Why 'meeting admission criteria' doesn't mean 'you're in' at a Montessori school?
July 18, 2006 2:30 PM   Subscribe

We went very carefully and timely through the application process for the admission of our son to a Montessori school (first grade). Then, with one month delay, we were notified that due to the higher than expected demand, and despite meeting the admission criteria, our son was not admitted, but placed on the waiting list. This response just drives me crazy, as I cannot understand what else than admission criteria can get a child in.

I should say I am not familiar with private school admissions, but the people we talked to at the Montessori school during the few months we prepared the application were very positive about our son's chances. Basically they made us believe the admission was just a formality, if done in time and if our son was not handicapped in some way. I am not sure if it was naive of us to accept these statements at face value, or if we made some mistakes in the way we presented ourselves or interacted with the people at school.
Any ideas what we can do to get over this hurdle?
posted by rootcause to Education (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I cannot understand what else than admission criteria can get a child in.

I hate to be simplistic, but couldn't this just be an issue of overcrowding? I'd imagine there are plenty of kids who meet the admission criteria and the school probably just can't fit everyone.

After all, isn't the lure of small class sizes and low student-to-teacher ratios what draws parents to private schools?
posted by jckll at 2:33 PM on July 18, 2006

Response by poster: ..issue of overcrowding..
In addition to meeting the admission criteria we were also among the first (if not the first) to apply. Then, what made the difference between being in and being out?
posted by rootcause at 2:40 PM on July 18, 2006

I cannot understand what else than admission criteria can get a child in.

50 kids are above the required minimums. There are 40 spots. The bottom 10 kids get dropped, or the 10 kids that the teachers least want to work with.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:45 PM on July 18, 2006

I cannot understand what else than admission criteria can get a child in

Well, it could be anything: race, gender, age, hometown, whim. It could even be random. (Do you have any family friends with college-age kids? They're all too familiar with this, I'm sure.)

Really, though, they just had too many kids and needed to get their numbers right. It seems they wanted to make clear that it wasn't your (or your son's) fault, but they can't take everyone.
posted by danb at 2:49 PM on July 18, 2006

Response by poster: bottom 10 kids get dropped
Interesting.. it's true kids got evaluated for half a day. So, ROU_Xenophobe, you suggest that in addition to 'the admission criteria' there was another, unpublished, criterium - some kind of an ordered list that teachers prepared based on their direct experience with the child. But shouldn't 'teacher impression' be part of the 'admission criteria'?
posted by rootcause at 2:54 PM on July 18, 2006

It sounds perhaps as though the school initially was expecting, say, 20 kids to apply for 10 spots, and under those circumstances they were prepared to accept your child. However, for whatever reason they suddenly found themselves with 75 kids applying for those same 10 spots. As harsh as it might sound, in that latter case your child was no longer among the top 10 who were admitted to the school.

I have little experience with Montessori schools or admission to them--the absurdity of judging the "merits" of first graders is part of another discussion--but just scale your question to the level of, say, college admissions and it becomes clear. A kid with a 3.5GPA might be accepted to Harvard if he is competing against only 100 other applicants for 50 spots: maybe there are only 5 kids in that pool of 100 sporting 4.0GPA's. But plop our 3.5GPA kid with 1000 applicants and maybe all 50 spots can be filled with valedictorians; why would they take the kid with the 3.5 in this scenario?

The same applies in your case, and while the "admissions criteria" may be more nebulous and unclear (read: assinine) that's the way it goes...
posted by jckll at 2:54 PM on July 18, 2006

Any ideas what we can do to get over this hurdle?

posted by MrZero at 3:04 PM on July 18, 2006

New York magazine had an article a few years back on private school admissions. It certainly gave the impression that the child's behavior and the teacher's opinion of him or her was a huge factor in the admissions process.
posted by k8t at 3:13 PM on July 18, 2006

Perhaps legacy admissions, donations, diversity requirements (mandated by a private board). Could be they just ran out of slots for students of race A with financial situation B with background C.
posted by empyrean at 3:17 PM on July 18, 2006

Is your surname towards the end of the alphabet? All else being equal, it has been known for school to just work their way down the list, and stop when they're full.

Sucks, but 40 places, 50 qualified applicants, somebody has to draw the short straw. As danb said, could be anything.
posted by Leon at 3:18 PM on July 18, 2006

Has it been suggested at any point that a donation to the school (beyond regular tuition) was expected or would be welcome?

I attended a private school (not Montessori), and they practically had a mandatory schedule of donations, from what I understand.
posted by adamrice at 3:21 PM on July 18, 2006

Montessori schools can be very different from one another in atmosphere and dynamics. My nephew, whose family relocates often, has been enrolled in two of them. He and his mother visited several others before enrolling each time. They all use the same terminology and the same materials, but they can vary in very important ways.

So your son's being put on the waiting list could be for any of a number of reasons. The people doing admissions weren't coordinating their information; they didn't have their stories straight on what the criteria were; they meant to notify you a lot earlier but somebody forgot; a teacher quit unexpectedly; a couple of 4-year-olds applied who had 6-year-old siblings, and the school needed 4-year-olds. And so on.

Then maybe they said, "Shit, we really screwed up. People are going to be angry. Which parents are least likely to make noise about their kid's being eliminated?"

I strongly doubt you or your son were deemed less-than-desirable. If that had been the case, the school would have hedged in the first place.
posted by wryly at 3:28 PM on July 18, 2006

Certainly there are all sorts of possible reasons for your son being put on the waiting list -- which is not the same as being totally rejected. If the school is oversubscribed, they have to make some choices. If you had one child there, you would certainly expect any younger brothers and sisters to be accepted, and those children are likely to be shoo-ins. How they pick the rest is harder to figure.

Presumably you know a bit about the Montessori method (if you don't that could be the reason, right there). Children are accepted as unique individuals, and so it is unlikely to be an evaluation of your child's intelligence. It could however be a suspicion that your child's behaviour might be disruptive in the orderly environment of a normal Montessori classroom. (The Montessori schools for those with developmental disabilities are more accepting of challenging behavioour.)

Bluntly any school which has a choice will be less keen on taking children who look like trouble, or ones that have parents who look like trouble. It is worth examining how you presented yourself and the child. Telling them your troubles is never a good route to school admission. Did you or he come over as too competitive to fit into the Montessori philosphy? Did you put too much emphasis on attainment? Did you look too intense, as though you would be monitoring your son's every step and arguing with the school about his next one? Certainly don't say to them that the situation is driving you crazy!

How do you get over the hurdle? Two-pronged attack: present yourselves to the school as desirable in case a vacancy does arise, and find an alternate school if it doesn't -- working hard on your presentation there! Gentle, polite persistence may pay off "We are just calling again about a vacancy, as we so much want our son to come to your school because we believe so strongly in the Montessori philosphy, and having met you we know you are wonderful people" -- switch the order of those two clauses if you think it would impress them more!
posted by Idcoytco at 4:49 PM on July 18, 2006

So, ROU_Xenophobe, you suggest that in addition to 'the admission criteria' there was another, unpublished, criterium

No. Only that "the admission criteria" are necessary conditions, not sufficient ones.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:55 PM on July 18, 2006

Of course I know nothing about you and your son and this may be way off base, but does the fact that they said "no problem" right up until they saw him suggest anything? Of course, it may just be some other reason, or none at all, but I would be inclined to school him at home in the behaviour expected in a Montessori classroom, and tell the school that I was doing so, and that he was progressing well. If he can't conform, it is not the place for him anyway.
posted by Idcoytco at 6:05 PM on July 18, 2006

Just an aside: your son may not be missing much. I have the distinction of having been kicked out of a Montessori school because I told an unpleasant carpoolmate that I hated her. I was told I had to take it back, which I refused to do because it was true. So I was asked to leave the school. Yep, that's supporting individuality, alrighty!
posted by Scram at 6:19 PM on July 18, 2006

Response by poster: "the admission criteria" are necessary conditions, not sufficient ones
Yes, that was my main fallacy. Other people suggested the same answer, so now I realize where I went wrong in my reasoning. I feel I actually set up myself for it, by not questioning enough premises. At the same time, maybe the professionals at the admission office could have been a bit more helpful.
The admission process iteself is a different story and I am trying to correlate now the many deep answers posted here to what we've done. I seem to get good hints..
posted by rootcause at 7:10 PM on July 18, 2006

My kids went to Montessori schools. This sounds like it has nothing to do with the educational model of the school, but rather the administrators experience, foresight and tact. I think they blew it. Either they should not have given you the postive indication or they should have indicated early on that applications were running higher than expected. When they lay down the criteria, your child meets it and then they say sorry, I think they owe it to you to explain why your child is on the waiting list rather than some other rug rat. If it came down to time stamp date of application, then they should have known earlier and told you.

I would find another school simply because I think these administrators are flakes and would constantly be making inconsistant arbitrary and capricious decisions.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:23 PM on July 18, 2006

Based on our own experience, I'd imagine that a preference for siblings (or an edge given to families that have had kids there previously), plus a perceived need to balance the classrooms in terms of gender, are leading candidates.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:45 PM on July 18, 2006

I didn't read through the above comments, but it may be the case that siblings get a higher preference than new students who have no siblings currently enrolled. This is the case for many schools, private and charter schools.
posted by allthewhile at 7:58 PM on July 18, 2006

It's not an immediate fix, but you might want to consider writing/calling the school and asking for more details, but try to frame it in a positive light. That is, instead of asking straight out "why didn't he get in" which may come across as accusatory, maybe ask something like "what could we do to strengthen his application for next year / the next school"

I did exactly that with grad schools last year, and this year I was admitted to two schools that rejected my application the previous year. Those schools probably had a lot more applicants than this Montessori school, yet they were willing to answer and familiar enough with my application to give good hints (or they took a couple minutes to refamiliarize themselves which is just as good).

All schools send out those generic rejection letters, but most schools are willing to be more blunt if you ask them to.
posted by chndrcks at 8:10 PM on July 18, 2006

If they're like most organizations, their "soft" selection criteria are not delineated because they're subjective and they don't want to argue with a bunch of parents over whether the process was fair. If they had a reasonable expectation of strong demand then they kinda screwed you by giving the impression that the admission was pretty solid, but then again maybe it really was out of their projections and they gave that impression in good faith (though perhaps bad judgement).
posted by nanojath at 10:19 PM on July 18, 2006

I think the answers here are a little naive. The schools overadmit because if they don't, they run too much of a risk of having empty slots, and if the school doesn't have a big reserve, it wouldn't take too many empty slots to sink it. Lots of parents will know this, so they take out an insurance policy, so to speak, by applying to several schools, which, as this behavior spreads throughout the pool of parents, causes schools to admit even more-- and so forth, until some sort of steady state is reached.

Unfortunately, at the point of the steady state, an adversarial relationship has developed between the school and the families of candidates, and it is the innocent family such as yours, rootcause, which approaches the process in all goodwill and believes what the school tells them, that gets the short end.

I believe the only way you are likely to get your kid into this school is to raise the question of overadmission and threaten to make an issue of it. However, rootcause, you do not sound to me like the sort of person who goes around making threats. Well, good for you and good for your child; I suspect you and your child may be, in fact, too good for this school.
posted by jamjam at 8:29 PM on July 19, 2006

And I would imagine that younger siblings of students who are already enrolled are given preference.
posted by JamesMessick at 1:12 PM on July 20, 2006

OK, here we go.

First, you have to undersand the idea of yield. Yield is the term private schools use to mean the percentage of admitted kids that actually choose to attend. It is higher the better the school is in the neighborhood. Some very strong schools have yields of over 90%.

The waiting list exists in case the yield is lower than expected. It consists of applicants the school would like to have taken, but could not due to a high number of qualified applicants. Only candidates who meet or exceed the requirements for admission are placed on waiting lists.

Now, what determines whether a strong candidate is admitted or wait-listed?

It is exactly the same as it would be for a job interview. If several candidates more than meet the requirements, how do you choose? Schools use two main criteria: fit and grouping.

Fit is the determination of whether the family (not just the kid!) is a good fit for the school community as a whole. The admissions committee asks: do you seem like the kind of parents who will be happy with the current parent body? Do you represent, perhpas, a kind of family they'd like to have more of? (This can be anything!) Do you seem to understand the Montessori philosophy and click with the people who interviewed you? Did your child interact particularly well with the classrooom materials, etc.

Grouping is the school's attempt to put together a class, in advance, that will work well as a group. A really great child might not make the cut because there are just too many of a certain type out there in a certain year. There may be very few spaces, and your Montessorri school may be taking most of its first grade class from its own Kindergarten. In that case, they need to think about how your child would work with the other children they are admitting or advancing. This is a very personal "feel" on the part of the admissions committee and there is little you can do to influence it.

Now, advice:

Call the admissions person immediately to say thank you for wait-listing your child and for giving you a great tour/interview and overall process. "We were really impressed with your professionalism. We share your impression that Sonny would be a great match for your school. You are still our first choice and we would appreciate your letting us know if the wait list moves at all."

Than ask whether they would welcome a re-application next year. It shows you are serious-- you're gonna knock on this door until you get in. Don't be pushy. You want the admissions person to hang up thinking, gosh we should have taken that family.

Good luck.
posted by Topkid at 7:49 PM on July 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

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