Mon, Jan 10, 2011 - Page 9 News List

A statistic private schools keep quiet: the counseled-out rate

By Sarah Maslin Nir  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

Thousands of parents trying to get their children into private schools are now busy mailing thank-you cards to admissions offices and biting their nails while waiting for word back.

However, for a small number of parents who prevailed through this gantlet in the past, this time of year brings another kind of notice — that their child is on thin ice — as an even more painful process begins: the “counseling out” of students who are not succeeding.

Not discussed on schools’ tours or in their glossy pamphlets, counseling out is nonetheless a matter of practice at many private schools. Unlike the public school system, private schools are not obligated, and often not set up, to handle children having trouble keeping up.

“There are some kids that we’re not going to renew,” said Pamela Clarke, the head of the Trevor Day School in Manhattan, “either because they can’t do the work and we’re not serving them, or generally, that might be combined with behavior issues we can’t win.”

“That means he or she needs a different school,” Clarke said.

Schools do not publicize how many students they remove this way, but the number is generally a small portion of the enrollment. However, some Web sites for parents have offered the suspicion that schools remove lagging students to protect another statistic that schools do publicize: their students’ admissions rates to top colleges. Frank Leana, an independent college counselor on the Upper East Side, said that view was wrong.

“They’re trying to justify their own kids, or their friend’s kids, who have been counseled out,” he said.

Parents and students who have been counseled out — or kicked out, as some more bluntly put it — describe the experience as one of the more trying of their lives. They found themselves thrust into a world previously unknown to them, of intensive tutoring, special consultants and in some cases even more expensive niche schools.

When Sandra Klihr’s son William started to slip at the Collegiate School, the standard-bearer of all-boys education on the Upper West Side, the school plied him with extra help. However, the fast-paced classes nonetheless became frustrating and demoralizing. He was removed in the fourth grade.

“The school just sat down with us and said: ‘You know, he seems really miserable, and we feel like we’d already given him one-on-one,’” Klihr said.

He ended up at the Summit School in Queens and is now in high school, getting good grades at the Smith School on the Upper West Side, two of a small number of alternative schools that cater to children with learning or emotional troubles who have not succeeded at other schools.

To keep their children in the schools, some parents pile on tutors or turn to intensive programs like the one at Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, whose five-week, four-hours-a-day afterschool reading course costs US$11,500.

Parents “know that the child is struggling,” said Jennifer Egan, the director of the Lindamood-Bell center in New York City, but do all they can to stay in their chosen schools. “It feels like a defeat to some people.”

Although sometimes effective, the litany of tutors can overwhelm an already stressed child.

“There’s a point where it’s destructive,” said Carla Howard Horowitz, an educational evaluator, who helps guide students in this betwixt state.

By the time she is called in, Horowitz said, schools have often already made up their minds about the student.

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