instruction,  musings

admissions test prep book

E to the x!
E to the y!
E to the x to the y!
Tangent, secant, cosine, sine
3 point 1 4 1 5 9
Square root, cube root
Log of pi
Kick their axes TJ High!

I graduated from  TJHSST in 1998. It is an exam school that regularly earns the #1 spot in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. I will always cherish the friendships I made there. I’m looking forward to my 15 year reunion this fall and proudly sport the “We Came for the Sports” bumper sticker on the back of my car (a sticker that caused a ’94 alum to yell “I keep seeing your car and want to say hello!” into my car window as I drove down Prospect St). However, now that I’ve spent five years immersed in a community almost the complete opposite of the TJHSST one, I felt really disturbed when I heard that a company is making a $199 TJHSST admissions test prep book, ostensibly to help low-income, minority students make it in.

The “exam school for low-income, minority students” idea has bugged me since my first year teaching in Boston Public Schools. The three exam schools (Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the O’Bryant School for Math and Science) are generally regarded as the best education BPS has to offer. Students apply after the 6th grade. Many of my 6th-12th grade  school’s students strive for acceptance to one of the three. Most achieve it and leave after the 6th grade year.

My school is now International Baccalaureate (IB)–for all students. IB  is often implemented as a school-within-a-school that requires students to apply. I know that fully realizing “IB for all” will take years of (often rocky) transition, but could be amazing in the long run. Until then, we must weigh the tradeoff between helping marginalized people get ahead versus trying to change the system. If I were a parent of a 6th grader, would I push him/her to apply for the already-established exam schools or to take a chance on our new IB program? I would love to see the majority of our 6th grade students stay and progress through the Personal Project, internal assessments, Creativity, Action & Service, and finally the external exams–but will parents think the same way?

My parents encouraged me to apply for TJHSST, and I am grateful that they did. I learned so much there, and it opened many doors for me in the years to follow. However, I wonder how I would have fared had I been born six years later (and able to apply to the IB program at Washington-Lee High School). My younger brother participated in this program, and he received a very rigorous, challenging education. Both of us ended up as educators trying to help marginalized communities–he in D.C. Public Schools and I in Boston Public Schools.

This brings me back to that dilemma of how to help marginalized people. We could help more kids get into exam schools, but what does that mean for the other schools? I think that to truly fix our school system, it’ll have to happen from within–with BPS students becoming awesomely educated and coming back to teach in their communities rather than just funneling more effort into City Year and TFA.

To sum it up–would I support a prep book targeted at increasing acceptance rates for low-income, minority students? No. I’d rather have them understand the content behind the “kick your axes” cheer!

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