My Ambivalent Case Against Stuyvesant

by Reihan Salam

One of the qualities I value most is loyalty, and I’m sorry to say that I’ve just filed a profoundly disloyal column. At Slate, I make the (tentative) case for shutting down Stuyvesant High School, my alma mater. Critics of Stuyvesant, a selective exam school in New York city, have focused on the underrepresentation of black and Latino students relative to their share of New York city’s public school population. I argue that the dynamics behind the racial composition of Stuyvesant High School are poorly understood, that its hyper-competitive nature is not an ideal fit for students who need a supportive environment to flourish, and that most gifted and talented students would be better served by a diverse array of smaller, focused schools. Moreover, I maintain that it is Stuyvesant’s perceived “elite-ness” guarantees that its admissions policies will be politically contentious. My friend David Schleicher reminds me that I neglected to cite the work of Harvard economist Roland Fryer, which is very relevant. The following is drawn from Fryer’s abstract:

Publicly funded exam schools educate many of the world’s most talented students. These schools typically contain higher achieving peers, more rigorous instruction, and additional resources compared to regular public schools. This paper uses a sharp discontinuity in the admissions process at three prominent exam schools in New York City to provide the first causal estimate of the impact of attending an exam school in the United States on longer term academic outcomes. Attending an exam school increases the rigor of high school courses taken and the probability that a student graduates with an advanced high school degree. Surprisingly, however, attending an exam school has little impact on Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, college enrollment, or college graduation — casting doubt on their ultimate long term impact. [Emphasis added]

This suggests that Pedro Noguera is right to have argued that Stuyvesant’s “sink-or-swim” environment does not offer much to the black and Latino students who would be given a boost in the admissions process under the proposals advanced by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his allies in Albany. 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.