Designer Ed: Exam Schools

Today we kick off a series of posts focused on innovative educational practices at DASH. We’re calling it Designer Ed with a nod to the school’s motto: “Education by Design.” Whether examining classroom case studies up close, taking a wide-frame look at cross curricular choices, or expanding outward to consider our place within the local and national public education panoramas, the goal of this series is to highlight what DASH does differently that makes our school successful.

IExamSchools[2]n their recent book Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective High Schools, authors Chester Finn and Jessica Hockett turn their attention away from the mainstream priority on low performing students and schools to study the many ways specialized public high schools across the nation are working as well as and often better than expensive private prep schools to support and accelerate student achievement. Using strict criteria, Finn and Hockett identify 165 examples of such schools (among over 20,000 public high schools nationwide). DASH makes the list as one of six in Florida and one of two, along with School for Advanced Studies, in Miami.

The authors summarize their findings and explain the criteria they used in the Fall 2012 edition of Education Next magazine. Here they point out ambiguity as to whether the impressive academic outcomes at these so-called exam schools are the result of what happens in the schools or a byproduct of what students admitted through competitive admissions processes bring with them. Also underscored is the ambivalence with which exam schools handle the ever increasing demands of the Advanced Placement program and other standardized tests.

Because DASH measures potential talent through visual arts auditions as its admission process, academic outcomes are less linked to selectivity as in schools like SAS which use grade point average and previous coursework as primary criteria. But in common with many of the other identified schools, DASH courses are generally more rigorous than typical high school coursework and the school culture plays a major role in holding all students to exceptionally high expectations. Another similarity is a student demographic profile with more minority representation and socio-economic diversity than that of counterpart schools.

Yesterday WLRN featured an interview with Finn about his book on the radio show Topical Currents. DASH came up often in the conversation. Callers included the principal of SAS, several local community members, and a DASH alum. The discussion got particularly interesting when one caller challenged Finn’s assertion that the nation should allocate more resources for talented, high performing students and schools. Click here to take a listen.

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