Giving Compass' Take:

• Matt Barnum reports that the controversy over admissions into elite high schools may be misplaced as they do not necessarily provide significant improvements over traditional high schools. 

• How can funders help to improve the understanding about the impact (or lack of impact) that elite schools have for disadvantaged students? 

• Learn about the discrimination charges against specialized high schools in New York

The assumption sits at the heart of a raging debate about elite high schools in Boston and New York City: that schools like Stuyvesant and Boston Latin offer the very best preparation for college that the public school system can provide.

“Why isn’t every public school in New York City a Brooklyn Tech-caliber school?” Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said recently, referring to one of New York City’s test-in high schools. “Every one should be.”

“Admission to Stuyvesant has been a ticket out of poverty for hundreds of thousands of brilliant, non-wealthy New York kids,” tweeted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens.

But studies looking at the test-in schools in those cities and in Chicago have found that students receive little if any measurable benefit from attending them. Students with similar qualifications who attend high school elsewhere end up with comparable SAT scores and college admissions offers, they find.

“There is perhaps too much attention on these test schools as if they’re lifesavers, and we have evidence that maybe they’re not,” said Tomas Monarrez, who studies segregation at the Urban Institute.

That doesn’t mean the push to change admissions rules is misguided. In New York City, just 11 percent of admissions offers to specialized school this year went to black and Hispanic students, though they make up the vast majority of the public school system. In Boston, there’s a 30-point gap between the share of black and Hispanic students at exam schools and the district as a whole.

“There’s benefit to having diversity beyond a test score,” said Parag Pathak, an MIT researcher who has studied Boston and New York’s exam schools. Students may gain access to harder-to-measure benefits like advanced courses, a more challenging school environment, and an influential alumni network.

“A lot of these social networks that you create in these types of schools are probably really valuable — if you get to meet the right kid and then the dad of that kid ends up giving you a Wall Street job,” said Monarrez.

But the findings do underscore a key misconception about why students who attend those schools do well. It’s not because the schools are offering something entirely unique; it’s at least partially because the process selects students who are primed for academic success.

Read the full article about attending an elite high school by Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat.