Paying to get into Educational Programs

My son and I walk into a local enrichment company for a brief assessment on his math skills.  This was the first step in having him do math over the summer.  Since I don’t enjoy doing math and his father works long hours, this was our solution to the “summer slip” this year.  My son is not struggling with math but just like any skill, take 3 months off and it gets a little rusty.

We walk in and the woman at the counter gives us a form to fill out.  It seemed to be standard procedure until this conversation:

For your reference:

Enrichment- pulled out from classroom and do work put together by teacher.  It’s usually higher level thinking work. 

HM- Honors Math

PI- Honors English

PI+- Gifted program that encompasses all subjects.


“What programs is your son in at school?”

“He’s in Honors Math and PI.”

“Why isn’t he in PI+ program?”

“Oh, well his scores don’t fit the matrix to get in”

“We can get him in that program.”


I am fortunate to be in a district that offers levels in subjects starting in elementary.  Braden was put in a Kindergarten enrichment class in preschool.  He continued in enrichment for both reading/math in all his years until the honors classes started up in 3rd grade.   He has been tested and accepted into the Northwestern talent and development school for gifted learners.  We did no prepping for these programs, they just happened.


“I’m not sure the program is a fit for us”

“The PI+ program is the best education in the district; don’t you want the best for your child?  My children are in that program and it is excellent.  We can work with your son and get him in.”


I know that the PI+ program is for the gifted kids in our district, but according to their testing matrix, my son is not a fit.  My sons standardized test scores can be submitted for Mensa, but does not qualify him for our districts gifted program.  It’s that competitive.

My son goes back for the assessment but I already know that this place isn’t a fit.  As I sit there, children come in and go back to their lessons but instead of looking at them as my sons peers, I now see them as his competition.

Are they all working towards getting into these programs?  Are these programs filled with children who have been tutored to test in?  I’m not saying that all the children in the programs have done this but it must happen otherwise it wouldn’t have been a “selling point” to me.

As I sit there I notice the company’s accolades on the wall

“95 % of kids who take our courses get into the top 10% of colleges”

Maybe these parents think that the gifted program is the first step into college.    How is test prepping at this age any different than the SAT or ACT prep classes held for high school students that promise “a 5 point increase after this course.”

I just sit there and feel conflicted.  I know that they could get him into the program but prepping my son to get into a program that he doesn’t naturally fall into doesn’t feel right.

We leave to never return.

School starts back up in a week.  My son did do some math online this summer but nothing formal or scheduled, just whenever I remembered.  I know there is some rust that has grown, but I’m ok with that.  And while some children will start the year off with a breeze, he’ll just have to work a little harder to catch up.  I think that has value too.

7 thoughts on “Paying to get into Educational Programs

  1. Good for you, Jen! I’m glad there are other moms in our district who keep perspective on this stuff. As the mother of a child who did NOT study to get into the PI+ program I have to say that knowing this competitiveness exists among has me alert to what the environment will be like overall. Yes, I want my kids to each be challenged in school. But not pushed into a situation where they’re constantly working extra to keep up. And not stressed. Definitely not stressed. Btw – if your son is that close to fitting the matrix, I’ll bet he qualifies on his own merit in another year or so (either that or gets to high school and totally rocks the AP courses).

    • I\’m not overly concerned if/when he qualifies. And really the one score (nonverbal) that is his lowest is not his strength. It\’s just not who he is. Could we work on it to raise it? Sure, but for what? If the qualifications are such that each score needs to be X, I\’m ok with my son not fitting that matrix and let his strenghts be strengths. It\’s OK not to be good at everything and I think that lesson has value as well.

  2. As a teacher I don’t even know how to reply to this post. No seriously. This is all so foreign to me. Our district is just…not like this.

    As a mom I have to say I think you are doing exactly the right thing. Your son is going to flourish and be what he wants to be and go where he wants to go in life. I don’t have problems with stuff like this if it’s what kids want to do…like extracurricular stuff, but academic. For some kids, this is their thrill.

    But some kids, those who are just smart, but not competitive about it. Who just want to be in classes where they feel just the right amount of challenged, they need to be HAPPY too.

    I say if your kids are happy and thriving and growing, you are doing exactly right by them.

  3. Our school district sounds very similar to yours. Very competitive and a lot of pressure. Some of my daughter’s friends have been taking ACT/SAT prep classes since middle school. It is crazy and everyone knows it, but yet, so many kids and parents get so wrapped up in it. And, I admit that it is very hard not to, especially when your child has a lot of academic potential. It’s very hard to find that fine line between expecting too much and expecting too little.
    I think we need to constantly ask ourselves how we are defining success and what are the long term consequences of our definitions. When these students score the score they were trained for and get into the Ivy League school, is that the end of the battle? Or does it continue as they struggle through classes in a university that perhaps wasn’t the right fit for their true abilities?
    Sometimes it makes my head want to explode. I can only imagine what it feels like to the students.
    Sorry to go on and on.

  4. I adore you and I love how you are navigating his path in a way that makes both of you feel comfortable in this town which is SO FOCUSED on trying to make every kid overachieve, no matter what their level. You’re also letting him be a kid, which is wonderful. He is going to get into the top 10% of schools regardless of whether he’s in the PI+ program. And maybe he won’t even pick a school that’s in the top 10%? Who cares. He will excel no matter what, because he’s got mad brain skills and the support of two awesome parents.

  5. First – let me say – I miss you. Please know I am still the absentee president of your unofficial fan-club. I keep spreading the G’s and the LTE’s so you can share your glitter with the world.

    I love this post. We were directed to a private place that for $650 promised to get my 6 year old from the 95th percentile to the 97th percentile and into a gifted-clustered program at her school. After meeting with teachers, gifted guidance consellors – we felt so overwhelmed we did what we felt best – we opted out of the public system and went with Montessori. The constant testing and grading and labeling in the public system felt wrong. My daughter could read a book at a higher grade level if she was in the 97th percentile but since she was only 95th – well Hop On Pop would have to do. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend this amazing documentary – Race to Nowhere. I’m pasting the link below and hope it works. Keep rocking those G’s Jen.

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