I grew up in Manhattan and attended public schools my entire childhood. I'd say I got an okay education. I mean, I'm a doctor now, so you can't exactly hold me up as a failure of the public school system.
I guess most big cities have magnet schools or specialized schools or whatever you call them. As far as I know, for the grade school years, Manhattan only had Hunter Elementary School. No wait, it was actually called Hunter College Elementary School. You know you're sending your kid to a good elementary school when it has the word "college" in its name.
According to their website, Hunter is a "publicly funded school for gifted and talented students pre-primary to grade 6." So basically you get this great education for free and all you have to do is prove that you're gifted.
The admissions process at Hunter is two rounds. "In the first round, the parent takes the child to an approved psychologist, who is trained to give an assessment of intellectual reasoning, a modified Stanford-Binet exam. Children who score at or above an eligibility score are invited to Round 2. At Round 2, children meet in groups of nine where trained consultants observe the child’s behaviors in individual and group tasks, as well as their interaction with peers and a teacher."
So basically, they watch you eat paste and see if your paste-eating skills are intellectually superior to that of your colleagues.
Can you see where this is going? That I didn't get in? As a three year old, my paste-eating skills just weren't on par with other kids.
I could make some comments about how skeezy it is to put preschool kids through a testing process like that and then tell them that they weren't good enough. I could also suggest that perhaps the whole idea of singling out "gifted" children at such a young age is a little ridiculous and that probably the majority of kids would do well if placed in a rich learning environment. But that would all sound like sour grapes.
Anyway, if you fail to measure up as a preschooler, you get a second chance to get in for 7th grade, now to Hunter College High School. Again, note the word college.
Again, there were two rounds. First, they looked at your standardized test scores and selected the kids they deemed worthy to take their exam. Then you took a test that involved a math, verbal, and essay section.
I was one of the kids in my class selected to take the exam, because of course, I was hella smart (i.e. I was a huge nerd). I didn't have any tutoring specifically for it, but my mother kind of prepped me and she certainly put a lot of pressure on me. Anyway, long story short, I failed the exam. Actually, my score on the math and language part of the exam was passing, but there was an essay portion that I bombed. Two kids in my class got in and it killed me that my score on the math/language portion was much, much higher than either of them. Same thing happened to me on the MCATs. Seems like these standardized essays are my Achilles heel. Maybe I shouldn't have written an essay about a boy in my class I was crushing on.
Anyway, it didn't end up mattering a whole lot, because I got into a specialized public high school for 9th grade, and I'm just sayin', we regularly kicked Hunter's ass in pretty much all academic competitions. Except for paste-eating, they were way better on that.