Exclusive High Schools: Who Needs Them?”

Washington Post; August 14, 2011

Why have so many of us par­ents, includ­ing me, paid a for­tune for exclu­sive pri­vate schools or prepped our chil­dren stren­u­ous­ly for selec­tive pub­lic school entrance exams? One rea­son is our belief that in a school that rejects most appli­cants, the com­pe­ti­tion and cama­raderie of so many great stu­dents will ensure our kids too become top schol­ars. No slack­er delin­quents will lure them away from their Advanced Placement home­work. Ivy League admis­sion and big careers we can brag about will be assured.  Or maybe not. A new study by econ­o­mists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Duke University sug­gests that stu­dents who qual­i­fy for some of the nation’s most selec­tive pub­lic high schools do no bet­ter aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly than sim­i­lar kids who miss the entrance test cut-off.  Joshua D. Angrist and Parag A. Pathak of MIT and Atila Abdulkadiroglu of Duke wrote the paper “The Elite Illusion: Achievement Effects at Boston and New York Exam Schools,” pub­lished last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research. They com­pared stu­dents who just made the cut-off to those who just missed it. They exam­ined the aver­age scores of both sam­ples on lat­er tests that might reflect how much they learned in high school. This includ­ed state tests plus PSAT, SAT and Advanced Placement tests.”


By Jay Matthews