At Early Stories, Richard Colvin links to a crushed, devastated, rejected San Francisco mother whose two-year-old was turned down by 10 top preschools.

I kid you not that we were asked to attend open houses, tours and interviews (it was mandatory that both parents be present) all during the work day (I took many mornings and even a few days off work to accommodate these requests), write essays about how our child and our family are a good fit for each school, explain our toddler’s behavior, temperament and unique qualities, write about our two year olds separation anxiety, explain our theories on structure and discipline, give a list of referrals that the schools could call to question, put forward our interest in fundraising and volunteering, attach a family photo and pay between a $50 and $200 fee per application.

Are these snooty, high-priced preschools really that much better than ordinary preschools? I suspect the sort of education-obsessed parents who apply can prepare their kids for school without outside help. Preschool is a place for their kids to socialize with others. Does it matter if the teacher has a master’s degree?

Of course, some preschools are believed to be stepping stones to elite private schools, which lead to elite colleges. Parents get on the high-anxiety track when their kids are two. Or earlier. I checked out a link to San Francisco preschools — there are a lot more than 10 — and found one that listed the earliest age to apply as “in utero.”

About Joanne


  1. Perhaps those who did not “just make” selection to an elite school actually “won” the admissions lottery. Here’s a link to a study:

    The conclusion was that students who were randomly selected to attend schools with higher-achieving student bodies did no better than similar students who were not selected. It may be that, for many/most students, the extra attention they get from being relatively high achievers in a low-performing class is more valuable than being a relatively low-achiever in a high-achieving class.

    Of course, there are some students who will rise to the level of whatever competitors their classroom contains. But for many others, the “reverse halo effect” may be that being considered among the less bright leads to performance matching that lower expectation.

  2. charles R. Williams says:

    This is a joke, right?

  3. Since there isn’t any objective measure of the quality of the preschool, any more then there’s an objective standard for any other slice of the education spectrum, the only clear measurable which might be useful as a proxy for quality is price.

    Of course there are also going to be some parents who are motivated primarily by price since they’d see the exclusivity of the preschool as just another display of their personal success.

  4. There is an old saying to the effect that it is morally wrong to let stupid people keep their money. I think that applies here.

  5. Some people seem to have lost faith in the American mantra of hard work begets success. Some now want success to be a commodity that can be bought and sold.

    Anyway, studies consistently show that children can be taught more, earlier, but that the gap in knowledge between the youngsters who’ve been stuffed with knowledge early on evens out long before they even finish grade school. And it has no bearing on how much money they earn as adults. Expectations and opportunity make the difference. The one thing I would say that teaching kids early makes an actual difference later in life, is to teach them what careers are available and what you have to do to get into those careers.

  6. Apparently the elite preschool’s admission criteria are somewhat reasonable after all.

  7. “The one thing I would say that teaching kids early makes an actual difference later in life, is to teach them what careers are available and what you have to do to get into those careers.”

    If I had admitted in my 7th grade (1963) “what I want to be when I grow up” essay that my ambition was to optimize the RF interface of cellular telephone networks using a laptop computer and the Global Positioning Satellite system they would have thought me even nuttier than they already did.

  8. Deirdre Mundy says:

    John Forester (A folk singer) has a greatsong about this called “Bye-Bye Future”

    Classic lines include “I’m fine in a sandbox, but I choke in an interview”


    “His epitaph will be, “he reached his peak at three” and then took eighty years to die…….”


  1. […] freak-out time for well-off urban parents hoping to get their child into the perfect preschool, writes Emily […]