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Posted: Dec 21, 2005 21:16

What The Students Say

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Partial Results From The Woodbury Reports Parent/Student Survey
By: Lon Woodbury

For the past few years, Woodbury Reports, Inc. has collected surveys from parents and former students who were involved with a private parent-choice residential school or program, www.strugglingteens.com/survey.html, that are specifically designed to meet the special needs of their students. To date, we have received 404 completed surveys, 52 (13%) from people who have personally attended one of these residential schools or programs.

The surveys from former students include information about their experiences at the various programs that both contradict and agree with the accusation that many of these programs are actually harmful, abusive and only in it for the money. Although these 52 surveys provide a sense of the students' individual experiences, they represent only a small sample of the thousands of students who have attended these programs over the years.

At the end of each survey, participants are asked to give an overall rating of their experiences on a scale from zero to five; with zero meaning they thought the experience affected them in a negative way and five indicating their experience was very effective and appropriate. Of these responses, the average was just a shade over three, indicating the average experience, in their opinion, was helpful. This average was mildly positive, neither a ringing endorsement, nor a condemnation of the industry as a whole.

Comparing the comments from the former students was very interesting also. For example, I looked at the comments from two students who attended the same boarding school at approximately the same time period. It is likely these two students were exposed to the same program, the same staff and pretty much the same peers. The student that rated her experience a zero described the school as "emotionally abusive" and "depressing, traumatic, painful, sad and deeply disturbing." However, the student who attended same school, at approximately the same time period and rated her experience a five, described it as "hard, thoughtful, life changing, physical, demanding and the best time of my life!!!!" It is clear that these two radically different subjective reactions describe the respondents more than they describe the school. This suggests that one student was in the place that was wrong for her, while the other was exactly where she needed to be. It indicates whether or not the placement was appropriate more than it describes the school itself.

To take a closer look at the collection of 52 surveys to see what might be different between them, I'll compare the group that gave a zero rating, meaning they thought their experience was harmful, with the group that gave a rating of five. I'll present two tables, one indicating the statistics of those giving a zero rating, the other of those rating it as a five, as well as some thoughts on what these statistics might be telling us.

(After the survey was discussed and debated on the Fornitz website a few months ago, we received a rash of submissions from former students. This is a site that tends to be very critical of these residential schools and programs, and the site participants were encouraging people to express their negative views in our survey. Ironically, these recent submissions hardly changed the average at all for former students, since the high ratings balanced out the negative ratings).

Overall Rating of Zero-13 surveys (25% of student responses)


  • Female-8 (62%)

  • Male-5 (38%)

  • Students who exited a Program 7+ years before filling out the survey-8 (62%)

  • Graduated the Program-7 (54%)

  • Left Early-6 (46%)

  • In the Program more than one year-8 (62%)

  • In the Program less than one year-5 (38%)



Overall Rating of Five-22 surveys (42% of student responses)


  • Female- 17 (77%)

  • Male-5 (23%)

  • Students who exited a Program 7+ years before filling out the survey-4 (18%)

  • Graduated the Program-19 (86%)

  • Left Early-3 (14%)

  • In the Program more than one year-16 (73%)

  • In the Program less than one year-6 (27%)



The first observation is that almost twice as many former students gave the top rating as those that gave the lowest rating: 22 (42%) to 13 (25%). This alone suggests that those former students who were positive about their experience significantly outnumber those who were negative about their experience. It also appears that females are slightly more likely to give a positive rating than males.

In looking at those finishing the program more than seven years before filling out the survey, there is a significant difference between the two groups. Of those who had finished their program more than seven years ago, 62% indicated a zero and only 18% rated it a five. This might suggest that the longer a student has to reflect on their experience, the more negative the experience becomes to them. However, when looking closer at these results, it showed that almost half of those giving a zero rating also indicated it had been 15-20 years or more since they had finished, whereas, none of the students rating the experience a five had been out of a program for that long. This suggests that much of the criticism and feelings of it being a negative experience comes from former students who were exposed to a different type of program such as Straight, Inc. Although they were in style many years ago, programs like Straight are harshly criticized by many of the current programs who see their approach as radically different.

The survey results from those who graduated as opposed to those who left early shows another significant difference. A ratio of 46% to 14% respectively indicates that those rating it a zero were much more likely to have left early, in comparison to those rating the experience a five.

The comparison between those in a program for more than or less than a year doesn't seem significant, which indicates the length of time for a program does not seem to have much relationship to whether attitudes toward the program are positive or negative.

We will continue to report our findings from these surveys from time to time in an attempt to get an idea as to what parents and former students think about their experience after they are finished. We encourage both former students and their parents to log on and complete our survey on their experiences with private, parent-choice schools and programs. The more surveys we receive, the more helpful and accurate the results.

The survey is online at www.strugglingteens.com/survey.html.


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