What is the single greatest obstacle in attaining the best high school education in Massachusetts today?
Unsurprisingly, the single greatest obstacle to attaining the “best” high school education in Massachusetts is financial. The best high schools – or preparatory schools – are privately-owned and operated. That’s not to say there aren’t very good public schools in Massachusetts, because there are; and, public high schools not just in Massachusetts but all over the United States send large numbers of students to major universities. There is no question, however, that the best educations, and the best prospects of being accepted into the more prestigious universities, are attained in private or parochial schools, and Massachusetts has those. In fact, there are several dozen elite privately-owned schools across the state. Many of the most expensive private high schools in the country are concentrated in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York State, with Massachusetts itself accounting for a full one-third of the 50 most expensive privately-owned high schools in the country. And these schools cost a lot of money. Public school educations are free assuming one discounts the tax burden on state residents. Private schools, in contrast, cost around $40,000 per year per student. The following is a list of some of these Massachusetts schools with their locations and annual costs:
Thayer Academy in Braintree $38,000;
Winsor School in Boston, $38,800;
Noble and Greenhough in Dedham, $39,000;
Groton School, Groton, $40,000;
Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, $40,350;
Concord Academy, Concord, $42,200; and so on.
This list does not include boarding schools, which obviously cost even more. The bottom line is that parents who can afford to send their children to private schools do so because they believe such schools provide the best educations, the best prospects of being accepted into prestigious universities, and the best security against the physical hazards that accompany low-income public schools.
Attendance at one of these types of schools is not a prerequisite for admission to the best colleges. Excellent grade point averages and college entrance exam scores can overcome the hurdle of not having attended a private school, but there is no question that the best high school education is available at a very expensive private school and that the main obstacle to acceptance at one of those schools is economic.
One could still argue that the biggest obstacle to a good education at a public high school is socioeconomic. Ideally, there would be no difference between a public high school in Roxbury or Dorchester on the one hand and Beacon Hill or any other more exclusive and expensive community in the Boston metropolitan area. The fact remains, however, that public schools in wealthier communities provide better educations than those in poor neighborhoods. Most of the better teachers are going to rank positions with schools in expensive neighborhoods over positions in schools in poor, crime-infested areas. Public education or not, money matters, and the lack of it is the single biggest obstacle to a good education. Students who study hard and have inspirational teachers can certainly excel, but they are, unfortunately, the exception rather than the rule.
Another obstacle to a good education at a public high school is the atmosphere with respect to pressure groups. High school students, especially those with low self-esteem, are vulnerable to the kinds of pressures from various groups of peers that can have a seriously bad effect on their willingness and ability to learn. it's no secret that the more studious students -- excepting those who excel both academically and athletically -- are targets for ridicule by others, and that pressures to conform can divert children from their academic responsibilities. While pressure groups exist at expensive private schools, the pressure to resist learning is far less at such schools than at public schools in lower-income communities. Throw in the challenge of overcoming dysfunctional home environments and you have a recipe for disaster.