Sending your teenage terror to one of the city's top public math and science high schools doesn't necessarily mean much when it comes to later standardized test scores, according to a new paper from economists at MIT and Duke. But that doesn't mean that the schools, which they refer to as "exam-schools," don't have value. Oh, they do. Trust us.
"The intense competition for exam-school seats does not appear to be justified by improved learning for a broad set of students," the authors say. But they also acknowledge that test scores don't paint a full picture of a school's value. And it is the rest of that value that helps explain why so many kids with no interest in math or science can be found at Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech—ostensibly the city's math and science high schools. Yes, SAT and AP scores might not justify all that studying for "the test" in 8th grade, but the value of a brand name education should not be discounted.
Basically the National Bureau of Economic Research working paper found that smart kids in a non-special school will perform pretty much as well on standardized tests as they would if they attended a specialized high school. To figure that out they looked at the top tier exam schools in New York and Boston and compared those students test scores on Regents and SAT exams to high achievers at other public schools. "The high achievers in our samples clearly have good outcomes, but most of these students would have done well without the benefit of an exam-school education," they wrote.
And that makes sense. What the paper doesn't address is the fact that these specialized high schools continue to offer a leg up to their alumni long after they've graduated. While students within the schools may compete fiercely while students (one of the many reasons why in most specialized schools students are only allowed to apply to a limited number of colleges), but things are a different matter outside of school. For better or worse we know more than a few people who have found their diploma from a math and science high school to be just as useful in the New York job market as their prestigious college degrees. Cronyism, not just for private education institutions!