Selective-Enrollment Schools Are Not Academically Stronger, Study

Nov 1, 2016 by

A new study shows that the competition to get into selective-enrollment schools may not be worth it. Two students work on a robot.Students from Stuyvesant High School in New York City, one of the nation’s top selective-enrollment high schools

Mike Segar / Reuters

Matt Barnum –

It’s a rite of passage for parents in many parts of the country: Try to get your kids into the “right” high school. Parents of means move to leafy suburbs known for their great public schools, which are open to all children of families who can afford hefty mortgages. Wealthy families who remain in cities often choose private schools or else hope for a spot at an elite selective school. These slots are cherished, and families who can afford them often hire tutors to prepare their kids for a grueling admissions test.And who can blame them? In New York City, specialized schools, like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Latin, earn top spots in national rankings. In Chicago, Walter Payton High School—which is also nationally renownedaccepted only about one in four students of the more than 16,000 who applied in 2014.

But what if the high-school rat race is largely for naught?

That’s the provocative conclusion of a new study that examined students who attended public high schools in Chicago. Surprisingly, students at selective-enrollment schools didn’t seem to benefit academically compared with similar students at different schools.

“There is a lot of competition for students to get into selective-enrollment high schools,” said Marisa de la Torre, a co-author of the study and an associate director at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. “What the study says is, it’s not the end of the world if you cannot get into selective-enrollment high schools.”

There are, of course, some benefits to attending a competitive high school. The study found that students at selective schools were less likely to be suspended or to miss school and reported that they felt safer. In addition, students who attended high-scoring non-selective schools did see academically significant benefits relative to those at low-achieving schools.

The study highlights the challenge of measuring school quality and suggests that many parents and education policymakers are judging schools by the wrong metrics.

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The study, conducted by four researchers affiliated with the consortium, was published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. The researchers examined ninth-graders who entered Chicago’s public high schools, including charter schools, between 2008 and 2011. Interestingly, about two thirds did not attend their zoned neighborhood high school in the 2011–12 school year.

The researchers divided schools into four groups: selective, top-tier, middle-tier, and bottom-tier. The first group consisted of schools that admit students based largely on test scores. The latter three groups were ranked by their students’ ACT scores and high-school graduation rates.

The study compared students against peers who attended different-tier schools but were otherwise similar based on traits including past test scores, degree of parental involvement, and home neighborhood. This approach isn’t perfect, but it allows researchers to estimate the impact of schools while holding student characteristics constant.

Source: Selective-Enrollment Schools Are Not Academically Stronger, Study – The Atlantic

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