One More Stab at the Race to Nowhere

Earlier this week I shared some thoughtful comments from Alice Kleeman, a high school counselor in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Kris Hintz, an independent college counselor in New Jersey, who were responding to a post that I wrote on the higher-ed documentary Race to Nowhere. Here is the post that contains Kris and Alice’s comments:

Phooey: Race to Nowhere

Here is my original post:

A Race to Nowhere Skeptic

I wasn’t going to revisit this subject, but I received another insightful comment on the subject from Wendy Andreen, PhD, an independent college counselor and until recently a high school counselor at a highly competitive high school in Texas. I thought you’d enjoy her reaction to the Race to Nowhere comments on my blog. Here goes:

A Reader’s Comment

Lynn, Kris, & Alice,

I can support almost all of your comments – and, Lynn, you are absolutely correct, “college angst is unnecessary.” The reality, however, is that this runaway train of college admissions does exist, it impacts a lot of our students and parents, and it isn’t always that easy to bring it to a halt.

Having just stepped off of that train as a college counselor in a highly competitive public high school (and now work with students privately) and as a parent of two young adults who attended the same school, I can assure you that I spent most of my time expressing many of your sentiments and reassurances that there is a post-secondary program for every student, whether it is a four-year, two-year, technical, arts, or other program. My mantra was (and is) that there is a ‘fit’ for each student. Develop the gifts and talents that you have and you will find your niche. But it takes time and research to find those places. Our counselors have case loads of over 550 students and we meet with everyone of them and conduct multiple parent meetings throughout the year!

High School Decisions

My husband and I did our best to keep our own children in balance with the system and it wasn’t always easy. Every student is different and there will always be ‘comparisons’ made by the students themselves, whether it is with siblings or peers. Decisions do have to be made about academics and how many pre-AP and AP courses are appropriate relative to the student’s abilities, future academic goals, majors, and colleges. Which activities truly support a student’s interests? The list of choices and decisions goes on and it takes time, conversation, understanding, and support to guide our children through the maze of decisions.

Ivy Fixation

Most of the students from my former school attend a wide variety of colleges throughout the U.S. and love their choices (that’s part of your 67%). However, just as the film depicts, we have a group with certain expectations for the ‘right’ college and it doesn’t matter what we say.  ‘Sometimes’ we could work through the idea that there were more than 18 worthy colleges for consideration (in our case the Ivies, a few other super-selective schools, and the two flagship universities in Texas).

Race to Nowhere Screening

I, too, have been following the trailers for Race to Nowhere and last night I attended a screening of the movie. The theater was filled with educators and concerned parents. I agree that parents can do a lot to slow down the train but there will always be the issues of students who are ultra-high self-achievers, parents who have unrealistic expectations, states and school districts who are obsessed with testing, and colleges who continue to heavily market their schools and are looking for high yields. It’s not quite as black and white a picture as each of you would like to paint.

I could have easily interchanged some of the students in this documentary with students from my former high school and I’m sure all of you have seen it in your own communities. The film brought forth valid issues that need to be addressed even if it is only to make families more aware that they don’t have to participate in this madness. The reality is that high schools and colleges would have to work together and as one of the admissions reps from Berkeley said in the movie, she feels like she perpetuates the problem by the very nature of the system.

30% of Students

Using your 67%-70% figure for students who get their first-choice schools, we are still dealing with 30+% of the students who are riding this runaway train and are looking for ways to get off. I ask that you actually view the movie to better understand the reality of the issues but, just as I do, continue to reassure parents and students that they don’t have to get on this train to reach their desired destination.

Thanks for the work you do to help students and parents.

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