President, School Choice International
The article entitled “America’s Best Prep Schools” that appeared in Forbes (April 30) hurts kids. The article relies on the flawed assumption that the best school for one child will suit another. Anyone who understands children or child development is aware that not every child thrives in the same academic environment. Despite this obvious reality, impressionable but well intentioned parent readers of this article will feel, more than ever, that their child is being shortchanged by receiving inferior education. Parents today already use every tool in their arsenal to “get their children in” to the schools that someone has identified as the “top” or the “best.” The sad result has been revealed to me in countless conversations with private school admissions officers and psychologists: “getting in” isn’t enough. These are the children who fail, get counseled out or inevitably suffer low self-esteem when even daily tutoring can’t help them succeed in an incompatible environment. Is it responsible to foster the prep school frenzy – at the expense of children – by simplistically elevating a handful of prep-schools while effectively diminishing all others?
Moreover, using university admissions as the major criterion for rating schools is imperfect, at best. While there is little doubt that small classes, individualized attention and access to faculty provide students with unparalleled opportunities, are these the key to Ivy League pipeline that these schools enjoy? Might the large endowments boasted by this “top 20” (ironically another, and self-reinforcing, criterion for rating the schools) suggest that these prep school parents may be disproportionately represented among alumni and major contributors to these universities, a known factor in college admissions?
Unfortunately, parents and students take these lists very literally; they reinforce the natural insecurity in human nature and encourage those seeking prep schools to focus exclusively on the name brand. Do children need – or even benefit from – country club like campuses? Should parents be looking at access to facilities rather than facilities per se? Who gets to play on the 15 tennis courts or the eight lane competition swimming pool or the golf course? Will their child have that opportunity? Do these schools use their lavish facilities to teach sportsmanship or to win? Is the risk-taking behavior and self-confidence encouraged by favorable teacher/student ratios undercut by the exclusivity and competitive spirit that mark some of these schools? Parents need to learn to ask the right questions to assess whether these schools are right for their children. Forbes has successfully promoted its magazine through this article. Can it use its prominence to promote kids?