In the new book, Exam Schools: Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools, the authors examine institutions with selective admissions processes. Many of these public schools did very well in the 2012 U.S. News Best High Schools rankings, accounting for 7 of the top 10 schools in the national rankings; 11 of the top 25; and 24 of the top 50.
In an article entitled "Exam Schools from the Inside" in Education Next, authors Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica A. Hockett discussed how exam schools have evolved in the United States:
[T]hese academically selective institutions have long been a part of the American secondary-education landscape. The schools are diverse in origin and purpose ... Some arose from a desire (among parents, superintendents, school boards, governors, legislators) to provide a self-contained, high-powered college-prep education for able youngsters in a community, region, or state. Others started through philanthropic ventures or as university initiatives. A number of them were products of the country's efforts to desegregate—and integrate—its public-education system, prompted by court orders, civil rights enforcers and activists, or federal 'magnet school' dollars."
Admissions standards for these public schools have led to disagreements in some communities. In the Education Next article, Finn and Hockett write that "exam schools are sometimes controversial because 'selectivity' is hard to reconcile with the mission of 'public' education. Even school choice advocates typically assert that, while families should be free to choose their children's schools, schools have no business selecting their pupils. Other people are troubled by reports of insufficient 'diversity' among the youngsters admitted to such schools."
Their book asserts that there are only 165 exam schools nationwide in 30 states and the District of Columbia, or just .007 percent of the nation's 22,568 public high schools. The schools enrolled 135,000 students in the 2009-2010 school year out of the 14.6 million enrolled in all public schools. The states with the most exam schools were New York (24), New Jersey (16), Pennsylvania (14), Illinois (12), California (9), Texas (9), and Louisiana (9).
In terms of the U.S. News Best High Schools rankings, 112 of the exam schools identified in the book, or 68 percent, scored high enough to be nationally ranked: 67 were gold medal winners, 28 were awarded silver, and 17 were awarded bronze. The rest were either unranked or weren't in the universe of schools considered for the rankings.
These are the exam schools that made the top 50 national rankings in the latest U.S. News Best High Schools rankings: