U.S. News ranks best high schools

U.S. News has come out with its 2013 Best High Schools Rankings. Nearly all the top-ranked schools are specialty schools, magnets or charter schools. Arizona’s BASIS, an ultra-rigorous charter network, has two schools in the top five. Twenty-eight of the top-ranked 100 high schools are charter schools.

The survey looks at the performance of students overall and disadvantaged students compared to similar students in the state; if schools post above-average results, the survey analyzes Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test results.

Bronx students can’t get English, math classes

Students are begging for math and English classes at the Bronx High School for Medical Science, a magnet school. While honors students can take enough classes to graduate after three years, juniors in the non-honors track are being told they’ll be able to make up core classes — eventually — and earn enough credits to graduate.

Two juniors, Eddie Duarte and Kavoy Mayne, met with a guidance counselor, who also insisted that the school was short on teachers, the students said.

Duarte even asked his wrestling coach, who teaches math and science at another school in the Taft Educational Campus where Medical Science is located, if the coach could teach him trigonometry.

“Our SATs are coming up,” Eddie said. “I don’t understand how we’re supposed to be ready for those without math or English.”

The school employs five English teachers and six math teachers for its 460 students, which should be enough, says the school district. Do they have tiny classes for the honors students?

STEM magnet goes remedial

Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology was created to provide a demanding curriculum for high-aptitude students bound for “productive lives as scientists, engineers and mathematicians,” writes John Dell, a long-time physics teacher, in the Washington Post. The new Jefferson admits remedial math students.

Above all, what made Jefferson special was the extraordinary learning environment created by assembling a critical mass of truly prepared students.

. . . At the new Jefferson, students are no longer selected primarily on the basis of their promise in science, technology and mathematics. One-third of the students entering Jefferson under the current admissions policy are in remediation in their math and science courses.

Some of the most promising middle school math students are passed over for admission, Dell writes.

. . . Jefferson students are now selected using an admissions process that is highly random, subjective, and devoid of measures that distinguish students with high aptitude in STEM. This process that is more about memory, language skill, motivation to be successful in college admissions, test prep and just plain luck than the best available indicators of promise as a future scientist, engineer or mathematician.

Dell doesn’t name the “other agendas” that have replaced Jefferson’s original mission. However, the school’s demographics — mostly Asian, very few blacks and Latinos and predominantly male — have been criticized for years, reports the Post. “The school system tinkered with the admissions process several years ago in an effort to create a student body that more closely reflected the county’s entire population,” but the school remains heavily Asian and white and the gender gap is widening.

Who’ll go first to not-yet-gentrified school?

Affluent, educated families are gentrifying the urban neighborhood, but none send their children to the local public school, which has below-average test scores and a shabby appearance. Who will be the first? asks Katie Granju, whose daughter will be ready for kindergarten next year.

. . . how can my neighborhood’s schools ever get any better if those of us who keep moving into this zip code because we say want to stake our roots here, and raise our kids here keep outsourcing the educational part of our adopted neighborhood’s appeal?

. . . But I also don’t want my child to be the exclamation point for my progressive political views. If we “go first,” what will that mean for her? How long would it take for other neighbors to follow?

Other NPR-sticker-sporting parents transfer their kids to public schools in “nicer” neighborhoods, vie for a spot at a magnet school not too far away or pay for private school.  Granju and her husband are exploring the options — including the neighborhood school that the non-NPR children attend.

Grades, scores or character?

Less than four percent of students are black or Hispanic at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a public magnet school in Virginia.  Forty-six percent of students are Asian-American. TJ’s admissions committee should consider character as well as brains, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

Last year, the school says, 52 Hispanics and 29 blacks reached the semifinal round of admissions, based on their academic records. But only 13 Hispanics and four blacks were enrolled.

The ability to benefit from the school’s imaginative teaching is not the main criterion for the admission people, I suspect. Like the rest of us, they are impressed by test scores.

Many highly selective high schools are predominantly Asian-American, Mathews writes. Asian immigrant parents push their children to excel academically, especially in science and math. When TJ looks for students with a “passion” for science and math — and high test scores and grades –  it finds many Asian-American students.

The school’s administrators, teachers and counselors have formed a Diversity and Engagement Curriculum Team to recruit more blacks and Hispanics.

“Success in America stems more from character than test-taking ability,” Mathews writes. “We can tell which Jefferson applicants show signs of the determination and grace that produce great lives” by talking to their middle-school teachers.

Many of the most promising ones will be black and Hispanic. Give more of them a chance, and Jefferson will not only be a more interesting school to attend, but more reflective of the values we want all of our kids to have.

Do blacks and Hispanic students have more “character” than Asian-American students? They’ve probably dealt with more adversity. But most of those Asian kids are exceptionally determined people; many have overcome language and cultural challenges. I’d bet their middle-school teachers love them.

Diversity arguments for discriminating on the basis of race and ethnicity are incoherent, argues John Rosenberg on Discriminations. “If Mathews’ suggestions for TJ were adopted perhaps its name should be changed to The Thomas Jefferson High School For Interested, Determined, Graceful Students Of Good Character. The school would probably still be good … but it wouldn’t be TJ.”

Few black, Hispanic students at elite public school

Few black or Hispanic students qualify for an elite magnet school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in northern Virginia. While blacks and Hispanics make up 33 percent of public school students in the region,  they comprise less than 4 percent of TJ’s student body. “Initiatives to enlarge the pipeline of qualified black and Hispanic students in elementary and middle school have flopped,” reports the Washington Post.  Asian-Americans are now the largest group of students.

Like other public schools with competitive admissions, TJ screens applicants through grades and test scores. A key requirement is that students take Algebra 1 by eighth grade. Many disadvantaged students don’t clear that threshold, which presents a national challenge for science and math instruction.

Competition to get into TJ is fierce. Some private companies charge hundreds of dollars to prepare students for the school’s entrance exam, a two-hour test of math and verbal-reasoning skills. For those who get in, the payoff is clear. The school has an array of laboratories in fields such as biotechnology and microelectronics, and students follow a rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum that culminates in a senior research project.

The school adopted race-blind admissions in 1997. In 2004, officials decided to let race and ethnicity be considered as a factor, along with essays and teacher recommendations, once applicants had been screened by test scores and grades. But the admissions rate for blacks and Hispanics continued to fall.

Other selective regional schools have stopped using affirmative action, the Post reports.

Fairfax school officials say that diversifying TJ requires more than making admissions criteria more flexible. It means helping black and Hispanic students keep up with their white and Asian American counterparts at an early age, especially in math and science.

Since 2000, a county program known as Young Scholars has tried to recruit elementary students who might one day attend TJ. More than half of the program’s 3,776 students between kindergarten and eighth grade are black or Hispanic. Next spring, the first 30 Young Scholars will graduate from high school. Only one will be a TJ graduate.

The school’s Parent Teacher Student Association also offers free test-preparation courses for minority students.

Because there’s little diversity, students “are missing out on a critical part of their education,” says Melissa Schoeplein, a history teacher who complains of teaching about race and poverty in classes with no blacks or Hispanics.

In California, many high-achieving Asian-American students come from low-income and working-class immigrant families. I’d bet that’s true in Virginia too.

Via Education Gadfly

Obama to students: Work hard

“Your life is what you make it,” President Obama will tell students at a Philadelphia magnet school in a back-to-school speech that will be broadcast nationwide.

And nothing – absolutely nothing – is beyond your reach. So long as you’re willing to dream big. So long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education.

. . .  here’s your job. Showing up to school on time. Paying attention in class. Doing your homework. Studying for exams. Staying out of trouble. That kind of discipline and drive – that kind of hard work – is absolutely essential for success.

Obama will confess that he was a slacker in high school, till his mother told him to get his act together.

You see, excelling in school or in life isn’t mainly about being smarter than everybody else. It’s about working harder than everybody else. Don’t avoid new challenges – seek them out, step out of your comfort zone, and don’t be afraid to ask for help; your teachers and family are there to guide you. Don’t feel discouraged or give up if you don’t succeed at something – try it again, and learn from your mistakes. Don’t feel threatened if your friends are doing well; be proud of them, and see what lessons you can draw from what they’re doing right.

Obama will promise to speak at the commencement of a high school that shows “how teachers, students, and parents are working together to prepare your kids for college and a career.”

The speech ends with a call to show respect for classmates and avoid bullying.

President Obama chose to speak at Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration school, a high-scoring school for fifth- through 12-graders that primarily serves middle-class students. Masterman requires “high PSSA scores, excellent grades, and good behavior” for admission, according to the Inquirer.