Elite Public High Schools

 A number of elite public high schools were founded in the US, mostly in major cities, with the objective of encouraging the most gifted students.  One of these is Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, Virginia.  These high schools have an excellent track record for producing elite adults, including numerous Nobel Laureates, but they are coming under attack. At TJHSST 66% of the admitted students are Asian, while less than 4% are Black or Hispanic.  Poorer children are highly underrepresented.  A similar picture is seen at other elite schools.  Admission criteria at TJHSST mix grades, preparatory courses, and a crucial exam.  The idea, of course, is to select the students with the greatest talent and preparation.

Talent, we suppose, is inborn, but preparation depends both on the student and the environment they live in.  How prepared students are depends on their elementary and middle schools, but probably even more on the resources parents can and do command to prepare their children.  Asian parents are famously, or sometimes infamously, devoted to education, so it isn't surprising that Asian students get a lot of the slots in our elite educational system.

The reaction to this is similar to the way elite universities reacted a number of decades ago when they realized that their classes were filling up with Jews - they create barriers to their entry.  Asians students recently lost a discrimination suit against Harvard when the courts ruled, in effect, that the interest of the University in having a student body that was suitably diverse outweighed  their claim to equal treatment.

So what can be done?  Since the demand for places in these elite schools greatly exceeds supply, one apparently obvious step is to create more such schools, especially in places where lots of traditionally underserved students live.


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