Monday, March 15, 2010

Level Playing Field

Early this week, a graduating senior came to my office to ask for a recommendation to Law School.  Since I had known the excellent work done by this student since he entered Hofstra, I was pleased to say yes.  In the course of the conversation, I asked about his LSAT score which turned out to be OK but not spectacular and then asked whether he had taken an LSAT review course.  I ask any student who contacts me about coming to Hofstra and any student who talks to me about graduate school or Law School after Hofstra, the same question: have you taken a review course.  When I was taking the SATs or the GREs, I just showed up for the exam.  None of my friends took review courses and as far as I can remember, none of my friends ever studied for these exams.  The world has clearly changed.

It is almost a given for grad school and even more for law school, that a review course will precede the standardized exam.  And it is just as much a given that high school students looking for competitive or very competitive colleges and universities, will take such a course.  Preparing for these standardized tests has progressed far beyond the review course stage.  More and more students are (thanks to their parents) hiring private coaches to tutor them for the exam.  I even know of coaches that have a five year waiting list for their services.  Coaches, at the very least, increase a student’s familiarity and comfort with these exams, and this can make a real difference.

In the US News ranking matrix (and in many others), SATs, GMAT and LSAT scores, etc. make an enormous difference for the school or program involved and of course, for the applicant.  The exams are said to demonstrate aptitude and together with past performance are key factors in the admissions decision.  But are these really the key factors or does family income/family wealth also represents an important determinant (beginning with the quality of the schools attended)?  Is it a level playing field, if your family has the resources for a private coach to maximize your score on these standardized tests or provide you with tutoring in any area where you need extra support?  Is it a level playing field if your family has the income so that, while going to school, you never need to work and can concentrate exclusively on your education?   I know that I will provide my kids with all the resources that I can afford to maximize their future chances of success.  But I also know that as a society we are very far away from leveling the playing field.  If we want a society where disparities are minimized (and we should settle for no less), we need to do much more so that all of our students have an equal chance for success.  This needs to be a national priority.

1 comment:

  1. It is true that the review courses now became an important part of education market. This has been so in many countries. The top scores of SAT, GMAT, are now dominated by Chinese and Korean students not by Americans. What do we mean by a level playing field? To be accepted by Hofstra and to receive excellent education it offers, families must be rich or students need to secure financial aid. Now, bachelors degrees are considered insufficient to succeed in career development, and many seek for a graduate degree, which requires more financial resources. American home prices are strongly influenced by school districts, and public schools are financed by local tax. So, if one is born in a poor neighborhood, there is no level playing field from the beginning. These review schools and tutors are nothing special in this American education context where super genius scholars have dominated Nobel prizes while the average academic level up to high school has been the worst among developed countries for decades. We have pretended as if the low scores mean that our education is more creative. How creative can ordinary people be without knowing how to read and write and calculate? There has never been a level playing field. The lack of it starts when one is born in this country.