Gah. I do not have time to fully participate in this thread right now, which drives me crazy. This, here, is a thing I can talk about.
I teach at a school that is comparable to TJ, though with considerable differences: we are 75% underrepresented minorities and 60% economically disadvantaged, for one thing. We pull from a large urban district where our demographics still trend whiter and more Asian than the district, but they do match the city: we look like what all the district schools would look like if the white and Asian kids weren’t opting out of public school so often.
We have admissions testing. I would be comfortable with a lottery for all the kids who met a minimum standard, but I’d probably prefer a test over grades to determine that standard, just because middle school grades are sort of a shit show. But I hate grades in general. Wildly inaccurate.
I will defend the idea of specialty schools. There are things that kids want to do that just aren’t possible if you don’t have a critical mass of them. In our case, it means we can have a freshman calculus class, three years of computer science, 3 years of AP physics, a dedicated lab class for AP science, a post-AP math class. Robust robotics clubs. Advanced math teams. You can’t do this stuff at a normal school if only 2-3 kids even want it. You can’t dedicate the resources. In our district, we also have specialty programs in the arts, single gender schools, liberal arts schools, early colleges, all kinds of things. Something like 40% of Freshmen are in some sort of program. And that’s a good thing. It’s the one advantage of a large urban district where you have 10,000 freshman to place each year: you can offer choices. The traditional high school experience doesn’t work for a lot of kids. It’s good to have alternatives.