Monday, March 23, 2015

Polo Education: the Great Private School Democratizer?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 10:30 AM

click to enlarge COURTESY OF PHOTOSPIN
  • Courtesy of PhotoSpin

As I read this story Sunday, I kept flipping back to the front page to make sure I was reading the Business section of the NY Times and not The Onion. The story has the tone of deadpan absurdity perfected by The Onion's faux news. Yep, it was the Times. The story is written by Robert Frank, who is the CNBC wealth editor (really, that's his title). He also wrote "Richistan," which exposed the ways of the wealthy, so maybe he had tongue planted firmly in cheek as he wrote this seemingly laudatory story. Or maybe not.

I recommend you stop reading this post, link to the story, A High School Where a Student Might Letter in Polo, and read the whole thing. Honestly, I can't do it justice. But let me give it a try.

William I. Koch, the sports/playboy billionaire brother of the famed David and Charles "Koch Brothers," put up $60 million to open a private high school so his children had a school they could attend near his Palm Beach, Florida, home. (Thoughtful dad. How people are willing to pony up $60 million for their children's educations?) Tuition is a hefty $25,000 a year, though I'm guessing if William was asked about increasing spending for public schools, he'd say money doesn't matter and complain about people who want to "throw money at schools."

Here's a wonderful stat from the story about the growing education spending gap.
High-income families now spend, on average, seven times as much each year on education as lower-income families, up from four times as much in the 1970s, according to one study. From 2007 through 2011, while the broader economy was weak, enrollment at private schools with tuition averaging $28,340 jumped 36 percent, according to federal data.
Polo wasn't part of the original curriculum. It began as an attempt to serve the needs of one student who was a competitive polo player. The school started the program so he wouldn't have to miss so much school. Really, isn't that what a good education is all about, meeting the needs of your students?


And please, don't call the polo program elitist. About 40 percent of the school's students get some financial aid— though the story doesn't say how much—and a third of the high schoolers are "students of color"—though it doesn't say what color. School administrators have a ready answer to counter the "elitist" charge:
And contrary to the image of polo as the rarefied pastime of global playboys, with Champagne-soaked matches on the lawns of the Hamptons or Saint-Tropez, and $100,000 ponies, school officials say Oxbridge’s polo team will serve as a great democratizer, bringing children of different economic backgrounds together in an effort to expand the sport.

“The perception is that polo is only for the elite,” said Oxbridge’s president and chief executive, Robert C. Parsons. “It’s not that way at all. It’s really about helping kids discover passions they never knew they could have.”
According to the school, the sport isn't especially expensive, especially compared to the 1,500 seat, $1.2 million dollar football stadium on campus which has "the same synthetic turf used in the Buffalo Bills’ stadium." (Meanwhile, the local school district had to postpone buying school equipment and fixing the roofs because of budget problems.) Polo helmets may cost $500 each, and boots $500 a pair, but the school uses off campus facilities for the training. The place where the students learn "basic riding, hunting, jumping and dressage," is called Wall Street farm.

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