The Exam School Choice, VI…Eight Things to Know

The Parent Imperfect has, once again, been out of his natural habitat, which always makes it hard to get in the blogging frame of mind. This time it was La Paz, where walking to the restaurant is just like hiking in the Andes at 12,400 feet. This is the same PI who huffs and puffs to the top of Peter’s Hill. He’s happy to be home.

But he can hide no longer. It’s time for the real March Madness. The letter has arrived.

Just after he returned from the trip, Connie startled him by shrieking at the sight of a text message. A sixth grader she knows had gotten into Boston Latin Academy. She had SO wanted to go to Boston Latin. Some version of the same scene has been playing out in homes, hallways and sidewalks all over Boston.

The PI had to fight back the urge to take the phone from Connie and text her friend that she shouldn’t be AT ALL upset about getting into BLA. It’s a great school with some important advantages over BLS for many students. That would have been just what that girl needed…someone’s father telling her that she really shouldn’t want what she wants and so shouldn’t be sad about not getting it. Luckily, the urge passed. What does he really know about BLA, anyway?

Something like 450 families have received the letter that says that their sixth grader has the option to attend BLS next year (another, smaller, group will have received the thumbs up for ninth grade, too). Anecdotal info (much more reliable than rumor) has it that, since more students have been opting not to take the leap to BLS in recent years, the school is sending out more acceptances this year in hopes of actually filling the seventh-grade (sixie) class.

For many families, the decision is clear, but the PI meets what seems like an increasing number of parents who aren’t sure what to do. For families in the Boston Public Schools, at least, the decision NOT to go to take an invitation to attend BLS can be a very tough one. Liz and the PI remember well the strange momentum that took them in just a few months from not thinking much about the exam schools to deciding that Vince should give BLS a try. Some parents seem very confident that they know how their child will respond to BLS. Liz and the PI were not of that sort. Since Vince had not done Advanced Work in fourth, fifth or sixth grade, they really had to guess how he would respond to the kind of pressure he’d face at BLS. Have you heard yet that ominous, “BLS is not for everyone!”

Advice in making the decision? The PI wishes that there he had a simple formula for success in making this decision, but he does not. There are, however, a few things to know in thinking about the letter.

1. The transition to 7th grade is a very difficult one, especially for BPS children who have not been through the preparation provided by the Advanced Work Class;

2. Boston Latin has many fine teachers and a few really extraordinary ones. It also has some notably poor ones who can and do make life extremely difficult for certain children. The cocktail of big school, bad communication and bad teacher can be toxic. Only in rare cases is the Administration (or the union) able to do anything about such teachers. There seems to be a higher than random concentration of these in the 7th grade, but it doesn’t stop there;

3. The school’s Headmaster seems committed to improving communication with the parents and families of its teachers, but she still has a very long way to go. If you are accustomed to free-flowing communication with your child’s teachers and school, get prepared for a very different reality;

4. There are support systems in place for struggling students, beginning with the Guidance Department. These systems don’t work for many students and the PI’s unscientific survey suggests that as many as 25% of seek some sort of private tutoring ($$$) at some point. Many others really need such tutoring, but can’t, or don’t access it;

5. We’ve seen no statistics, but people who should know say authoritatively that boys (as opposed to any particular racial or ethnic group, or other demographic grouping) is the lowest-performing demographic in the school;

6. Many students take advantage of the school’s plentiful extra-curricular activities; Others feel so over-burdened by homework that they do not participate;

7. Some students who struggle at the school do everything that they can to get out of it (and usually do), but many others develop an attachment (generally obvious for the students, often mysterious for the parents) to the place that makes it very difficult for them to decide to leave. In fact, they insist on staying. In these cases, the parents (or parent, or guardian) have one or two opportunities to act very decisively, after which he/she/they join their son/daughter in the most difficult of dances around a school that seems not to be working. In high school, something close to a quarter of the families seem engaged in just such a dance; and

8. The notion that it’s BLS or the private school route seems to ignore other good options. Those options are out there and are not limited to the other exam schools.

If you have other things to know (or dispute these), chime in!

Some of you are holding the letter, trying to make this decision. How are you making it? What are you thinking about? Are you getting the information you need to decide?

Good Luck!



Filed under Exam Schools

20 responses to “The Exam School Choice, VI…Eight Things to Know

  1. Kathy

    My son is a 7th grader this year at BLS, and all told, is doing well and is happy. But there is a lot of homework and that precludes having time to spend on other things. He joined the track team but had to quit when track was 3 hours after school every weekday (and meets on weekends) because it was just too much. I have a third grader who is a very different kid and wonder about whether an exam school would be a good place for him. I wish there were more choices. I think a lot of us hang on to the exam schools as the place where our kids “should” go because a lot of the middle and high schools are so abysmal.

    • That’s great! Congratulations!! If your son is fine in 7th grade, that’s a very good sign. I bet he’ll be’ll find time for track and other extracurricular things in future years. We, too, have a very different younger child who is now in fifth. Having seen her brother’s experience, she’s developed her own very interesting view of BLS. We’ll get to face all of this again next year.

  2. Megan

    Thought you might be interested to know that eight Hernández sixth graders got in to BLS, and four others to BLA/O’Bryant, which surpasses the usual three to four that usually get in. It’s a group that goes beyond the stereotype of who usually gets in and a big success for the Hernández, though bittersweet as well… for teachers, administrators and for the students who remain. And yes, for the kids who will leave. As I congratulate those families whose kids got in, I feel both joy at what may an incredible opportunity for their child, sadness at what is being lost by leaving the Hernández, and fear for what lies ahead. Our son’s (BLS 9th grade) experience tells me it will not be an easy road.


    • Bittersweet is the word for that news. I’d love to hear how Margarita would react to it. It speaks to a special group of kids and to the power of changes made at the school in recent years, but also raises the eternal questions about what the AWC/exam school system does to/for the BPS. How are the 25 or so kids who didn’t get into exam schools feeling?

  3. I left a lengthy reply over at Universal Hub. Rather than repeat it here, you might go there and read it. Others have chimed in as well, so it may be a help. I truly wish you the best of luck in making the right decision!

  4. Darcelle

    This is an exciting time! My daughter is one of the many students from the Kilmer invited to BLS, BLA, and the O’Bryant for 7th grade. While our entire family is excited, based on what I’ve heard about bad teachers at BLS, I am concerned as well. This problem is rampant throughout the district. Why does anyone expect that BLS would be different? I am just about fed up with the system and hope that this (BLS) experience will not be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m pretty sure my daughter will do fine because she is that kind of kid. We did not struggle over whether or not to to accept the invitation because at minimum, we’d like to give it a try. However, preparing a back up plan is in the works, in the case that it does not work out. Then we will likely pay for private school. Congratulations to everyone and good luck!

    • Congratulations, Darcelle! It sounds as if yours is a family that is clear about its choice, which is great. You raise an interesting question about why anyone would think that BLS would be different than anywhere else in terms of teacher quality. Given the high expectations of the students, I think people just expect that the expectations of teachers will somehow be equivalent. I honestly don’t know how the Administration defines its expectations of teachers, but I do know that our son seems to get at least one teacher per year that is not particularly inspired and another that he just can’t deal with.He needs to learn to deal better with both situations. Two of his six teachers this year offer a way for him (and us) to keep up with assignments and grades on the web; This takes time, but makes a HUGE difference. The other four don’t make that investment in communication. The school offers and easy way for teachers to do that, but the Headmaster says that she can’t “require” it. I think that setting a community-wide norm around the teachers communicating via some web tool and the students being responsible to access it would make a big difference.

  5. Our daughter is a sixie at BLA. We were at first disappointed that she didn’t get into the more “prestigious” BLS, we have been more than pleasantly surprised. BLA is a great school, we think the best in the city, bar none. Yes, it’s a tough curriculum (the same as BLS) but teachers and administrators are extremely sensitive to the needs of the new sixies (and their parents) and help is readily available. While she has stumbled a bit her third term as things get harder in preparation for MCAS, she is getting tutored and her teachers have offered extra help to all who need and request it. In the meantime, she has joined the dance and step teams and extracurricular activities for sixies is encouraged. BLA is a great school, a great vibe and she loves it. So do we. It’s a great fit for her and we couldn’t be happier.

    • That’s great, Cheryl. I’m very happy for your daughter and for you. Your story is consistent with many I’ve heard from others at the school, some of whom also have someone at BLS. The way I see it, BLS is a great environment for a certain type of student, but less able to incorporate and encourage other learning styles. This is true of BLA, too, but it seems to be able to nurture a broader range of styles. I hope the rest of your daughter’s time at BLA is as fulfilling as this first year has been.

  6. Nancy

    welcome back, PI – I’ve missed your writing!

  7. awwww thats a shame im a 7th grader and its really to easy for me and my school has no awc for 7th grade. i get all A’s and like 1 B. oh well.

    • Good for you, Zach. Sounds like you’ve found a good school for you, which is all that matters. I hope it stays easy for you in high school..

      • Lynn

        Hi PI,
        I’m enjoying reading over your blog, happy done with ISEE to you and your daughter. I also have a daughter at the Irving AWC, I wonder if they have met…I am starting to think about the exam school choice and struggling a bit. Can you bump this conversation up again? I don’t think people consider this enough!

      • Thanks, Lynn. I have to admit that I enjoy writing it, too, or I’d find something else to do with my nonexistent free time. AWC at the Irving is a frightfully small world. The girls surely know each other, at least in passing.

        Funny you should mention The Exam School choice. I’m working on yet another post on that topic. I wish I could say that things have gotten better for dear Vince.

        We are painfully aware of the downside of the nation’s oldest, but the odds are at least even that we will be in for another six years. What is that one about people who keep doing the same thing, expecting a different result? Thankfully, they, like us, are all different.

  8. Alison

    As the parent of a newly-admitted BLS kid, I want to thank you for posting the helpful advice. Not all parents of BLS kids we know are willing/able to give such discrete pieces of advice, but we sure need it!

    • Thanks, Alison. I don’t know about advice, but this blog started when Vince was a sixie and we were trying to deal with the trauma felt by the entire family. I’m not being dramatic: it was trauma. As time has passed, the kids have resisted being talked about in a blog, but I’d like to get back to more of that reflection on our experience. Our daughter is also a sixie this year, but her experience has been really different. I can tell from her stories that the issues faced by her brother are still present, however,

  9. If some one needs expert view about blogging then i advise him/her to pay a visit this blog, Keep up the fastidious

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