A recent article by the New York Times outlines how graduates of city schools, even those that have earned an A, enter CUNY schools in need of substantial remediation. There's a fair amount of useful information in the article, including this:
"The combined remediation rate for the 50 high schools serving the highest-achieving students, based on middle-school test scores, was 21 percent. For the 50 schools serving the lowest-achieving students, the CUNY remediation rate was 77 percent."
It's clear that some schools do a far better job of preparing students for college work than others. Because we know that students who need remediation are less likely to graduate from college, it's easy to sympathize with families whose children are in underperforming schools and are looking to move them into schools with a track record of success. As the article notes, success in college can be tied to not only high school education but also middle school education. I'll allow that there are likely several variables at play when comparing schools, but focusing on outcomes like this is a meaningful exercise.
Williamsburg Preparatory School is an interesting case study. Per the Times, it earned an A on the three most recent progress reports and has an 88% graduation rate. But three quarters of the students it sends to CUNY (who comprise 39% of a graduating class) fail CUNY's readiness tests. The school's principal, Alyce Barr, counters by explaining that because the school focuses on writing skills (students don't take Regents due to a state waiver) her students will perform better than their CUNY test scores indicate. Her analysis seems off, however, given that CUNY's remediation tests included writing tests, and that there's still the matter of math scores.
If students at a successful school are falling so far short of college success, how many students at other schools across the city are graduating without the skills to succeed in college? In my experience, there's an unwillingness to be honest about the fact that by the time students enter high school - even by the time they enter 7th grade - students are several years behind where they should be. The gap of skills is talked about in a big picture sense, but most schools teach what they think they need to until they get within shouting distance of the end of the year without any sense of where students should end up at the end of a course and what next steps will be for students who do or don't meet goals.
I don't know exactly how we close that gap. Part of it rests on having the right teachers in the classroom under the leadership of capable administrators. Maximizing student learning time and holding students accountable are key. There are a number of schools that do a good job of identifying shortcomings, creating a plan to address deficiencies, executing their plan, and then reviewing their progress to make adjustments if needed. Unfortunately, too few schools do that well.