Thursday, May 28, 2009

Education news

I hope you don't see me as one of those people who bore everyone with all the details of the lives of their kids. I only share Jane Bob's experience because it illustrates educational issues that are widely reported and discussed. And never fail to keep in mind that chuckling on-line magazine is a fictional publication. Any personal details may or may not be fanciful. Best to just assume they are.

Anyway, Jane Bob's SAT scores are in and she did okay. She took the PSAT before she started test prep. The PSAT predicts what a kid will get on the SAT. She scored 100 points higher than predicted. So in our case, the test prep was probably worth 100 points. That sounds about right. People who argue that test prep doesn't significantly favor those who take it claim it adds 10 to 30 points. Those who sell test prep claim it adds about 200.

In our case, that 100 points was the difference in being in the middle and being near the cut-off point for what it takes to get into the selective schools. That's a significant difference. A lot of people get left on the bottom side of that divide for lack of 100 points. If you care about getting your kid accepted into the selective schools, you really should consider some serious test prep. Not just a weekend. Several months, at least.

You probably aren't properly imagining how stupid I recognize this high stakes testing to be. Jane Bob spent five months going to a three hour class once a week and taking a practice test every weekend. If there were not big money involved, I wouldn't be able to think of a much worse way to spend that time. I really felt bad for her.

A lot of people don't realize this, I certainly had no idea as recently as a few years ago, but the most selective schools have far and away the best financial aid. Almost all of them are need blind. That means they accept kids based on their records with no consideration for ability to pay. If accepted, enough financial aid to get by is guaranteed. If you're not wealthy, Harvard is probably cheaper than Big State U. So for us, getting into one of those schools is not about prestige or ambition. I'm just hoping Jane Bob can come out of college without having sold her immediate future for student loans.