Here’s my take on Frank Bruni’s NYT article this past week…
Happy Labor Day!
One of our spaces in the amazing Bell Works building in Holmdel, NJ. We have 10 conference breakout rooms for 4-8 students each, plus this large room … social distancing learning in style.
September 7, 2020
I hope you’re enjoying the gorgeous weather this long weekend. Aside from tonight’s ACT BOOT CAMP in Warren 6-7:30pm, all Foley Prep locations are closed for classes, 1-on-1 tutoring, and mock tests today. This is the first Labor Day we have closed in 8 years. It was our biggest summer ever and Foley Prep tutors need a break to recharge for what is looking to be a record-breaking school year. Take note that we are also closed on September 12th for our quarterly all-hands meeting and staff appreciation day – we’ve grown from 17 full time teachers to 27 since the pandemic hit. We’ll also have added 3 more non-teaching admins and tech folks.
This morning I shared Frank Bruni’s September 5th article in the New York Times on social media. Press “The Coronavirus May Change College Admissions Forever”to read it. It’s mostly Bruni sharing Jeffrey Selingo’s thoughts on the subject. I don’t think anyone has an accurate crystal ball about how education will change, these two included. But as informed parents, it’s good to know what everyone else is reading. Here’s a big clip in case you don’t want to visit the NYT:
Selingo predicts that many schools that allow “early decision” applications, with which a student sets his or her sights on one preferred institution and commits to attending it if accepted, will fill more of their slots that way than ever, meaning that these applications will have better odds of success than ones submitted later. Schools leaned extra hard on early decision in the shadow of the Great Recession, he said, and now face the same economic anxiety, the same motivation to figure out as soon as possible which new students will be arriving and how much financial aid they’ll need.
But a more broadly consequential change involves standardized tests. Because the pandemic prevented students last spring from gathering to take the SAT and ACT exams, many selective schools are not requiring them for the time being. That will force them to focus more than ever on the toughness of the high school courses that students took and the grades they got.
Which students will benefit from that? It’s complicated. On one hand, affluent students who are coached for these exams and usually take them repeatedly won’t get to flaunt their high scores. On the other hand, less privileged students from high schools whose academic rigor is a question mark in screeners’ minds won’t have impressive scores to prove their mettle.
While these exams have been blamed for perpetuating inequality, they in some cases play the opposite role. In fact, a special committee of educators in the University of California system produced an exhaustively detailed report this year that determined that the use of SAT’s in admissions had not lessened diversity and that SAT scores were useful predictors of college success. (University leaders elected to switch to test-optional admissions for a few years anyway.)
The SAT’s downgrade won’t be fleeting, Selingo said. “We’re going to have a whole admissions year with scores of places going test-optional,” he said. “Once their world doesn’t come crashing down and they still recruit a class, those colleges are not going to flock back to the test. I think it’s been knocked off the pedestal permanently.”
He makes the same guess about what he calls “application bloat,” referring to the flamboyant multiplicity of clubs, causes, hobbies and other materials that applicants assemble and showcase. The pandemic put many of those activities on hold, creating a pause in which he believes that some schools and some students will recognize the lunacy of this overkill.
“It’s going to be difficult for students to fill in 10 spaces for extracurricular activities, flag down teachers for recommendations or take six A.P. courses and exams,” he said. “Admissions officers are going to have to focus on what matters. That means in the future they can pare back the application and reduce our collective anxiety about what it takes to get into college.”
Apart from the increased early-decision emphasis, which can favor in-the-know kids from in-clover families, the changes that Selingo predicts represent a back-to-basics streamlining of the process. It may have been born of terrible circumstances, but it’s also sensible and overdue.
That streamlining extends to how students will choose schools during the coming admission cycle. For epidemiological and economic reasons, many of them will forgo all the campus tours and all the assessments of how comfy the dormitories seem, how tasty the food is, how high the spires rise and how lushly the trees grow. They’ll perhaps look more closely at the course catalog, the roster of professors.
Selingo noted that many colleges based a big part of their sales pitch on their physical setting and even on lifestyle and social perks that are less relevant than ever, given pandemic-related restrictions. “That’s forcing parents and students to ask, ‘What are we really paying for?,’” he said.
I agree with Selingo that application bloat will be reduced. Too many kids are stretching themselves thin to pack up their resumes with extracurriculars and AP exams. Parents are encouraging their kids to sacrifice childhood to become worthy of an Ivy League. Meanwhile, almost half of the spots in the Ivies are taken up by athletes, legacies, or donor-class kids, so 5-6 years of stretching is too often a Sisyphusian task. There are too many independent counselors flooding the market looking to make a fast buck from anxious, insecure parents. Applying to college has become like doing taxes – complicated and stressful. Things need to change.
I disagree with Selingo that the SAT and ACT are doomed. While he rightly points to rigorous coursework and grades as the best measures of college-worthiness, he does not recognize the pandemic-induced unreliable grading from spring 2020 and the 2020-2021 academic school year. This leads to a paradox: if grade inflation is as bad as it’s ever been, and grades will count more, what a common yardstick will admissions folks have to assess academic readiness? Until there is a better replacement, the answer is the SAT and ACT. They are the best blunt instruments to cut through the noise of grade inflation. Earning a high SAT and ACT score is almost impossible to do without a sound academic background. Sure, Foley Prep’s average increase is +7 on the ACT and +220 on the SAT, which moves students up strata or two on the SAT, but we need to have raw material to work with: well-educated, bright kids who are aspiring to good colleges.
I would agree that the SAT and ACT will be less important for the less competitive, smaller, private liberal arts colleges that were struggling for survival pre-pandemic. Such colleges have been going test-optional for years, which allows them to apply any standard they want to admit or deny students – and boost their bottom lines and appearance of selectivity (when they go test optional, they attract more applications, and thus deny more students, increasing perceived selectivity).
I’ve tried to go easy this weekend, but only got a few hours off for a round of golf after starting the mock tests yesterday. Today I’m interviewing teachers and putting the finishing touches on my Statistics 1 & 2, Calculus 1, and Linear Algebra classes for this semester. My dean said it’s a 90% chance that our spring semester will also be online, so my secret hope is that Foley Prep will be running so smoothly by December that I can visit friends and teach from Rome and Sicily January and February. We all need a carrot, right? What’s yours?
Enjoy the rest of the day and happy new school year!
Ron Foley, M.S.
Doctoral Candidate, Rutgers University
Tenured Professor of Mathematics, Middlesex College
Member HECA, NJACAC, NACAC, NCTM, MAA, NAS, AMATCYNJ
The 6th hole at Tavistock Country Club. My marvelous childhood course where get to play with my brother whenever I can. Do you have a course that you know like the back of your hand?