Jay Mathews

Stories by Jay Mathews

  • The 12 Top College Rivalries in the Country

    Harvard and Yale officially deny any competition between the two Ivies. Ditto Annapolis and West Point. But Ohio State and Michigan invite students to bring it on. Who's really the best? You decide.
  • 25 Hottest Universities

    College Guide: It's that time of year again, when high-school seniors and their parents gear up for the admissions game. In excerpts from our annual newsstand issue, here's what you need to know about the newest trends.
  • Steroid Abuse: The Dangers Facing Teens

    NEWSWEEK's list of America's best high schools, this year with a record 1,258 names, began as a tale of just two schools. They were Garfield High School, full of children of Hispanic immigrants in East Los Angeles, and Mamaroneck High School, a much smaller campus serving very affluent families in Westchester County, N.Y. I had written a book about Garfield, and the success of its teachers like Jaime Escalante in giving low-income students the encouragement and extra time they needed to master college-level Advanced Placement courses and tests. I was finishing a book about Mamaroneck, and was stunned to find it was barring from AP many middle-class students who were much better prepared for those classes than the impoverished students who were welcomed into AP at Garfield. That turns out to be the rule in most U.S. schools—average students are considered not ready for, or not deserving of, AP, even though many studies show that they need the challenge and that success in AP can lead...
  • Test Wars

    For one brief moment, after years of fear and loathing, America seemed ready to make peace with the SAT. When the University of California several years ago threatened to treat the test like a bad batch of cafeteria food and tell applicants not to buy it, the College Board junked the bewildering analogy questions (warthogs are to pigs as politicians are to what?), created a writing section (including producing an essay), added tougher math questions and more reading analysis--and had everybody talking about the new-and-improved SAT.Then the first students to take SAT: The Sequel were seen stumbling out of the testing centers as if they had just run a marathon, and all the happy talk ended. The students, their parents, their counselors and the $1,000-per-course SAT prep companies said the new test was too long and exhausting, with the three hours and 45 minutes stretching to five hours with breaks and instructions. And it got worse. Nobody is sure how, but moisture in some SAT answer...
  • America's Hot Colleges

    For students looking to attend an American university, a few names have always loomed large: the eight Ivies, a few small institutions like Amherst and some celebrated state schools like the University of California, Berkeley. But increasingly, today's students are widening their searches and discovering many schools that are just as good--and often just about as difficult to get into--as the famous ones. And it's sort of cool to find out that a hot college doesn't need to be one that Grandma and Grandpa have heard of.With competition for spots in U.S. universities fiercer than ever, families are looking for lesser-known schools that make the grade, along with those icons that live up to their reputations. All the colleges on the Hot List for 2005-06 have one attribute in common: they're creating buzz among students, school officials and longtime observers of the admissions process. And each entry reflects a place that is preparing students well for a complex world. Herewith, eight...
  • AMERICA'S HOT COLLEGES

    Ah, serendipity. A generation ago, when Americans spoke of the best colleges, they had a pretty good idea: the oldest ones, a few of the biggest and not much else. Even now, among the old guard, that focus often remains on the eight Ivies, a few small institutions like Amherst and some celebrated state schools like the University of California, Berkeley. But today's students, when they start looking for their own best schools to attend, often wind up discovering many that are just as good, and often just about as difficult to get into, as the famous ones. And it's sort of cool to find out that a hot school doesn't need to be one that Grandma and Grandpa have even heard of.With so much attention paid to college selection these days--as the number of high-school graduates reaches 3 million and beyond--families are looking for lesser-known schools that make the grade, along with those icons that live up to their reputations. All the colleges on the Hot List for 2006 have one attribute...
  • HOW TO BUILD A BETTER HIGH SCHOOL

    Morgan Wilbanks was in for a series of shocks when he transferred to the Jefferson County International Baccalaureate (IB) School in Alabama at the beginning of his sophomore year. The little-known school near Birmingham, which tops NEWSWEEK's list of America's Best High Schools, is on the leading edge of a growing movement to make secondary education much more rigorous. Wilbanks, then 16, found himself taking tough courses right from the start. In his Advanced Placement (AP) European-history class, teacher Jeffrey Clayton gave startled students this initial assignment: memorize the map of Europe and be able to draw every country, along with 10 capitals, 10 rivers and 10 bodies of water. And that was just a warm-up. Clayton and other teachers told Wilbanks that he would be tackling nearly a dozen similarly demanding courses before he received his diploma. A few of the school's 325 students fled, preferring a less strenuous life at a regular public school. But Wilbanks, looking back...
  • BRAND-NAME CANDIDATES

    Dave Montesano spent 50 hours with Natasha Lalji. Her parents could afford his company's $3,200 fee, and the family wanted his advice on what would distinguish her from other students in the competition for a good college. She was of South Asian descent, not uncommon at the selective schools on her list. Her grade-point average at Seattle Preparatory School was 3.6. Her SAT score was 1220. She exhibited no specific talents or abilities above the norm except for one thing: she had traveled to 35 countries with her parents. And that, if properly communicated, was what Montesano thought would work for her.A college-planning associate with Appian Education in Seattle, Montesano is one of a new breed of college-admissions consultants who use business-school marketing principles to sell students to their preferred colleges. He calls it "strategic matching" and says that despite what its critics claim, it is nothing like peddling soap. He says all colleges, even the most selective ones,...
  • 'SAFETY' FIRST

    They were a team: Kyle Sullivan-Jones, the teenager, with his father, Bruce Jones. Equipped with a $3,000 budget for bicoastal travel and application fees, along with a mutual determination not to lose touch with reality, together they would endure the college-admissions process. The elder Jones was an experienced high-school counselor in Barnstable, Mass. He'd been telling his son for years what he thought of the ordeal--the overheated expectations, the fetish for rankings. The two resolved to do it the right way, and in the end they achieved a perfect admissions season: eight applications, eight acceptance letters.Some valedictorian football stars may manage that feat, but they have little in common with Kyle. He had a respectable 3.6 GPA and 1320 combined score on his SAT, along with a love for guitars and political success in organizing his school's first Mix It Up day, when everyone agreed to sit with strangers at lunch. But what he really had going for him was a keen sense,...
  • LIFE WITHOUT THE IVIES?

    Admit it: we have a problem. This urge to get our kids into prestigious colleges is a sickness, and we are not handling it well. Our children may have a touch of the same illness, but they get over it fast. At the end of the admissions process, no matter what the disappointments, they still get to go to some college--a thrill ride for them, as well as a chance to get away from us, the parents. By contrast, we remain at home, fretting over what might have been and perhaps reliving our own college and life misadventures.I don't think there is any cure for that. We are addicts, with a classic emotional dependence on something that is not good for us. The only solution is to recognize it and find ways to deal with it. I've been through it myself with three children. Here are 10 realizations I've clung to over the years:Getting into a brand-name school does not improve your life. A 1999 study by Mellon Foundation researcher Stacy Berg Dale and Princeton economist Alan B. Krueger shows...
  • The New College Game

    In the college-admission season just past, Ben Weinberg was one of the hot prospects--1430 SAT, A-minus average at a very competitive private school, jazz pianist, tennis player and future biomedical researcher. Those "you are the kind of student we want" e-mails and promotional brochures poured into his white brick house in Bethesda, Md. So the schools that really wanted him had to find new ways to show it.Washington University in St. Louis took the most traditional tool--the U.S. mail--and turned it into its own high-volume operation. A torrent of Wash U letters and information packets flooded Weinberg's mailbox. There was even a course catalog, something he'd rarely seen so early in the application process. Columbia University, in contrast, sat back and waited for just the right moment and messenger. In late March, a week before acceptance and rejection letters were due, Weinberg got a glowing letter from the undergraduate dean of Columbia's engineering school, almost but not...
  • Very Late Decision

    In An Age Of Early Everything, There's A Way To Get Into College At The Very Last Minute. Are You The Persuasive Type
  • THE ADMISSIONS GAME: TWO CAN PLAY

    Telltale essays, eternal wait lists, 'mutual massage'--this is the newest lexicon of the process. Colleges manipulate admissions. Now students are fighting back.
  • Daring To Be Different

    Tests aren't the only way to judge a high school. In the past decade, educators around the country have created dozens of intriguing models for reform. They include virtual high schools where all classes are online and "theme" schools based on environmental issues or the health-care profession. These schools tend to have "a strong identity shared by families and faculty alike," says Thomas Toch, writer-in-residence at the National Center on Education and the Economy and author of "High Schools on a Human Scale," published this month by Beacon Press. Some examples:Urban Academy Laboratory High School, New York City: This public school of 120 students has made debate a teaching tool in every classroom. "What's your evidence?" could be the school motto; one of the most popular courses is officially titled "Are You Looking for an Argument?" Despite drawing a typically urban mix of students, with many minorities and children of low-income parents, the school has a 3 percent dropout rate,...
  • The 100 Best High Schools In America

    The Surge In The Number Of Students Taking Ap Tests Is Changing Life Inside America's Classrooms--And Altering The Rules Of The College-Admissions Game. A Look At A New Set Of Winners For 2003
  • The Best High Schools

    Nick Freeman, an honor-roll student at Clayton A. Bouton High School in the hilly Albany suburb of Voorheesville, N.Y., had nearly a 90 average in social studies and English. Last spring a counselor urged him to sign up for Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. history because it would be wonderful preparation for college. He could indulge his love of political argument and writing. But school administrators said no. The AP course was only for A students. No B-plus wanna-bes, no matter how motivated, could get in.At about the same time, 3,000 miles away in the worn linoleum halls of Inglewood High in South-Central Los Angeles, Rasheda Daniel was learning that despite her hard work in the very same AP history course, she would not be able to take the AP test necessary to earn college credit. It cost $50, even with the discount for low-income families. With her mother temporarily out of work, she did not have the money. Later Daniel learned that test-fee grants had been available, but no one...
  • Psst, Kid, Wanna Buy A. . .

    Mathews is the author of "Escalante," a book about the calculus teacher who was featured in the movie "Stand and Deliver." ...
  • Undercover Bias Busters

    Back in March 1991, Gale S. Molovinsky, head of the Executive Suite employment agency in Washington, D.C., welcomed Karen Baker into his office for a warm chat about her career. She couldn't afford his fee? No matter. Why not let him be her "sugar daddy," she recalled him saying. ...

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