The New York Times had an illuminating article by Javier C. Hernandez yesterday about the “Big Cram” to get into Hunter College High School. Hunter, an elite specialized public high school, has only one requirement for admission: a one-time entrance exam. Naturally, the 6th graders who take the Hunter Test are under tremendous pressure, and since it is 2009, naturally, kids don’t take this test cold. Their parents put their noses to the grindstone, often enrolling their children in cram schools. Hernandez details how many eleven-year-olds spend evenings, weekends, and vacations in cram school.
I was in Queens the other day, and it felt like every other storefront was a cram school with large signs advertising “Hunter Exam”. Over in Manhattan, it’s the same drill: many families hire expensive tutors. As an educational consultant, I recommend top Hunter tutors to my clients.
But I feel sorry for today’s students. I graduated from Hunter in 1986, and in those days, almost nobody studied for the test. You just took it. You had one day of stress, and then you were finished. Looking back, now I know how good we Generation X’ers had it compared to today’s kids.
Given today’s overly competitive environment and the toll it takes on kids and families, I think the Hunter folks should rethink their admissions formula. The Hunter Test has been given for many decades, but it is only the last ten years or so that the preparation has gotten out of control. It’s not fair to kids. Understandably, parents want their children to experience Hunter’s superb free education, so they will do whatever they can to help their children get in, even as the bar keeps getting raised.
Hunter needs to look at the current environment and make a responsible choice, perhaps looking at grades and extracurriculars, widening the criteria beyond a single day and a single test. Otherwise, too many young children will lose their childhoods, spending it memorizing vocab or doing drills in drab test prep centers, rather than running in playgrounds and parks, reading classic books in libraries, exploring interests, and being with friends and family.