February 01, 1999 3 min read

Private Schools Revealed: For some contrary thinking on private schools, check out the January issue of Smart Money. Writer Vera Gibbons lists “Ten Things Private Schools Won’t Tell You,” including “We’re not a ticket to the Ivy League” and “Our headmaster is AWOL.” It seems that the days are long gone when an elite private education led directly to a spot at Harvard or Princeton. “The bottom line,” Gibbons writes, “is that the nation’s most selective colleges and universities are casting a wider net, aggressively looking to diversify and recruiting more public school kids.”

Even at St. Albans, the prestigious Washington, D.C., prep school, only three of last year’s senior class of 74 students were accepted to Harvard. “That old-boy network is long gone today,” one private school consultant tells Gibbons. Don’t look for Mr. Chips in the office, either. “Heads of schools no longer have time to be role models for students,” Gibbons writes. That’s because they’re too busy chasing dollars and “trying to keep everybody-- especially the board of trustees--happy.” Gibbons cites other potential drawbacks to private schools, including the prevalence of anorexia and bulimia among girls, rampant drug use, and inexperienced teachers. It’s enough to make you want to send your kids to . . . public schools.

Report Card:U.S. News & World Report, which has long ranked American colleges and universities for its annual college guide, has come up with a list of 96 “Outstanding American High Schools” in six metropolitan areas: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, and New York. The list, along with six school profiles, is published in the magazine’s January 18 issue.

“Anyone could easily come up with a list of America’s ‘best’ high schools by finding schools where kids have high SAT scores,” the report notes. “Such a list would be filled with the names of elite urban and rich suburban schools, but it would not reveal much about the quality of the schools themselves.”

That’s because “students’ family circumstances strongly influence achievement in school.” So U.S. News used a “value added” statistical model that identifies schools “that do a great job with the kids they have, whether the students are rich or poor.” Consequently, the list of Chicago-area schools won’t include famed New Trier High School, (“High Anxiety,” February 1999), but you will find Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov High School, a rigorous religious academy on the city’s North Side.

The magazine’s survey identified several traits shared by outstanding high schools, including: high academic standards, a rigorous core curriculum, highly qualified teachers, effective training for new teachers, strong parental involvement and support, teachers and administrators who know their students well, and high levels of student attendance.

Even before it hit the newsstands, the report was generating controversy. That’s because most independent schools in the six cities studied by U.S. News boycotted the survey at the urging of Peter Relic, president of the National Association of Independent Schools. Relic called the magazine’s study a ranking exercise that would hurt students at schools not cited. “It’s a flawed concept,” he told Education Week. But Thomas Toch, the magazine’s senior education writer, defended the report: “We are simply interested in what works best for students. From the onset, our goal was only to identify exemplars--schools that have pushed their students to a higher level of academic performance than would be expected. Such schools, we think, can serve as catalysts for change in other schools.”

--David Hill