What are the contributing factors for success? It’s a huge question for any institution that seeks to improve itself. For us, in education, much is said about the critical importance of the teacher – but also for technology, class size, economic advantages, school size, etc. Studies show one thing and then new studies show something else.
The other day I was listening to a New York Times podcast, and the speaker was interviewing Patricia Cohen, the Arts Beat blogger for the newspaper. Cohen was asked about a post she had just written, Angst Before High School, discussing a working paper by Roland G. Fryer of the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard and Will Dobbie, a predoctoral research fellow.
The paper (Exam High Schools and Academic Achievement: Evidence from New York City) examines the academic impact of selective (exams-based) high schools. They looked at New York’s Brooklyn Technical High School, the Bronx High School of Science, and Stuyvesant High School and specifically the students whose entrance score were close to the cutoff point. They wanted to compare students whose score were close together, some barely making it into “an environment of high achievers, more advanced coursework and higher expectations,” and some just barely missing out and attending a regular public high school. These were talented students with similar ability and achievement but, assumedly, attending dramatically different high schools.
..the impact of attending an exam school on college enrollment or graduation is, if anything, negative. There is also little impact of attending an exam school on SAT reading and writing scores, and, at best, a modest positive impact on SAT math scores. ((Dobbie, Will, & Fryer, R. G. (2011). Exam high schools and academic achievement: evidence from new york city. Informally published manuscript, Education Innovation Laboratory, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/MvGql))
There results were consistent across genders, baseline state test scores and type of middle school.
Now there is much that these conclusions do not explain and there are many ways to explain the findings. But Cohen said something during the interview that struck me and my world view as true. She said that (and I paraphrase)
The motivated, talented, interested student is going to do well, no matter what school.
The Student who cares.
Sir Ken Robinson, Ewan MacIntosh, and others will be talking later on today at TEDxLondon, The Education Revolution and I plan to watch and Tweet it. It is my own humble opinion, though, that any revolutionary school must be a place that inspires students to creatively cultivate skills; to resourcefully seek out, gather, and grow knowledge; and to care about it.
You see, I worry for those students of similar talent who, for any of a number of reasons, do not care, may not graduate, will not continue their education, will continue their lives as failures and the cost to them — and to us — of their wasted talents.