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Posted at 8:00 PM ET, 03/ 2/2011

Private school rejection? Don't panic.

By Jay Mathews

I write mostly about public schools, but private schools have their own methods and rituals that affect many families. At this time of year, for instance, parents looking for a good private school often find themselves in trouble.

They have applied to a school they had their heart set on. They have been rejected. Actually, it is their child who has been turned down, but you know what I mean.

This can create panic. But education consultants who handle such cases say there are many options, even when many people assume the admissions process is essentially over for the year. Some consultants go so far as to suggest there are ways to add private school extras to a public school education.

The first thing consultants do is try to calm their clients by explaining that a rejection does not mean their child has some irredeemable flaw. “I explain that often schools reject children and families who are not the right fit for their school, rather than it being a reflection of numbers or anything wrong with their application,” said Liz Perelstein, a consultant based in White Plains, N.Y.

“Sometimes the denial to a school is a good thing,” said Jean Baldwin, a District-based consultant. “If the student is not right for the program or the curriculum, he or she will not flourish.”

A call to the admissions office can be useful. Did the student’s campus visit not go well? Were the grades and test scores too low? “This information can be very helpful in future planning,” said Frances Turner, a consultant based in Bethesda.

Charlotte Nelsen, admissions director at the Potomac School in McLean, said she loves talking to parents of rejected applicants, except she had banned the R-word from her office. Instead, Potomac’s letter says the child has merely been “denied for next year.” Nelsen said “children will grow and change.” She tells parents, “Please don’t feel this relationship ends with the letter you receive in the mail.”

Georgia K. Irvin, author of “Georgia Irvin’s Guide to Schools” (Madison Books, 2009), said consultants know which schools might fit which child and which schools are likely to have room. In bad economic times, some schools might not be full. Families might have relocated suddenly and left open spaces as late as August.

Parents who prefer private schools can, in some instances, find public schools that suit their needs. In many parts of the country, including the Washington area, you might pay tuition to have your child attend a public school in another district. I know of a suburban family that even paid to have a talented daughter attend a D.C. public school, the well-regarded Duke Ellington High School of the Arts.

Consultants observe a child in their current public school, check the records and look for ways to augment their lessons. If the school system is good, Turner said, she can “design an outside educational support system either for remediation or enrichment, depending on the need of the students.” They can find tutors for children with particular academic weaknesses and after-school and weekend programs even better than what private schools offer.

Education consultants can be expensive. They might charge $180 to $300 an hour or more. There are cheaper ways to get their advice. Rich Weinfeld, a consultant based in Silver Spring, said he organizes conferences that charge only $10 per person. He works with social service agencies that offer his services for little or nothing to needy clients.

In the end, it can still be a difficult process, with parents so wedded to famous schools that they have trouble seeing quality elsewhere. “I ask them to be open-minded as we phone schools that we think would be a good fit,” Perelstein said.

She doesn’t tell them the schools’ names until she finds one with room. They visit. If they like what they see, even if it was not on the list, she said, parents are often willing to give it a try and later are glad they did.

Read Jay's blog every day, and follow all of The Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education Web page.

By Jay Mathews  | March 2, 2011; 8:00 PM ET
Categories:  Local Living  | Tags:  Liz Perelstein, Charlotte Nelsen, Frances Turner, Georgia K. Irvin, Jean Baldwin, Private school rejection, Rich Weinfeld, educational consultants say there are many late options, private schools admissions direction never says  
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Mr. Mathews: Is it true that Guy Brandenburg was a former WTU negotiator?

In the Washington Post Guy Brandenburg is referred to as "a former DC math teacher." Sounds innocent enough. The link below though (from his blog) suggests he was also a WTU negotiator.

Isn't the fact he was a WTU negotiator hugely relevant to the news reader in assessing his credibility as a source? Why would the Post keep that information from readers?

Here's the relevant excerpt from the Post news story:

"A former D.C. math teacher, Guy Brandenburg, posted on his blog a study that includes test scores from the Baltimore school where Rhee taught from 1992 to 1995. The post, dated Jan. 31, generated intense discussion in education circles this week. In it, Brandenburg contended that the data show Rhee "lied repeatedly" in an effort to make gains in her class look more impressive than they were."

Mike DeBonis, before he joined the Post, identified him as a WTU negotiator in his Washington City Paper column:

Are journalistic standards for such things lower at the the Post than at the Washington City Paper?

Posted by: frankb1 | March 2, 2011 11:51 PM | Report abuse

frankb1: Will you please consider limiting your posts on the various education blogs so that: (a) your posts are relevant to the thread to which they are attached, and (b) you do not repeat nearly identical posts in multiple threads in multiple blogs. You may have extremely interesting points of view, and may be expressing your opinions articulately. However, I find it can be distracting and annoying for me as a reader of several of these blogs to have to wade through the same material repeatedly in order to get to new material and viewpoints. Thank you for considering this.

Posted by: singrass | March 3, 2011 7:31 AM | Report abuse

Let's face it. This is a boring, silly column by Jay. I give frankb1 credit. Keep asking the questions until you get an answer, Frank!

Posted by: lisamc31 | March 3, 2011 8:43 AM | Report abuse

singrass: You make great points (too often I am off-topic), and are too generous and polite in you rebuke to dismiss. So I will try and do better in the future.

Nevertheless, Jay does answer lots of questions in his blog, so I'm not sure why he's avoiding answering this one. He could easily swat it away with curt evasive reply. The non-response is perplexing.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 3, 2011 9:15 AM | Report abuse

for frankb1---My apologies for not answering. The references to Guy Brandenburg and the possibility that he was a WTU negotiator in the past appeared to be between readers, and did not ask me to find out. I assume when readers get interested in a topic, and when there are so many readers with access to the answer, as there are in this case, a reader is going to give us the answer. Why should I spoil your fun by trying to beat you to it? But since you asked, I will email your question to Guy and let you know what he says. I might add, however, that I don't buy your premise. Brandenburg's hate for Michelle Rhee can be called a bias that might have been influenced by his possibly being an important union member, but whenever I cited his work I called his anti-Rhee slant a unpleasing distraction that should not get in the way of his solid facts, which held up to scrutiny when I and others checked them. I was citing him for his facts, not his opinions. Let's see what he says about your query.
But doesn't anybody care about private schools? Maybe I need to start another blog on that subject. The two readerships may not easily mix.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 3, 2011 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Jay Mathews wrote: "I will email your question to Guy and let you know what he says."

Thank you.

Jay Mathews wrote: "I might add, however, that I don't buy your premise. Brandenburg's hate for Michelle Rhee can be called a bias that might have been influenced by his possibly being an important union member, but whenever I cited his work I called his anti-Rhee slant a unpleasing distraction that should not get in the way of his solid facts, which held up to scrutiny when I and others checked them. I was citing him for his facts, not his opinions."

Brandenburg said "Rhee lied repeatedly", in the news pages of the Washington Post (Nick Anderson Post story below). That was an opinion, right? Shouldn't the Post have identified his potential bias?

Posted by: frankb1 | March 3, 2011 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Jay - have you considered writing a column on the relative chances of a kid getting into a college of their choice 9the presumed goal) as a regular student from a highly regarded high school versus being a standout kid from a struggling, inner city type school?

The answer relates to your article here, and might give some parents pause.

Posted by: Lizz1 | March 3, 2011 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathews,
I appreciate the gist of this story. I have three kids in three different private high schools. One of them is an "elite" school, one that most people put in the top three in Washington, DC. Another is a school that most would see as a "safety." We've been extremely happy with the less-competitive school and we're having qualms about the highly-competitive, uber-rigorous school. Our daughter exists in a constant state of stress seems and her self-image is starting to flounder as she compares herself to all of the superstars around her. There's no question that her education is top-notch, but there's more to life than reading the "Journal of Foreign Affairs" in 9th grade.

Posted by: trace1 | March 3, 2011 1:04 PM | Report abuse

For Lizz1--That is a great question, which I have addressed in the Post and in the first chapter of my book on college admissions, "Harvard Schmarvard." The key fact is that a study done a decade ago of a million SAT test takers shows that the standout student in the inner city school has a better chance of getting into a selective college than a regular student in a highly regarded high school. The reason is that selective colleges will only take a few students from each high school, so if you are the 20th most attractive applicant from yr very good high school, you are not going to get in, but if you are the most attractive applicant from your poor high school you will likely be admitted, even if the SAT scores of those two students are identical. (This assumes that the kid in the inner city school has grades and SAT score high enough to assure the college that he can handle college work.)
Getting into a great private school, the subject of this piece which I am happy you are acknowledging, will give you a great high school education, but won't help you get into the most famous colleges which, my book argues, is unimportant because they don't do any more for yr life than many less famous ones.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 3, 2011 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Guy Brandenburg has responded to me with an email message sent from his cell phone, in response to frankb1's question. Here is the entire message:

"Yes, I was an unpaid teacher-member of the 1999-2001 wtu negotiating team, along with several other teachers, as I mentioned in a response on Valerie Strauss's blog. It was an eye opening experience. The real negotiations on matters of real monetary significance were done not in our presence. And as i said, our work as teacher-negotiators was totally unpaid.
I guess this is relevant if you believe-as frankb1 apparently does-that anyone who is a teacher is evil, all unionembers are evil, and that if some teacher is an ACTIVE UNION MEMBER then they are Beelzebub incarnate."

Your turn to respond, frankb1.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 3, 2011 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Trace1's good message illuminates another factor in judging if a highly competitive high school is best for you.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 3, 2011 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Along the lines of lizz1 question, I just wonder how many private school graduates require "remedial" classes as opposed/compared to public school. I can only suppose the numbers between the two would provide no real statistics because of shear numbers between the two groups.

Children attending private schools are not necessarily headed toward college at any greater number (I'm thinking.) Many of the private schools are religious and therefore cater to a select group (not meaning others cannot attend, but built for children of the congregation.

When I was younger the only "private" high schools were Catholic. Those graduates were no more prone to college for other reasons. Money (many didn't finish high school in a Catholic school for the cost,) numbers (considering they may have a single Catholic high compared with 4-5 public schools, and because many of those children were no better informed about college than public students.

Posted by: jbeeler | March 3, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Jay Mathews!

Jay Mathews wrote: "Brandenburg's hate for Michelle Rhee can be called a bias..."

I agree!

Brandenburg's role as a union negotiator can be called a bias. No question about it.

Neither of these biases were identified in the Nick Anderson piece, which was reprinted in newspapers across the county.

What is the Post's policy on disclosing bias to readers? Does the Post have a policy? If I say someone lied (and the Post prints it) should my biases be included in the story?

What does the Society of Professional Journalists have to say on the matter?

Posted by: frankb1 | March 3, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

The Media's Duty to Disclose Bias:

"It is unethical and misleading to present a partisan expert as a neutral one."

Posted by: frankb1 | March 3, 2011 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Lack of Disclosure Taints Recent Debate:

"The problem here is not the relationship, but the lack of disclosure and the inherent bias that comes from being involved in an organization."

Posted by: frankb1 | March 3, 2011 2:31 PM | Report abuse

More to me from Brandenburg, which I am passing on to readers here:

"PS and no, Barbara Bullock and Gwen Hemphill didn't share any of their embezzled loot with us. They appear to have stolen something like $5 million from about 5000 teachers, so I'm out about $1k also.
Their selfish treachery cost teachers and organized labor a lot more than just money. Their actions have emboldened monopolists, hedge fund traders, and union-busters and have made some folks think that billionaires should run the US educational system."

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 3, 2011 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Brandenburg wrote that he was a "member of the 1999-2001 wtu negotiating team"

That was a very important time frame to be a member of the WTU negotiating team. The DC financial control board began transitioning power back to elected leaders (and school leaders) during that period.

And a MAJOR WTU-DCPS contract was in the works.

Here's a link to a DC audit of the WTU negotiations:

Posted by: frankb1 | March 3, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I was mistaken in believing anything that Frankb1 wrote was going to be accurate. I didn't help negotiate the 1999 contract. It was the one after that. I recall that the attacks of September 11, 2001 came during the negotiation period.

Posted by: TexasIke59 | March 3, 2011 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Hmmmm, doesn't this consultant's advice seem applicable to the TJ admissions process?

Posted by: 2010dwarring | March 3, 2011 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I think Brandenburg "lied repeatedly". You can quote me if you like.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 3, 2011 5:26 PM | Report abuse

i.e. that kids who aren't academically qualified probably are better off somewhere else?

Posted by: 2010dwarring | March 3, 2011 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Title: Rhee, the Stain on Frank's Pants

You a big fat Lie;
You have led corporations
And their ilk awry.

Posted by: DHume1 | March 3, 2011 10:13 PM | Report abuse

So what is behind the Brandenburg intense, obsessive, birther-like hatred of Michelle Rhee?

Richard Whitmire's got it figured out:

"One difference is that the extreme Rhee critics come from left-wing, not right-wing, politics. The nexus of their issue with her appears to be that there’s something about Rhee’s school reforms that is uniquely threatening.

Rhee raises existential threats not presented by voucher conservatives. Rhee wants to curb teacher tenure; overturn “last hired, first fired” layoff policies; and impose teacher evaluations with teeth. Most important, these are not just think-tanky proposals. Rhee actually did all these things in Washington.

The threat, now embraced by several governors, is real and internalized by unions. If teachers’ unions can’t guarantee quick tenure, preserve the last-hired, first-fired rule, and protect members from firings, why pay dues?

But we’re still not at the core of solving this mystery. This is not just about unions. The real nut of this is the threat to the pride of thousands of teachers, especially those in low-performing school districts. For years, they have argued that poverty and single-parent families explain the low performance of their students. Rhee is saying maybe, maybe not"

Posted by: frankb1 | March 3, 2011 11:05 PM | Report abuse

"The real nut of this is the threat to the pride of thousands of teachers, especially those in low-performing school districts."

And the shame. Tremendous shame.

As the DC Control Board in 1996 concluded, "DCPS had failed in its mission to educate the children of the District of Columbia. . . . In virtually every area, and for every grade level, the system was unable to provide our children with a quality education and safe environment in which to learn."

A school system that focused almost exclusively on the needs of adults, not children.

Posted by: frankb1 | March 4, 2011 12:13 AM | Report abuse

Given that there are usually way more applicants than available slots for non-siblings at private schools, I think it's important for families to not take the rejection personally. I know a bunch of incredibly bright and talented kids in our homeschooling support group who didn't get accepted to any of the private schools to which their families applied. They are doing just fine at home :-)

Posted by: CrimsonWife | March 4, 2011 5:37 AM | Report abuse

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