Greenwich Mom Defends Public Education

Letter to the editor submitted on June 15 from Sarah Darer Littman of Greenwich

On June 14th, Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe, the managing director and lead admissions expert at Greenwich Admissions and founder of Private School Admissions Advisors (which probably explains a lot) wrote an op ed in which he made several sweeping generalizations about public versus private schools.

To wit: “All independent schools continue to provide an increasingly superior education to that of public schools. “

In public school, we were taught to provide evidence if we made a sweeping and controversial assertion. Despite having attended “elite” institutions, Dr. Lowe provides none. I’m sure this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he makes his living from advising wealthy families.

After all, in a Greenwich Time interview posted on his firm’s website, Dr. Lowe admits “all of our client-families can afford to pay full tuition to colleges.” He goes on to say that his firm focuses admissions efforts on: “the Elite Eight: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell and UPenn, and the top-tier schools like Duke, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Tufts, MIT, etc.”

Interestingly, despite the fact that I attended Westhill High School in Stamford, and the fact that my parents didn’t bother to employ the services of an advisor like Dr. Lowe, I still managed to get into a “top tier” school, Duke. I also managed to graduate magna cum laude, and funnily enough, it turned out I was just as, if not better prepared than many of my classmates who attended the elite private schools that Dr. Lowe claims, without a shred of evidence, “continue to provide an increasingly superior education.”

But perhaps the most laughable claim in Dr. Lowe’s piece – again provided without a scintilla of evidence – is this: “Private schools are multicultural and embrace diversity.  They are committed to creating and fostering a welcoming community that is inclusive for all its members (faculty and students) regardless of race, ethnicity, ability, socio-economic status, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, or any other attribute that does not define a person’s character.”

Dr. Lowe apparently failed to pick up the need to back up his assertions at any of the elite institutions he attended, but I didn’t, so here’s some actual data from the National Center for Education Statistics:

Title 1 Services: The percentage of K–12 students who received Title I services was 37 percent in traditional public schools, and 4 percent in private schools.

Special Education and ELL: 98 percent of public schools had at least one student with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) because of special needs, while 64 percent of private schools had at least one student with a formally identified disability. The percentage of public school K–12 students who were English-language learners (ELLs) or limited-English proficient (LEP) was 13 percent in primary schools, 7 percent in middle schools, 5 percent in high schools, and 6 percent in combined schools.

Racial and ethnic composition: K–12 students in public schools included the following non-Hispanic, single race groups: 54 percent White, 15 percent Black, 5 percent Asian, 1 percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 1 percent American Indian/Alaska Native. In addition, there were 22 percent Hispanic students and 2 percent non-Hispanic students of 2 or more races.

Within private schools, K–12 students included the following non-Hispanic, single race groups: 72 percent White, 9 percent Black, 5 percent Asian, 1 percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 1 percent American Indian/Alaska Native. In addition, there were 10 percent Hispanic students and 3 percent non-Hispanic students of 2 or more races.

My classmates at Westhill went to all the Elite Eight and all of the top tier schools – as well as many other great schools which might not be considered “elite,” but which were the right fit that enabled them to pursue their passions and become successful. But more importantly, I worked on theater productions and played in the band with kids from all over town. I wasn’t moving from one bubble of privilege to the next.

Here’s one of my Westhill High classmates, Nancy Bernhard, who got her BA at Dartmouth and phD at University of Pennsylvania, and who has taught history and writing at several universities including another elite, Harvard.

“My kids went to public schools with 30 languages of origin and 2/3 reduced price lunch, got excellent education, and are comfortable with anyone they might meet. They know how to deal with difference across racial, ethnic, class, linguistic, and religious differences. Are we educating for a narrow definition of excellence or to have competent, informed, engaged, useful citizens? I could go on about how happy I am with their education, their tolerance, their competence, and these are not wealthy suburban public schools.”

Dr. Lowe might well respond: “But that was then. This is now.” Well, let’s talk to a current Westhill parent, Deb Ehret.

“My friends’ children in private schools around here do not have as many choices of upper level and AP classes that Westhill offers. Erika will come out with a diverse education that includes classes I never dreamed of having in high school and that I know the upper level privates here do not offer. My above average child is not getting left behind but getting far ahead!”

I am not anti-private schools. I attended a private school for five years when I lived in the UK (where in that quaint and confusing English way it was called a “public” school) but I believe wholeheartedly in public education and I’m enraged by the sustained and unwarranted attacks on public education in this country.

Public education is what helped my grandfather, who was born in a tenement on the Lower East Side, to become the President of Twentieth Century Fox International in one generation. It is the key to the American Dream, and to the future of our democracy and our economic success. Those who denigrate it and seek to destroy it do not have our country’s best interest at heart.