New Yorkonomics: Education 101

Over the weekend, the real estate section of the New York Times profiled the Meatpacking District. Almost as a side note, Jake Mooney described the local elementary, middle and high schools. What's interesting is how much worse the schools perform as the students get older.


"Primary students in the neighborhood — including the blocks immediately surrounding the meatpacking district — are zoned to attend Public School 3, on Hudson Street, or 41, on West 11th Street.

Both received A’s on recent city progress reports. At No. 3, 91.6 percent of students met standards in English, 96 percent in math. At No. 41, percentages were 94.8 in English and 97.8 in math.

Middle school students are zoned for Junior High School 104 on East 21st Street, which the city also gave an "A." In recent tests, 82.5 percent were proficient in English, 85.1 percent in math.

Two high school options, to the north of the neighborhood, are the Manhattan Business Academy and the Humanities Preparatory Academy.

They share the West 18th Street site that until 2004 housed Bayard Rustin High School.

The business academy started in 2009, so scores are not available. At the humanities academy in 2009, SAT averages were 420 in reading, 388 in math and 410 in writing, versus 435, 432 and 439 statewide."

How is it that two of New York's best performing primary schools feed into a high school where students test below the statewide average? To those uninitiated in New York City schooling, it appears as if something is going seriously wrong in junior high school, where proficiency in math and English drops by several percentage points.

And then it keeps going wrong in high school. Smart kids appear to be getting dumber.

Of course, that's not what is really happening. The truth is that a great sorting takes place during these years. The city insists on combining kids from many different primary schools at middle school level, and then it combines many different middle schools at the high school level. So the test results for the smart PS 41 kids get diluted in middle school by the addition of kids who aren't as bright.

More importantly, however, many of the kids from PS 41 and PS 3 just don't go on to attend their zoned schools. Their parents pull them out of the public schooling system rather than send them to under-performing schools populated with under-performing students.

Many of the kids that remain in the public system "test out" of their zoned schools, scoring places at specialized schools like Hunter, Stuyvesant, and Bronx Science.

In short, New York's schools probably aren't making students dumber.

Instead, the drop off in results shows that the schools and the parents are highly efficient at moving the brightest kids out of the normal public system into the private and specialized schools.

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