Accountability · Finding the Right School · School Choice

Relax, The Experts Know What’s Best For Your Child. They Just Don’t Agree On What It Is. Or How To Get It.

When I work with families looking to find the best school for their child, one of the first things I offer them is, “tell me what you believe, and I’ll send you a study that confirms it.”

I’m not joking.

The education space is full of experts and studies, all proclaiming to know what’s best for your child. Except for the part where they don’t agree on what it is. Or how to get there.

Ever since New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan to change admissions to specialized high schools, I’ve written multiple posts, analyzing every aspect of the proposal, and insisting that, as of right now, we simply don’t have enough data to come up with a definitive answer.

Some readers agreed with me. Some didn’t. I wrote a whole other post about how there is no such thing as consensus when it comes to educational policy – among laymen or experts.

Last week, two more articles continued to confuse matters.

On Wednesday, July 18, 2018, Chalkbeat published an interview with Eric Goldberg of District 2’s Community Education Council, who is putting forth a resolution to end screening for all middle school admissions.

Goldberg asserted, “We would like District 2 to place a moratorium on screening until we can have a full assessment of the process, because our belief is that it is unfair to keep it in place and subject another set of students to a deeply flawed process.” He added, “There’s no standardized grading system in place. One school could have a scale of 1 to 4 for grading, another school could have a scale of 1 to 100. There is no oversight in place to ensure that grade distribution within schools, within a classroom, is somewhat standardized — let alone across schools.”

This would fall in line with what I’ve written in the past, about how grades are subjective, and should not be used to rank students for specialized high school admissions, and how such “holistic” criteria actually hurts poor students most of all.

However, also on Wednesday, July 18, The New York Times published a piece supporting the Mayor’s plan to use grades instead of a single score on the SHSAT for Specialized High School admissions.

The paper quoted Jonathan Taylor, a research analyst at Hunter College, who said that “the grade point averages from seventh grade were a much better predictor of achievement at the specialized schools than SHSAT scores.”

Well, that certainly settles the issue once and for all, doesn’t it?

But, wait, there’s more!

On Thursday, July 19, 2018, The Brookings Institution chimed in with:

(Researchers) find a precisely zero effect of the exam schools on college attendance, college selectivity, and college graduation. They put the data through the grinder, and that’s the unexciting result…. These null results take a lot of the air out of the wrought discussions about the exam schools as gateways to economic opportunity. At least for the students just on the margin of admission to exam schools, the schools have no measurable academic achievement or postsecondary outcomes…. (It) is surprising we don’t see effects where so many expected them.

(The report goes on to say that the admissions process should be changed anyway because, since it doesn’t make any difference, it won’t make any difference, and being in the top fifth percentile on state test scores is the same as being in the top twenty-fifth, since those in the fifth are also in the twenty-fifth, so why not?)

When a similar study was released in 2016, I countered with my own experience as a mother of a son in a specialized high school about what I saw as its benefits – which had nothing to do with college attendance, college selectivity, college graduation, or SAT/ACT scores.

I have also long been an advocate of creating more of the sort of exam schools covered in both studies. NYC needs additional Specialized and Screened schools to accommodate all the families who want them.

As for the families who don’t want academically accelerated schools, for those who prefer a focus on the arts, or community service, or social justice, or single sex education, or diversity or a culturally-relevant curriculum, I support them, too.

When it comes down to either/or, I will side with the families every single time. Even when I personally don’t agree with what they’ve chosen. It’s my version of Voltaire not agreeing with what you say, but defending to the death your right to say it (a much-quoted sentiment he actually didn’t express; it’s from Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s biography of the writer-philosopher).

Because it’s not like the experts (and the partisan politicians who love them) know any better than you do what’s best for your child. No matter how much they want you to think that they do. If they can’t even agree among themselves, it would seem to be asking a bit much for you to agree with all of them.



What do you think?

One thought on “Relax, The Experts Know What’s Best For Your Child. They Just Don’t Agree On What It Is. Or How To Get It.

  1. Without the “selective” and “exam” high schools, how can a public school system justify creating and opening high school courses outside of the “standard” AP-driven curriculum? If they don’t get to select students using exam / other comparable process, why the assumption that all kids just want to reach AP-level in their subjects of interest, and not go beyond, or sideways, or do a research project, which currently only a few high schools can support?

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