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April 4, 2014

Public high schools are prominent in Ivy League rosters

By now, you’ve all read about Kwasi Enin, the Long Island high school student who applied and gained admission to all eight Ivy League schools.

Scattered along the East Coast, the universities— Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Princeton and Cornell— are among the most selective in the country, admitting less than 9 percent of its collective applicants this year. Harvard’s admit rate was the lowest at 5.9 percent, while Cornell was the highest at 14 percent.

Acceptance into one Ivy League college is difficult enough, let alone all eight which is why Enin’s feat has rightly garnered widespread media attention. And small wonder all eight welcomed him. Besides participating in student government and playing three instruments in the chamber orchestra, Enin throws discus and shot put for the track and field team, acts in school plays and volunteers at a local hospital. An extraordinarily gifted student from— can I point out— a public high school.

Fluke? Far from.

Although matriculating data was provided on only four of the college’s admissions websites, that information, along with other secondary sources indicate the majority of Ivy League’s recent classes have come from public high schools.

Public school grads make up 55% of incoming freshman at Dartmouth and Yale, 58.7% at Princeton and 66% at Cornell UniversityBrown doesn’t have figures for its undergrad program, but it does reveal that 67% of students accepted into its medical school in 2013 hailed from public high schools. In a 2009 New York Times piece, William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, noted that public schools provided almost 70 percent of the incoming freshmen class that fall.

With eight of the most prestigious universities knocking on his door — Enin also applied and received acceptance letters from Duke and three State University of New York campuses— the Long Island teen has every right to bask in the sun. But so should public schools who’ve prepared Enin and countless others for the country’s top universities and beyond.

In fairness, some commentary—even from the schools themselves—- have noted that the increasing fixation on Ivy League admittance has shifted attention from the fact that there are other high caliber colleges in the country, many of which are public universities that have a rich history of producing notable graduates including Oprah Winfrey, Jon Stewart and former President Gerald Ford, to name a few.

Whether at the K-12 or post-secondary level, public education is clearly equipping future generations with the skills they need to succeed in college and careers. This is an important point that shouldn’t get lost, as it debunks the common belief that exclusivity automatically equates to superiority. That’s obviously not the case, since public high school students occupy the vast majority of Ivy League’s incoming classes and it stands to reason that they likely occupy the ranks of public universities, too.

I wish Enin lots of luck as he enters the next chapter in his life. I’ve no doubt he’ll do well no matter where he goes. His parents and public education prepared him well.

To read more about the various approaches and practices of rigorous high schools, check out CPE’s report Is High School Tough Enough?

January 29, 2013

Some colleges putting the brakes on accelerated learning programs

There’s an interesting development occurring in the push to prepare high school graduates for college— and it doesn’t bode well, despite the very best intentions.

I read with a great deal of interest that a handful of Washington state lawmakers  are eager to expand a pilot program that automatically identifies high-achieving middle and high school students and enrolls them in advanced courses.

Federal Way Public Schools launched its Academic Acceleration Program in the fall of 2010 and has experienced overwhelmingly positive results. Since its inception, the number of juniors and seniors who have enrolled in at least one Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge Program class has increased by 72 percent, with the number of minority students taking advanced courses rising by 76 percent. What’s more, less than three percent of students who were tapped for this program opted out, while 94 percent of those who stayed in the advanced course received a C or better in their first semester.

This all sounds well and good, so, what’s the problem, you ask? Well, the potential problem lies in how colleges and universities will treat these accelerated learning credits.

A few weeks ago, Dartmouth University announced that beginning with the class of 2018, it would no longer be providing college credit for AP courses, declaring that the classes just weren’t up to the university’s high standards.

Just how rigorous advanced courses are — and how rigorous high schools are, for that matter— is a subject the Center for Public Education explored last year in its report, Is High School Tough Enough?  The study found that AP courses do seem to have a benefit for those students who take them, while the impact of IB is too small to measure reliably. Ultimately, the study determined more research is needed in this arena, particularly since accelerated learning programs have become a widely popular strategy to boost the college-going rate, as it can reduce the cost of post-secondary education, a major obstacle for many students.

Yet, it would seem all for naught, if just as many colleges began refusing to accept the Advanced Placement scores, whether out of legitimate concern that is not an adequate substitute for a real college curriculum … or, more nefariously, out of concern for their own bottomline.

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