Many of you read Michael Winerip’s insightful education columns in The New York Times. Concise and perceptive, he takes a scalpel to education issues.
According to his column this week, Winerip will no longer be writing about education for the Times. With that news, I wanted to share two things by him.
First, his note on his final column Monday:
This is my last education column. Again. The first time, in the early 1990s, politicians wanted to make our system more like Japan’s. (This was right before the Japanese economic collapse.)
A decade later, they devised a system to punish teachers if every child in America wasn’t academically proficient. Now they’re developing a standardized test to evaluate high school band teachers. And through it all, teachers have continued to educate children, and children have continued to learn.
Second, here is an excerpt of his recent dissection of Newsweek’s top U.S. high schools list. This is the stuff that I will miss:
What schools score highest on Newsweek’s index? Of the top 50, 37 have selective admissions or are magnet schools, meaning they screen students using a combination of entrance exam scores, grade-point average, state test results and assessments of their writing samples.
In short, to be the best, high schools should accept only the highest performing eighth graders, who — if the school doesn’t botch it — will become the highest performing 12th graders. Put another way: Best in, best out, best school.
Eight of Newsweek’s top 50 are charter schools. For those who think an important role of public education is taking struggling students and raising their academic performance, this sounds promising. Charter schools are supposed to accept any child who applies. If the school is oversubscribed, there is to be a lottery.
What could be more democratic?
The two top charter schools on the Newsweek list are the Basis high schools in Scottsdale and Tucson, part of an Arizona-based charter chain.
According to the Basis Web site, the curriculum is heavily reliant on A.P. and college-level courses, and it includes Mandarin and Latin. This means that only the strongest academic students need apply, and those who can’t cut it will leave.
What does the student body look like at a Basis high school? At Basis Scottsdale — the third best high school in America, according to Newsweek — 95 percent of the 701 students are Asian or white.
Asians make up 2.8 percent of the state population, but 41 percent of the Basis Scottsdale students. There are 15 Hispanics (2 percent) in a state that is about one-third Hispanic.
There are no Native Americans listed on the State Education Department’s web site, though they make up 5 percent of Arizona’s population. The site lists 13 African-American students and no children of migrant workers. There are no children who qualify for subsidized lunches or who need special education classes.
Clearly, best schools would do best not to get bogged down serving students considered un-best.
The remaining five of the top 50 schools are in suburban districts where enrollment is open to all, as long as they are residents. The one thing that these five schools have in common is that they are full of children from the nation’s wealthiest families.
Among the top 50 are high schools in Bronxville, N.Y. (No. 40), which has a median household income of $166,000, and Jericho, N.Y. (No. 41), which has a median income of $128,000, as compared with $54,000 for New York State; also, Falls Church, Va. (No. 45), with a $111,000 median income versus $59,000 for the state.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog