School Indulges/Alienates Teens?

Bright Scholar, the Nasdaq-listed Chinese schools group, just bought a group of private high schools, for $190 million.

One campus is in Boston. It serves grades 9-12. A full year there for an international student, depending on precisely what you buy, costs about $66,000.

It’s hard to judge a school without really spending time there. I’ve never visited. So I won’t name the school.

Internet searches however seem to suggest teacher turnover in the 40% range. Many of the online reviews are brutal

, both by staff and students.

The story seems to be a common one:

1. Chinese parents are desperate to push their kids towards top-tier American universities, even if that isn’t the right fit for their child.

2. School admissions officers feel pressured to take those kids (and the tuition).

3. Kids correctly feel like pawns in the whole thing, which contributes to their lack of motivation.

4. Teacher recruitment becomes a “death spiral.” When hired, teachers are often told they’re getting strong students, so when the students appear unmotivated, the teachers quit. Which makes the teacher hiring process even more desperate and less truthful. This further destabilizes the whole enterprise.

So you get reviews like this from teachers:

The school is definitely not living up to their own motto “preparing students for universities.” Instead, we are accepting students who are high maintenance, spoiled, low motivated, bratty, and much more.

We have about 350 students and roughly about 10% of that population care about their overpriced education.

We spend more time complaining, disciplining, writing up, expelling students rather than educating and preparing them….We are losing staffs left and right, and I already talked to a couple of people who already decided not to renew their contracts for next year.

If true, I feel particularly bad for those teenagers. I feel bad for the teachers as well, but it’s one bad professional year out of a whole career. For the kids, it’s a defining life experience which could really mess them up.

Another teacher:

-Incredibly disorganized and reactive
-Unqualified teachers in most departments; most are not qualified to teach English language learners
-Many teachers lack professionalism and they continue to get away with it
-Most professional development is in-house and not useful or helpful
-Disciplinary system and academic probation are ludicrous (it takes a lot to expel someone because the school doesn’t want to lose the money)

I wonder if the Bright Scholar executive team reads these reviews as part of their due diligence, before the purchase. Or if the Chinese-English language difference limits that sort of poking around.

Again, the big caveat is I’ve never visited, and online reviews may be totally biased.

But the story seems to be:

1. Chinese kids first get rejected by established American private schools. They know that.

2. Admissions officers essentially herd these rejected students into this school.

3. Kids respond to the chaos and low expectations by behaving worse than they did in their former schools back in China. Many probably feel some sense of rejection/abandonment by their own parents.

4. Teachers here haven’t precisely signed up to do that job of motivating this alienated children. Nor do they have the systems or training to do it well.

5. Parents don’t spend any time actually inside the school, so don’t quite grasp what is going on. Many Chinese educators tell me that as long as the parents are told their children will get acceptance to American colleges, they don’t care about the emotional dynamics. If true, that only would further injure the parent-child relationship. This is a type of market failure.

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What is the way forward?

The way to “reach” these kids is the right mix of positive relationship-building, high expectations, and real accountability. There’s a huge amount of social-emotional work that has to happen. But it can be done.

The situation reminds me of many high-poverty public high schools in the USA.

That’s precisely why many charter schools were created: to develop a healthy school culture. Important, teachers know what they’re getting into. They choose the school knowing that students will arrive with some challenges. To “turnaround” some students and help them get on a better path, teachers choose to put in the nights and weekends, to accept coaching and feedback, etc. Usually it’s not a sustainable job forever, but often teachers describe it as a great, exhausting, fulfilling 4-year stint.

Perhaps there need to be some charter-like private schools to serve alienated Chinese kids, too.