Suburban Parents, Are We Deluding Ourselves?

Parents prefer relationships to data. Most of us enjoy people more than numbers and like parent-teacher conferences better than bar graphs. We take comfort in knowing that our kids are being educated in a safe space and worry very little about the high school profile or SAT participation rate in our town.

It’s human nature to listen to our hearts instead of our heads, and it’s normal to be driven by connections we feel to teachers and coaches and school leaders to whom we entrust our children every day.

Hard truths, however, are better learned early than too late. Parents in my little state of Rhode Island deserve to know how their kids match up educationally against kids from Massachusetts, Connecticut and even Maryland. Is the education they’re receiving as good as it feels like it is, or are there systemic and measurable deficiencies that parents need to acknowledge?

And will those deficiencies impact the future that they have already envisioned and perhaps even planned for their children?

For example, many parents do not realize that their child’s high school profile has a significant impact on how college admissions officers view their application. And unfortunately for top-tier students especially, their applications are looked at less favorably because of what other kids in their class are or are not doing.

It’s hard to explain to a kid with a near perfect SAT score that the percentage of their classmates who take the SAT (and their scores) could have an impact on his or her chances of getting into a highly selective college or university. But it’s true. And honest college admissions officers will admit that a high school’s overall academic reputation, which includes SAT and college acceptance data, does make a difference for individual applications.

In my suburban community in Rhode Island, for example, parents are always shocked when I tell them that our SAT participation rate currently sits at 61 percent; in other words, only 61 percent of our graduates have the option of attending a four-year college. (There are a few highly selective colleges that don’t require the SAT but their impact on the data is negligible because so few students from my community apply to them.)

They are even more floored when I tell them that the two most affluent towns in our state also have SAT participation rates of below 80 percent. “How can that be?” is usually their immediate response.

When I move on to the percentage of kids actually entering a four-year college after graduation, their disbelief seems compounded.

In Rhode Island, only 47 percent of non-urban graduates head straight to a four-year college after high school. Yes, that’s right: If we take out all the students living in our urban core (Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls and Woonsocket), less than half of our graduates even head straight to a four-year college. Add to that the 18 percent who head straight to a two-year college and we are left with a grand total of 66 percent of suburban kids moving on to higher education upon graduating from high school.

When I was a student, a 66 percent was a D. And parents weren’t satisfied with D’s.

The question is, will the parents of Rhode Island start asking for A’s and B’s?

What do you think?
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Erika Sanzi

Erika Sanzi

Erika Sanzi spent a decade as a teacher and school dean before becoming a full-time education advocate. Her love for writing coupled with her willingness to take on people in power has led her to spend much of her time responding to status-quo protectors inclined to put adult interests ahead of kids. She is particularly focused on inequities in the system, persistent but surmountable achievement gaps, and what she sees as a culture of low expectations that disproportionately impacts low-income students of color. She is the mom of three young sons and you can often find her on the sidelines of their countless sports practices and games. She is committed to the belief that zip code isn’t destiny, that parents deserve choices when it comes to educating their children, and that too many “good” schools are falling down on the job in too many ways. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she now calls Rhode Island home with her boys, her husband, and her big fluffy dog, Griffey. She writes about her corner of New England at Good School Hunting.

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