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The intense competition for seats at New York City’s top public schools does not appear to be justified, according to a comprehensive new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.The study looked at the effects of an education at one of New York’s three oldest “exam” schools — Brooklyn Technical, Bronx Science and Stuyvesant High School — and found that students who attended those schools made only modest gains on state and national standardized achievement tests.
The study concludes:
The results reported here show only scattered test score gains due to an exam school education, even for students with relatively high baseline scores.
Because the exam school experience is associated with exposure to high-achieving peers and a decline in the relative standing of successful applicants in comparison to peers, these results weigh against the importance of peer effects in the education production function.
The outcome that appears to be most strengthened by exam school attendance is the 10th grade ELA score, a result that appears to be driven by gains for minorities.
We also find evidence of SAT score gains for a subset of 9th grade applicants, but not enough to boost SAT scores significantly overall.
The high achievers in oursamples clearly have good outcomes, but most of these students would have done well without the benefit of an exam school education.
It also puts some of the blame for the sterling reputations of the exam schools on parents:
The heavy rates of oversubscription for exam schools together with the lack of broad achievement effects suggests that parents either mistakenly equate good peers with high value added, or that they value exam schools for reasons other than their impact on learning.
New York City’s three elite public schools have some of the toughest admission rates in the country; of the thousands of eighth graders who sit for the admissions exam each year, fewer than one-sixth are offered seats, according to the study.
All three were established in the first half of the 20th century and are considered top-notch; Stuyvesant and Bronx Science are members of the Newsweek list of elite public high schools and all three have appeared in the U.S. News & World Report rankings.
The study also looked at Boston’s elite “exam” schools — the Boston Latin School, the Boston Latin Academy and the John D. O’Bryant High School of Mathematics and Science — and found that educations at those institutions similarly failed to impact overall achievement.
Read the full study here.
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