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Parent Voice

Are Our Suburban Heads in the Sand?

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?  
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. An earlier version of this post appeared on Erika's blog, School Matters.
Erika Sanzi
Erika Sanzi is a mother of three sons and taught in public schools in Massachusetts, California and Rhode Island. She has served on her local school board in Cumberland, Rhode Island, advocated for fair school funding at the state level, and worked on campaigns of candidates she considers to be champions for kids and true supporters of great schools. She is currently a Fordham senior visiting ...

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