Ask any realtor: Prospective buyers with children compete for homes in neighborhoods where the public schools are top-notch, believing it will increase the youngsters' chances of admission to the best colleges.
A recent study, however, suggests that can actually put applicants at a disadvantage.
A paper published in the October issue of Sociology of Education finds that students at the 200 or so most elite public high schools face a tougher road getting into top colleges than do comparable students at other, less prestigious high schools.
To polish their school profiles, many "star" high schools have evolved systems of grooming only the top tier of their students for the most selective colleges, which handicaps all other students in the hot contest for college, author Paul Attewell contends.
Mr. Attewell offered two stories of students from "star" schools in Boston suburbs to illustrate the culling process.
One boy who wanted to take AP science and math in high school was told by math department faculty members that he wasn't suited to the work.
When his parents pointed out that he had scored in the top 1 percent on the Preliminary SAT, school officials responded that the boy was smart, but not smart enough, Mr. Attewell said.
The student ended up in the less advanced math track and went on to a good college, but not an Ivy League-caliber school as he had wished.
A girl from another school scored a perfect 800 on the math portion of the SAT, but received a C in math because the grading curve at her school was so high, Mr. Attewell said. She had A's in other subjects, but the C affected her class ranking and likely contributed to her failure to be admitted to her chosen college, he said.
Some Top Students Just Average At 'Star' Schools
By Catherine Gewertz
Vol. 21, Issue 10, Page 5
It's a myth that colleges "control" for tough grading in wealthy suburban schools.