Learning from Highly Selective Public Schools

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The Takeaway has been shining the spotlight on the problems in our public education system and what solutions or models are helping to get American kids the education they deserve.

Here's one model that's undoubtedly successful for the lucky few who get in: academically selective schools, where kids from all backgrounds compete to get in. But is it a model that could eventually trickle down to all sorts of schools?

There are a handful of public schools scattered across the country where kids are clamoring to get in and to excel. What we can learn from them?

Chester Finn Jr. is former assistant secretary of education and co-author of the new book: "Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools." 

"In some cases, these schools take fewer than 10 percent of their applicants," says Finn, who thinks that these exam schools are a good idea, but not the only good idea.

The recent cheating scandal surrounding the academically elite Stuyvesant in New York City has raised a lot of questions about the kind of pressure students are under at these schools, and whether that's good for high schoolers. But, as Finn points out, cheating is the only disciplinary problem the schools have. "They don't have kids cutting class, they don't have kids bringing knives to school, they don't have kids out rumbling in the corridors." In addition to being better academically, the schools are also safer.

This is not to say that cheating is not a huge problem, in society as well as school. As John Hockenberry points out, if these students end up in investment banking they can do far more damage than the kids who have knives. But the major benefit of schools like this is that they keep educationally-minded families in the community, and in the public school system. Hopefully this means the best and the brightest aren't the only ones to benefit.