Exam Schools by Chester E. Finn, Jr. & Jessica A. Hockett - Book review

Exam Schools

Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools

By: Chester E. Finn, Jr., Jessica A. Hockett

Published: September 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 264 pages
ISBN-10: 0691156670
ISBN-13: 978-0691156675
Publisher: Princeton University Press

"Selective public high schools that serve motivated kids and high achievers, many of them also very smart, have been a tiny but important part of the U.S. secondary-education landscape for generations", write president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Chester E. Finn; and educational consultant in differentiated instruction, Jessica A. Hockett, in their pioneering and visionary book Exam Schools: Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools. The authors describe their examination of America's selective public high schools, and outline their goals, their operations, and their successes and failures.

Chester E. Finn, Jr. (photo left) and Jessica A. Hockett recognize that the emphasis in American education has been to raise the floor, but at the same time, neglected to raise the ceiling. For the authors, the selective exam schools represent an opportunity for America's best and brightest students to excel, and to achieve the background to become the leaders in innovation, business, government, and entrepreneurship. In this first ever overview of the schools dedicated to the highest performing students, the authors consider how these publicly funded institutions work and prepare their students. The authors consider the racial and socioeconomic background of the students, and consider the impact of these schools on public policy considerations.

Jessica A. Hockett (photo left) and Chester E. Finn, Jr. understand the dilemma facing high achievement education. While enormous amounts of funding are spent on low achieving students, the exam schools are forced to turn away the top performing pupils. The authors are aware of problems and challenges facing exam schools, and also note there are many areas where the high performance schools could make improvements. At the same time, the authors note that the exam schools provide a leg up for highly intelligent and hard working students from lower income and racially diverse families.

The authors emphasize the critical role that selective schools play in the development of leaders who can strengthen America's future. The authors show how these selective schools work, and examine the 165 profiled schools on their admission policies, diversity, and how they select their teaching staff. the authors describe how the exam schools offer an alternative to the widely applied approach of addressing the worst producing schools and under-performing students. As a result of their comprehensive study, the authors make strong case for enhancing and increasing the role of selective schools as an integral part of public education policy.

For me, the power of the book is how Chester Finn and Jessica Hockett provide a complete overview of selective schools across the United States, and present a balanced analysis of their areas of strength, as well as where improvements can be made. The authors offer the first research based investigation of the exam schools, and sheds light on this important but relatively unknown area of secondary education. The selective schools, in the view of the authors, provide a crucial service to the students they teach, and to the overall quality of education in America.

The emphasis on selecting the best and brightest students, regardless of race and economic background, offers a high performance alternative to ever more costly private schools. The authors demonstrate how the exam schools can provide another potential blueprint for top performing education in the United States. and how the support for high standards and challenging the most intelligent students to become the leaders of tomorrow in innovations, the creative arts, the professions, business, and entrepreneurship.

I highly recommend the thought provoking and groundbreaking book Exam Schools: Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica A. Hockett, to anyone seeking a complete examination of an alternative approach to excellence in high school eduction. This book provides a road map to high achievement levels that stresses raising the standards bar at the top, as an addition to the usual focus on raising the bar at the bottom.


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