kitchen table math, the sequel: Steve H on the Race

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Steve H on the Race

Speaking of the Race to Nowhere, Steve H writes:
At any level, there will likely be students who work harder than you do. This only matters because the top colleges pick those kids. A parent I know has most of her kids at Phillips Andover, with the goal being an Ivy League school. Does a high school think that competition will go away if they eliminate AP classes?

I like AP classes because it forces some sort of rigor on high schools, but I don't like the AP arms race. These are two separate issues. The arms race has to do with supply and demand at colleges. A senior I know is taking 5 AP classes even though she will be going to a college that is ranked only about 90th for liberal arts colleges. IB doesn't help. It's actually worse in terms of commitment. With AP, you can choose what you want to do.

Even if the demand goes down and the college SAT cutoffs are reduced, there will still be the same percent of students stressed out about getting into their first choice colleges. Is supply and demand the problem of K-12 education?

There are also the problems of curriculum and how well classes are taught. Students can be stressed by working very hard, but be quite happy when they get into the college they want. Students can also be stressed when they find out that all of their hard work didn't prepare them properly.

Of course, this doesn't say anything about the kids at the middle and lower end. I find it odd that when many see problems in high school, they think that the problem to fix is in high school. They translate everything into one problem to solve. Even in K-6, I see solutions based on remediation and not finding the source of the problem.

If the problem is overstressed students (not bad classes or curricula), then don't push them. Tell them not to take so many AP classes and do so many activities. Our son is not at Phillips Academy, but we don't ignore the game. It's my job to help him find the right balance. It's the school's job not to waste his time.


Crimson Wife said...

That solution sounds like the one proposed by Caitlin Flanagan in the April 2011 Atlantic magazine.

I just don't see too many families being willing to give up the Ivy admissions dream and settle for sending their bright kid to Rutgers (or out in my neck of the woods, Cal State).

Anonymous said...

If you replace Cal State with UC, I suspect that a lot of California parents would be fine with their kids going to a UC. Especially if the Ivy dream was (a) a four year grind, and (b) expensive.

-Mark Roulo

Crimson Wife said...

The UC schools are very competitive these days (at least the decent ones are). A kid can't opt out of the rat race and still get accepted to Berkeley, UCLA, Davis, or San Diego.

One of the teen leaders in my kids' 4H club was valedictorian of her H.S., had something like 10 AP's, good SAT's, ran varsity track, and wrote a decent essay (she asked me for help with editing it). She got rejected from Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC San Diego. She did receive a full ride at Cal State Long Beach, which she decided to accept, and then try to transfer to one of the UC's after 2 years.

It's insane how competitive admissions are these days. I worry about how much worse it'll get by the time my kids are seniors in high school.

SteveH said...

A friend of ours is a college freshman who was valedictorian with top SAT grades, had the highest AMC/12 score in the state, had lead roles in theater, won at track and field, won awards at piano competitions, did internships in science, and won science awards, but wasn't accepted at MIT, and was wait-listed at Dartmouth. He is also the nicest person you could meet.

He did get into Dartmouth.

In some ways, that might help students (and parents) focus on competing with oneself rather than everyone else. I know it leads me to have my son focus on academics rather than everything else. Any extra-curricular activities will be based only on whether he really wants to do them, not whether it will look good on his resume. There is also graduate school, and they won't be looking at whether you did music, theater, and sports in high school.

Anonymous said...

"I worry about how much worse it'll get by the time my kids are seniors in high school."

It should be a bit better. We are at the peak of a demographic bulge for high school age students. It drops a bit in the future.

It helps, too, to be male (which the kids don't have much control over), but maybe not at the very selective schools.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...


A few questions (to calibrate the insanity).

What was the girl's GPA? What were her AP scores? And what was her "good SATs"?

-Mark Roulo

Grace Nunez said...

Stanford admitted 7% of applicants this year and Berkeley 21%. I'm sure both schools receive many applications from valedictorians.

Allison said...

No doubt there are hundreds of great students who look perfect on paper and don't get accepted to great schools.

But don't forget that admissions officers are judging two things you don't see: the essay, and the recommendations, and they are coming up with a portrait of the person and deciding if they like them or not.

Students can very easily shoot themselves in the foot in admissions by portraying themselves or letting others portray them as unlikeable, dull, bubble headed, or otherwise not a compelling young adult. Who knows how these teens came across--it's quite easy to believe that one stupid mistake costs all sorts of students their entrance to places that need take no chances.

Lots of teenagers lack good judgment. Writing your essay on your first sxual experience? Not likely to make you Stanford material. Picking teachers to write you recs who write poor ones, or who wrote better ones to the same schools for your classmates? Not likely to get you into top UCs. Leaving your drunken stupor photos up on your Facebook page? Well, CSULB might not decline those kids but lots of top schools will.

Crimson Wife said...

What was the girl's GPA? What were her AP scores? And what was her "good SATs"?

She was valedictorian at an affluent suburban high school, so I would presume that she had pretty close to a perfect GPA. SAT's were around 2200.

The essay I saw was about her interest in marine biology. It seemed well-written and likeable.

Jeff Boulier said...

Crimson Wife: You say that she was a leader in 4H. That might explain her problem. There was a study by Espenshade and Radford that reported: "Participation in such Red State activities as high school ROTC, 4-H clubs, or the Future Farmers of America was found to reduce very substantially a student's chances of gaining admission to the competitive private colleges in the NSCE database on an all-other-things-considered basis. "

Not really surprising. Part of the compensation for admissions officers at colleges is to be able to help people you can feel Good About Yourself for admitting.

Catherine Johnson said...

She got rejected from Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC San Diego.

That is horrifying!

Catherine Johnson said...

The Red State issue does concern me.

When C. and I went to the tour for NYU, the admissions officer giving the talk was listing the gazillion and one clubs NYU has: "Young Republicans, Young Democrats," etc. -- and then she paused and said laughingly, "We do have some Republican students. Not many, but we have a few."

I wondered whether she makes that joke in every session.

Crimson Wife said...

Stanford these days is a crapshoot, so the fact that she got rejected there didn't really surprise me. But I never would've guessed she'd go 0 for 3 on the UC schools given what I saw of her application.