.

Seventy-one percent of students who made the cut-off in 2014 were Asian, often from immigrant families. Only 2.9 percent were black or Latino.

Some want to admit the top-testing students at each public middle school, ensuring that more blacks and Latinos — and fewer Asians — qualify.

Others would emulate the college admissions process, adding teacher recommendations, grades and portfolios of students’ work.

The politicians and the education experts who are so fixated on the racial balance at Stuyvesant neglect the fact that Stuyvesant is not built to support and nurture students who need care and attention to excel academically and socially. It is a school that allows ambitious students who know how to navigate their way around a maddening, complex bureaucracy to connect with other students with the same skill sets.

Hyper-competitive students thrive in the sink-or-swim environment. Others struggle to stay afloat. Salam wants to “spread gifted and talented kids across a wide range of schools offering different instructional models.” No school will be considered the best.

What’s wrong with letting very smart, very competitive students go to school together? Those who want a smaller, more supportive school have other choices.

Gifted kids are neglected, argues Checker Finn.

About Joanne


  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    Upending the test schools has been a progressive ambition for decades. Prior to the influx of immigrant Asian students the concern was there were too many Jews edging out good Christian kids. Geez. Leave them alone already.

    There are in fact 7 test schools. Only Stuyvesant and Bronx Science are super-hyper competitive. The others offer somewhat less academically gifted kids a high quality education.

    My prediction is that New Yorkers will do what they’ve always done when this topic is broached: Ignore it and support the test schools which continue to turn out some of the most gifted students across the country regardless of race and gender.

    • Ann in L.A. says:

      The odd thing is Salem is a conservative. He’s a regular at National Review, and even has his own “Agenda” blog at the site:

      • Joanne somewhat overstates Mr. Salem’s position if you read either the Slate column or his explanatory column at National Review which is titled “My Ambivalent Case Against Stuyvesant”.

        He argues that perhaps Stuyvesant isn’t all that so if it isn’t quite the educational peak it’s widely assumed to be, for several reasons he lays out, it might be time to re-examine the assumptions that went into making Stuyvesant what it is.

        Interestingly, considering Mr. Salem writes regularly for National Review, he chooses not to confront the central complaint of lefties concerning the racial make-up of Stuyvesant which is that any racial disparity in the student population is a problem that trumps all others and for which any remedy must be instantly implemented regardless of consequences resulting from the remedy.

        • Ann in L.A. says:

          I think he’s right in saying that there aren’t enough opportunities for high-achieving kids. I know that’s true out here in Los Angeles. You have every bright kid trying to get into the same handful of schools. Too many of our best and brightest are stuck in crap schools which will not prepare them for serious college work. Many don’t even know that they aren’t being properly prepared. They think that if they graduate in the top of their class, that they must be one of the best students overall, when they’d be in the middle if suddenly moved into a better school.

          • There are never enough opportunities for anything but average kids because, like all hierarchical organizations, dealing with exceptions is difficult. The more exceptional the greater the difficulty.

            Public education’s an especially egregious case in that the means by which pressure to deal with exceptional kids can be applied is so circuitous and faces endless obstacles. Look at what was required to cause the public education system make a sketchy effort to deal with special ed kids.

  2. Sonysunshine says:

    I think we all know the reason behind the sentiment to close the school. It’s envy; bitter, bitter envy.

  3. East Asians are smarter than whites. Jews are smarter than gentiles. Whites are smarter than blacks. It’s all patently obvious. But it is also triggers strong emotions.

  4. I wonder at the timing coming as this idea does on the heels of Mayor de Balsio’s humiliating defeat when he tried to squeeze charter schools on behalf of the teacher’s unions.

  5. SuperSub says:

    It all depends on your priorities… Student success or school success…and they aren’t necessarily related.

  6. cranberry says:

    Spreading the Stuyvesant student body across multiple schools will do nothing for them, nor for the schools which receive them. Without a critical mass of students, no school will devote resources to serving their needs.

    However, it’s a state law, so I don’t think Stuyvesant’s really in danger. It would be more productive if DeBlasio were to push to form more high schools for high achievers. Start a new public high school which admits the top few scorers, by middle school, on the Common Core state tests, after the “texas model.”

    I am not impressed by Salam’s argument, by the way. If there are more functioning schools now, thus Stuyvesant’s “not needed,” then Stuyvesant’s not draining the system of vitality. Conversely, while some parents, given the choice, may choose more nurturing schools, that isn’t an argument to deny all parents the chance to choose a fiercely competitive school.

  7. Charles R. Williams says:

    The issue with spreading bright students around is that they are then being exploited for the benefit of others.