Thursday, August 12, 2010

Snootmore Academy

Our failing public schools, our failing public schools, our failing public schools. Teacher accountability, teacher accountability. Standardized testing, charter schools, merit pay, no child left behind, race to the top. Children are our future.

I agree with that last sentence. The rest is just a quick summary of the state of education "reform." Sound familiar? There's a problem, though. I've said it before and I'll say it again: our public schools aren't failing. They work small miracles every day, in the face of ever increasing class sizes and ever dwindling resources. And this despite the best efforts of "reformers" to ruin them.

But there's another myth at work here, too: the idea that private schools do a better job. For years I taught SAT prep for a big company you've probably heard of. In the interest of avoiding potential libel issues, let me just say: not that company, the other one.

Now this company grasped early on that the more we charged, the more our clients liked it. SAT prep was, and is, about status as much as college admissions. The pay was good, but only a tiny fraction of the exorbitant fees we charged. Of course, it was business, and we worked with any client who could pay the fee. I had many public school students, but many more from private schools.

In my experience, taken as a whole, the public school students always did better. Always. Now obviously, there are good and bad students at any school. Even so, it seemed to me that the best public school students compared very favorably to the best private school students, and often did better.

I worked with students from most of the private schools around greater Boston. Out of all of these, over seven years, there was exactly one that impressed me with its quality of curriculum and students. One. The rest I called "Snootmore Academy." The mission of the schools seemed to be to confer a sense of status and privilege on the students. Some of them were boarding schools, like mini-colleges; others were day schools. All were extremely expensive.

I have a large folder of student essays. I saved them mostly for comic purposes, as they are almost uniformly horrible. Let's look at one more seriously, and think about standardized testing and teacher accountability. I chose this one at random: some are better, some are worse, but all are bad. It's a response to the following SAT prompt:

There is, of course, no legitimate branch of science that enables us to predict the future accurately. Yet the degree of change in the world is so overwhelming and so promising that the future, I believe, is far brighter than anyone has contemplated since the end of the Second World War.
Adapted from Allan E. Goodman, A Brief History of the Future: The United States in a Changing World Order.

Assignment: Is the world changing for the better? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

Here is what one student wrote:

The world is changing for the better compare to the 1800's the world had gone through a great transformation. Scientists has always been able to come up with new technology. The technology that scientists come up with some time better the world. For example, The invention of automobile, has changed the world almost in every countries. In the 1700's and the 1800's there wasn't any transportation like cars, planes, and etc.
As Allan E. Goodman said in her paragraph, "yet the degree of change in the world is so overwhelming and so promising that the future, I believe, is far brighter than anyone has contemplated since the end of the Second World War." This quote states that the future is brighter since the end of the Second World War. Since the end of World War II most countries that were in poverty had been able to develope their country. Some of the country that couldn't defense themselves, are able to defense themselves now.
From my point of view the world is changing for the better. As my dad always say, "the future gets brighter every year." Science had some time change our future, for the good. Scientists wants us to benefit from any changes that occurring.

All errors have been laboriously transcribed. This essay has a [sic]ness. And I have more like this one. Lots more.

That student attended a well-thought-of private day school. Tuition there is currently $27,600, plus another $1000-1500 in fees. And it would be even more if we weren't required by State law to provide student transportation out of public school budgets. Students buy their own books. The grounds are well kept. Everything is shiny and new. It's a pretty, pleasant campus.

Our public schools spend just under $10,000 per student.

Is it any wonder that private schools want no part of standardized testing? Almost $30,000 a year and a student applying to college can barely write. Admittedly, there probably are students there who write well. Just because I didn't meet any doesn't mean they don't exist. Yet we expect "our failing public schools" to meet a 100% passing rate on standardized tests.

If they don't, we can privatize them. What a good idea.

Look at what a good job Snootmore Academy is doing.

Very Truly Yours,




Amy said...

You have documented what I've long suspected. My daughters rec'd their education in public schools and colleges (except for one who finished a 4 year degree in 3 at a private college). Since I was educated exclusively in private schools (and, no, I never did get a degree), I was concerned when my girls were starting school. Private schools for them were not an option. I consider them very well educated and they're getting advanced degrees as I write this even though they are in their 30's. I could go on and on but I really appreciate your take on this - love the "Snootmore Academy" label - too much!

Ananda girl said...

I loved the "[sic]ness" ! Ha.

But all kidding aside, I think that you are correct. My senior high school year was in a private school and frankly the only lessons I learned there were life lessons not taught in class.

I would add to what you have said, but one thing. Attitudes among students has a great deal to do with what they learn or not. Their attitudes come from what they hear at home, for the most part. We have to be careful as parents to convince them that they need what is being offered.

As a parent I regret that I only managed to do this with 2 out of 4 of my kids. Yet the opportunity was there. I guess we all fall down together on this one.

Ananda girl said...

Hahahaha... opps! Make that "attitudes among students HAVE...
not "has". Sheesh.

Cricket said...

Hi Amy - Thanks for commenting and welcome to Cricket and Porcupine.

Another odd thing I noticed at Snootmore: most of the schools make a big show of "diversity" in their websites and brochures. And it's true, I worked with a number of black students over the years.

Here's the odd thing; every single one was from either West Africa or the Caribbean. I never once had a black American student. I suppose there must be some, but I never met one.

Makes you wonder. Just a fluke? Or is something else going on?

CiCi said...

Very good insight. I have one grandchild in private school and one in public school both seniors in high school. I have to agree with the results you witnessed in the testing process.

lime said...

wow....just wow. that is appallingly horrid. if i were the parents of said student i'd be demanding a refund.