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Gary Rubinstein teaches mathematics at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. Stuy is a selective admissions school. It accepts only the students with the highest score on a standardized test of math and reading that is offered on one day only.
But is Stuy a good school?
The big question for this post is “Is Stuyvesant a good school?” At a first glance this may seem like a crazy question. It’s like asking “Was Mozart a good composer?,” right? Everyone knows that Stuyvesant is not just a good school, but a great one. In the US News & World Report ratings, Stuyvesant is ranked number 1 (tied with one other school) in the country in the category ‘Math and Reading Proficiency Rank.’ There are other metrics by which Stuyvesant is highly ranked. It is the most difficult school to get into since only the highest scorers on the SHSAT are admitted. There are advanced electives offered like existentialism, forensics, and quantum mechanics. The average SAT score is nearly 1500. It is also a very beautiful building that has an Olympic sized swimming pool. Nearly 20% of the graduating class goes on to either one of the Ivy League schools or MIT, Stanford, or the University of Chicago. The school newspaper rivals most college newspapers. Four alumni have won Nobel prizes. Is Stuyvesant a good school? Does a bear SHSAT in the woods?
But do those things I listed really mean the school is great or even good? If having a big pool makes a school good, why not just install one in every school at whatever cost? And if offering courses in existentialism, forensics, and quantum mechanics makes a school good, why not just offer them in all high schools? And the SAT scores and the Ivy league acceptances? Surely 8th grade SHSAT scores will correlate with 11th grade SAT scores and since Ivy league colleges use SAT scores as an admissions criteria, it will result in a lot of Ivy league acceptances.
Of course a school can be good without any of those accolades on its Wikipedia page and even if it, like most schools, does not have a Wikipedia page. So if a school doesn’t need the accolades to be good, could a school be bad even with them?
He asks what makes a good school? Is it the students or the teachers? Of course, any school that is highly selective will have high test scores. But is that a definition of a good school? As I have learned from many parents, New York City has a large number of non-selective high schools that are excellent, where students get a solid education, and are well prepared for college. A student does not need to gain admission to a school like Stuy or Bronx Science or Brooklyn Tech or any of the other exam schools to get an excellent education and to thrive in an atmosphere that is less competitive than the exam schools. I am aware of students who went to the exam schools and cracked under the pressure. Students pay a price for the prestige of winning admission.