The latest argument for admitting students who do not pass the entrance exam to selective high schools is the peer effect (“It’s the peer effect, stupid: What makes schools like Stuyvesant great. It’s not test-based admission, but broader culture of excellence,” New York Daily News, Feb. 20). What advocates maintain is that being in a school where academic excellence permeates the atmosphere is enough to help all students succeed.
I don’t doubt for a second that the peer effect is a factor in how students learn, but I think it is highly overrated. If students are admitted when they lack the skills and knowledge to handle rigorous work, they will struggle and eventually fail no matter who their classmates are. It takes a certain IQ to deal with the kind of college-level work that elite high schools in any community offer. Yes, being around other students who are far brighter can act as a motivation, but it is not enough to compete.
Hollywood would have everyone believe that grit is how poorly prepared students can succeed. But the prose of textbooks used in New York’s specialized high schools requires what educators have said is an IQ of about 115. That’s the top 16 percent of the distribution. There will always be a few exceptions, but how can being around other smarter students help students who don’t possess the same intelligence?
There has been much coverage in the media about the mismatch when students choose a college or university. I say the same thing applies when students are admitted to elite high schools. We are setting them up for failure despite the best intentions.
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