Home > Essays > David Kirp Advocates Cloning Stanford. That Seems Unlikely… BUT… We COULD Clone Our Best High Schools!

David Kirp Advocates Cloning Stanford. That Seems Unlikely… BUT… We COULD Clone Our Best High Schools!

May 17, 2021

Last month, NYTimes writer David Kirp wrote an article titled “Why Stanford Should Clone Itself“, which was more of a thought exercise than a practical recommendation. He proposed this “revolutionary idea”:

A top private university like Princeton or Yale (or perhaps a renowned college like Amherst or Swarthmore) should open a new campus.

The institution would not have to lower its standards, because the best and brightest would queue for admission. Professors with glittering résumés would jump at the opportunity to teach there — indeed, for the adventurous Yale-caliber academic, the opportunity to be present at the creation could be a powerful draw. Cities would perform handstands to land such a school.

But he quickly explained why such a practical idea was “revolutionary”:

Harvard-San Diego, Yale-Houston — this idea is not simply off the table in academe. It is not even within the realm of these universities’ imagination. But why should it boggle the mind? If Yale can open a campus in Singapore, why can’t it start one in Houston?

Institutions like these, which guard their reputation with mother-bear fierceness, predictably fear that if they took such a bold step, their coin-of-the-realm prestige would suffer and that their U.S. News & World Report ranking would slip a notch or two.Yet if Harvard-San Diego were truly a clone of the mother ship, as it could well be, it is hard to see how the university would be worse off. On the contrary — because it would acquire what economists call first-mover advantage, it would be lionized.

So… the possible loss of prestige and (heaven forfend!) the lowering of a US News and World Report ranking makes a satellite campus a “revolutionary idea”. The notion that qualified students are denied access to the kind of programs that elite schools offer because those elite schools “guard their reputation with mother-bear fierceness” seems anti-democratic… BUT… the anti-democratic nature of these institutions pales in comparison to the anti-democratic means used to protect the access to elite public schools.

If a child in a public school in the Bronx wants the same opportunity for success available to a child in a public school in Bronxville they can only do so if their parents can afford a house in that district. Indeed, the same limitations are true across the country because the parents who can afford a home in an affluent school district guard their public school’s reputation with the same mother-bear fierceness as the private institutions cited in David Kirp’s article. We claim that every public school provides every child with an equal opportunity and politicians claim that every public school is adequately funded and yet we know that SOME schools are more equal than others… and we keep it that way because to do otherwise would require us to spend as much in the less equal schools…. and we wouldn’t want to see our taxes go up so that every child could have the same experience as those who attend the “elite” public schools.

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