Expected to reach more than $30 billion by 2021, the college test prep market is a money-making machine.  The college consulting industry is equally lucrative, valued in the billions. 

As more and more students get funneled onto the college track and education more broadly becomes increasingly democratized through tech advances, maintaining the prestige – and the social, career, and political clout it buys – of a degree from a brand name college will become an even more costly commodity.

The parents indicted in the recent college admissions scandal figured it was better to pay the piper once, not twice. Why submit their precious kids to grueling test prep – and spend twice the amount of time and money – when they could rig the results entirely?  Better to kill two birds with one stone.  In the meantime, their kids could focus on other critical career-building, and wealth-producing activities.    

But as this cheating scandal demonstrates – as well as the billions that are poured into exclusive one-on-one test prep tutoring and college admissions consulting – standardized test scores that are disproportionately slanted in favor of the wealthy are inherently flawed.  When something is so commercialized – top-notch tutoring to the tune of $1,000 an hour, as an example – can we really expect educational equality and upward mobility? 

And even more fundamentally, should schools test kids to death and label them only educationally competent when they have met the state-mandated metric?  “Teach to the test,” – the longstanding norm of traditional schooling – needs to seriously be challenged. 

For every hour the children of the rich and powerful spend studying for a silly test, they likely spend much more time building networks, socializing, traveling, exploring, experimenting with ideas, critically writing, reading, etc. 

Why aren’t students from disadvantaged backgrounds afforded a similar opportunity as in, say, building relationships with employers in their own city, building a strong sense of community and responsibility with their peers, gaining in demand skills by apprenticing from a young age, etc?   

I remember hearing a notable lecturer discuss the nature of executive hiring.  He pretty much stated that it came down to personal likableness – Can we see ourselves golfing with this guy in six months? 

How people are hired says so much about the nature of society, education, and advancement, revealing society’s conveniently not-so-talked-about “House of Cards” structure. 

In the “real world” what you learn in school is virtually meaningless: there are no predictable answers, homework assignments, teachers to constantly please, gold stars for good behavior, etc.  It’s the law of the jungle out there.  Most people exist in carefully constructed tribes, jobs are given to those that have an inside contact, not much is made about being in the honor roll society.  In short, human nature begins to set in.   

By focusing so much on arbitrary standardized tests we are failing to develop other and more critical factors in disadvantaged youth – the very things that wealthy kids are able to rely on to a great advantage: powerful contacts, strong reliable community, informal networks that lead to job opportunities, access to leisure activities that reinforce these very advantages. 

Traditional schooling for poor and disenfranchised students should mirror the realities of the real world.  Teach students how to get out of their comfort zones, emphasize the spoken and written word, increase collaborative work that involves critical thinking, initiate projects that involve getting access to power (politicians, business leaders, etc.). 

Robert A. Shaeffer, the director of FairTest, a non-profit involved with standardized testing, talking about the cut throat nature of college admissions, stated how it is like “an arms race.”  Wealthy parents are “arming themselves with the most sophisticated weaponry,” he is quoted as saying in a New York Times article.

This cheating scandal and overreliance on standardized tests prove that above statement without question: wealthy and powerful folks will always be capable of using money to buy and maintain privilege.  That much can be accepted as fact. 

This doesn’t mean, however, that poorer students need to remain isolated.  They can be equipped with weaponry just as powerful – and more important than test scores: a community-modeled educational environment that brings their natural talents to the forefront.  This needs to start early, it needs to be intentional, and it needs to begin now. 

If it takes a village to raise a smart successful child, and it definitely does, it just may mean doing away with the traditional model of one-size-fits-all regimentation and standardization and shifting toward active community involvement, personalization, and mentorship. 

More on this in posts to follow. 

If you’ve gotten something out of this article, I would love to hear about it. Please comment below. Any questions, feel free to reach out to me. Until next time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *