How to increase diversity in elite high schools

Elite high schools have been lambasted for their lack of racial diversity. Yet there is hope.  The Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City has managed to achieve that goal while at the same time posting a 99 percent graduation rate (“ ‘Fame’ High School Principal Leaving Post After Student Protests,” The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 25).

Admission to LaGuardia is based solely on an audition, as viewers of the movie “Fame” will recall.  Applicants perform before a panel of judges.  There is no standardized written test.  For decades that policy has worked extraordinarily well.  But when the principal attempted to place greater emphasis on academics rather than on arts, she was forced to leave.

Academics are important, but LaGuardia correctly recognizes that they do not constitute the sum and substance of a student’s potential for a successful future.  The performing arts by their very nature cannot be measured by any standardized test.  That’s why auditions are used in casting for various roles.  It’s not perfect, but then again what way is?  LaGuardia deserves high praise for what it has accomplished.  It’s too bad other specialized high schools don’t follow in its footsteps.

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2 Replies to “How to increase diversity in elite high schools”

  1. Not sure what your contention is here. Are you suggesting that magnet schools focused on disciplines other than the arts — i.e., STEM schools, language schools, business schools — should use auditions rather than written tests to screen applicants? Not clear exactly what those auditions would look like + practical exercises (as opposed to written tests) would give a huge advantage to an applicant who had a background in the discipline even if the applicant had only minimal raw talent in the discipline — i.e., an applicant from a Spanish-speaking family would have a huge advantage over an applicant from an English-speaking family for a language school.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: Auditions, which are essentially performance assessment, are best used in schools that specialize in the arts. Yes, they will favor students with a background in the specific art measured. But standardized tests also favor students who come from high SES backgrounds. More important, I don’t think that literacy and numeracy are the only fields that schools should be concerned with. For example, music has little to do with those two fields and yet students who possess talent in music can go on to have a successful career after school.

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