Solutions to ‘private school’ loophole lie in more options, not more restrictions

January 25, 2016 — by Kyle Wang

Nowadays, it often feels nearly impossible to get into a top-tier school such as Stanford University — even Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was deferred because she hadn’t taken the SAT. As a result, many parents have begun planning ahead to give their children an advantage.

A recent, troubling trend that has emerged among these parents involves sending their children to private middle schools, only to move them back to the public education system for high school.

This mentality is understandable — parents want a quality education for their students, who often demonstrate gifts or talents in certain subjects, from a young age. Since many public schooling systems (such as the Saratoga Union School District) have abolished their Gifted and Talented student programs, parents have turned to private schools to give their students a head start and more rigorous classes.

Legally, there’s no problem with this. After all, America is a free country where, parents can send their students to a private school for a good education, right?

Ostensibly, yes.

But just because it is legal to send a student who attended a private middle school back to the public school system doesn’t mean that it’s fair, or even sensible for that matter.

For one, sending a student to a private, exclusive middle school based on one or two special talents in music or mathematics isn’t necessarily a worthwhile investment. For these students, it could be cheaper to hire a tutor or a coach instead of sending them to a private school that can cost up to $38,000-per year.

And realistically, why would this special talent justify sending a student to an entirely different school, separated from their “ordinary” peers? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for a student’s holistic development if he or she were exposed to individuals from a variety of backgrounds?

Furthermore, the switch belies the inherent logic parents use to justify sending a student to private schools. Since these students want access to many of the benefits of private schools, such as smaller class sizes and more elective options, switching students back to the public school system for high school — a time when numbers such as teacher-to-student ratios and elective choices matter the most — makes no sense whatsoever.

But there is one catch that could explain the switch: Many of these students, who are placed in classes with “accelerated” curricula, are able to skip certain courses upon returning to a public school.

In other words, a student who might otherwise be taking Algebra 2 Honors freshman year would be given the option to transfer directly to Trigonometry/Precalculus Honors because he or she had already taken Algebra 2 in middle school. Or, perhaps, a student who had taken Spanish 2 at a private middle school could immediately transfer to Spanish 3.

At a school like SHS, where academic pressures already overwhelm many students, allowing these students to skip ahead of their peers only intensifies the fierce competition students feel.

A more equal option for the students lies not in withholding these options to skip ahead but making these options available to all qualified individuals.

That means that all students should have the option to take some type of written and oral exam before skipping to a more advanced language course; the same goes for mathematics and every other course where this option is available to private school students. Moreover, teachers’ recommendations of which courses students should take need to be given more weight by students and their parents.

Implementing these changes will take time and effort, but they are necessary to limit the unfairness of the current system; no one student should have an advantage over another simply because his or her parents paid the money to send him or her to a private school.

To clarify, none of this means that private schools are bad or unjustified, per se, or that individual students and parents might not have valid personal reasons (financial, etc.) for transferring back to a public high school.

But on balance, the practice of sending students to private middle schools only to have them transfer back to a public high school can be unfair to both a student’s peers who lack the same academic options as well as the student himself.

The transition from middle to high school is often challenging for many students; a student who leaves behind all his or her middle school friends and enters a completely foreign environment will find that transition difficult, even at an inclusive, welcoming school such as Saratoga High.

These social dynamics should factor into any decision to move a child from one school to another, even if academic options are the primary reason for a switch. After all, no student or parent should choose a school unless that school benefits a student’s overall well-being.

And frankly, that’s what should matter most to 10-year-olds — whether or not they’ll be able to take more AP classes in high school should be, at best, a secondary concern.  

 
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