Re "Privilege and pressure," Oct. 28
The article asks whether standards are too high at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City. The real question is whether standards have sunk too low.
At some private schools, the pursuit of excellence is now a smoke screen for meeting the narcissistic needs of parents, helping them compete in an overprivileged class where they demand the very best of everything. Truly great schools focus on the rounded development of the whole student.
So when the emotional health of children becomes less important than bragging rights about the number of elite college acceptance letters or having the best stats to put in a brochure, that school needs to raise its standards.
Private schools like Harvard-Westlake do not enroll special education students or English-language learners. Their classes are a fraction of the size of classes in public high schools, and they have the finest facilities.
If public schools operated under the same conditions, there would be little differences between them. Yet the success of private schools is attributed to superior practices, despite research showing that this assumption is a myth.
Gardner is the author of Education Week's Reality Check blog.
When my older son was a senior at the then-Harvard School, he told us of the "wall of shame." This was a bulletin board on which the students posted their college rejection letters for all their classmates to see. It demonstrated a healthy jibe at the pressures of the process.
The article's description of the faculty and administration makes it seem as if little has changed with them. I can only blame the parents for any agonies suffered by their children.
Until elite universities such as Stanford show a willingness and ability to articulate what they are actually looking for in prospective students, don't expect the pressurized prep-school culture of many private high schools (and some public ones) to change.
When perfect test scores and high grade-point averages are no longer sufficient to gain admission, expect student participation in extracurricular activities to continue at frenzied levels. Don't expect balance in the lives of these students and their families to arrive any time soon.
For those parents who wish to avoid going bankrupt before sending their kids to college by attending pricey private schools like Harvard-Westlake, take note:
First child: valedictorian. College: MIT.
Second child: salutatorian and captain of the National Champion Academic Decathlon team. College: Stanford.
High school: Taft in Woodland Hills. Cost: $0.
Future: unlimited. Benefits of their public school education: priceless.
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