Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rich Parents Game the System

In the NYTimes, No Rich Child Left Behind.

The article's point, that rich kids have a huge advantage in college applications, is no surprise. The author is, however, clueless as to the cause.  From the article:
The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students.
Well, no.  The academic gap goes way beyond kindergarten.  I live in an affluent area, and what I see is an entire industry geared toward coaching and packaging rich kids to produce good-looking college applications.  Rich kids spend hours with tutors to learn how to write exactly the kind of essay that will score well on the SAT essay section.  They take exactly the kinds of extracurriculars that colleges want to see.  They are coached through every step in the application process.

There's an ongoing myth that rich kids succeed because their parents read them plenty of bedtime stories, teach them a good work ethic, and demonstrate commitment through a stable marriage.   Pshaw!  I say.  Any of those factors might be important, but it's just the beginning of how rich parents push their kids to succeed.

What really toasts my biscuits is the assertion that rich kids get ahead because they're genetically superior, as shown by their high IQs.  Are you kidding me?  These kids are coached for the IQ test!  That's how the gifted program in New York City works.

From the comments (as usual, better than the article):

from AlexJr60 of New York, NY:
Interesting article, but the writer's research obviously didn't include face-to-face interviews with parents of kids in elite private schools in New York and environs. The kids are programmed from dawn to dusk with every conceivable extracurricular coaching that could help them develop the faintest wisp of a talent of any kind. "Quiet Time" is a non-starter. They are trained to compete from the time they are toddlers; they are exposed to bright highly competitive classmates in school and camp and arts courses and language courses and on and on and on. Most of the parents start them on SAT-prep in the tenth grade. The really top preparation coaches earn as much as the kids' shrinks. The $165,000 income level cited, doesn't even come close to what is spent -- closer to that pretax, is the annual tab for a single kid in a private NYC school who goes to summer camp and has the usual lineup of extra help.
from Minerva19 of Rockland:
We have had an SAT prep program open up in our community. It was not until we enrolled our son that I realized just what an advantage the wealthy have. It didn't teach more math or critical thinking. It taught him how to game the test, when to guess, when not to, how to approach each section. He was able to raise his scores 100 points.
 from Lois Kuster of Lynbrook, NY:
One critical factor that increases the standardized test results of wealthy children is outside tutoring. This is not tracked in studies. Private tutoring starts in the early years of school and continues throughout high school. 
and a reply from Eric B. of Oxnard, CA:
Your post is much too kind. "Private tutoring", which evokes images of young people sitting at home with a tutor, studying subjects in general, very often amounts to joining prep courses offered (at high fees) by groups who have discovered what questions will be on entrance tests and asked in interviews, so the three- and four-year-old children of those who can afford these prep courses can jump ahead of other children. Those of us in the lower classes call this cheating. The rich call us resentful of our betters.
 from lizzie848 of nyc:
I live in Manhattan and work with students on their college application essays. I happen to have a sliding scale and work with kids at all income levels, but the affluent students I work with all have SAT tutors, even the very very brightest of them, and their parents are willing to spend upwards of $300 an hour - and sometimes - so I have heard - $1000 an hour - for this kind of tutoring. I heard of one family whose tutor came to the Southampton summer house to work with the child, and was paid $1000 an hour for all of his time there. I heard of one family that spent $250,000 on tutoring for their child over high school.
from Sharon of Leawood, KS:
So if a wealthy family hires a tutor to ensure their child does well on the SAT, how is that demonstrative of a "love of learning and study"? It's demonstrative of an attitude that success must come at any cost. 
from dclambert in NJ:
As a teacher in an inner city school & a private SAT tutor of the wealthy, I see this phenomenon on the ground.

Wealthy families spend a fortune on their children's education & support in ways that would probably shock the middle class.They have tutors for each subject, hw coaches, etc. They invest at least one year in SAT preparation.
The "meritocracy" is a scam.


  1. Excellent commentary, FedUp. I just put up this blog post on my Facebook page. Check it out in your feed.

  2. No comments here yet but I gotta tell you. Many of my friends have picked this up and posted it. It's pinging around and getting lots of attention.

    The rat race. In a nutshell, do your best to resist. You'll never regret it.

  3. It's a dilemma for individual parents who are immersed in this environment, though.

    At my daughter's (Catholic) high school, the standard advice is for every kid to get some sort of test prep for the ACT or the SATs.

    So, when you look at your child's hopes of college and you can afford a test-prep class or tutor and you know that a huge percentage of the kids your child will be compared against have prepped for the test, what do you do?

    It's a vicious cycle.

    Have you ever read Annette Lareau's book, Unequal Childhoods? Very interesting.


  4. Is this really so different, though, from the upper middle class parent who yanks their kid out of public for a private school that's a "better fit"? Or the mom I know who can't afford private but is going down every possible avenue to get her kid into another public school so he doesn't have to start kindergarten at the "failing" neighborhood school? Most parents work the system as much as they can afford to and have the power to; these parents just have more money to do it with. The kids who are truly at the greatest disadvantage are those whose parents don't have any interest, money or time to try to game the system.

  5. Megan, it's probably true that we all work the system as best we can. The problem is that the system is deeply unfair and those at the top have a ridiculous advantage, which they like to pretend doesn't exist.

    The author of the NYTimes article buys into a lot of the mythology surrounding this issue. It's a myth to point to enlightened rich parents reading lots of bedtime stories to their kids, which impoverished parents fail to do, as the source of unequal college applications. Rich parents buy good college applications for their kids in hundreds of ways that are closed off to the poor, and even to the (rapidly disappearing) middle class.

    The rich kid who gets into a selective college, after years of special tutoring, preparation, and packaging, thinks he got there all by himself, because he deserved to. It's just like the white employee, who got his job through the white friend of a white friend, who thinks he's never gotten a helping hand in his life.

    We've got a society where privilege reproduces itself, shutting out a larger and larger chunk of the rest of us. It's not the kind of society I want.

  6. Cheryl, absolutely. Test prep becomes an arms race. Nobody wants to be the one to back down.

    Education has become synonymous with test prep. It's horrifying.

  7. Well said. Remember that famous Kitchen Table Math post a few years ago? Busting the myth about the nominally high performing good schools? The teaching is actually mediocre in many of these "good" affluent schools. How it's all outsourced to parents who buy an endless loop of tutors, coaches and therapists? The Emperor has no Clothes but no one dares blurt it out because of their precious property values.