The U.S. needs many more public high schools that “focus exclusively on high-ability, highly motivated students,” posits Chester E. Finn Jr., the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in a recent New York Times op-ed.
The model for these schools already exists, he says. So-called “exam schools” offer courses that are as rigorous as Advanced Placement classes, allow for independent study projects, place students in demanding internships, and “have stellar college placement,” he writes. In addition, students are taught by “capable teachers who welcome the challenge, teachers more apt to have Ph.D.'s or experience at the college level than high school instructors elsewhere.”
Finn and his colleague could only identify 165 such schools, out of the nation’s 20,000 public high schools—meaning they serve just 1 percent of students. According to Finn, 19 states do not have any high-ability public schools.
Even so, he doubts that either President Barack Obama or Governor Mitt Romney—both of whom went to renowned private high schools—would push to increase the number of exam schools “for fear of seeming elitist.”
But is elitism the real issue at hand? As districts and states continue to slash budgets and cut positions, is advocating for the proliferation of exam schools perhaps not the best use of political resources? Why not focus on improving or expanding existing gifted programs?
Also, I can’t help but wonder, is it tough to find teachers with Ph.D.'s and higher ed experience who are willing to work for K-12 public school pay?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.