I May Have Been Wrong

by Tedra Osell on March 2, 2012

So. That post I wrote about charter schools? Where I argued that liberal, educated, reasonably affluent parents (like me!) should keep our kids in public schools, advocate for public schools, not buy our way out of problems in the public schools, and so on? Dana Goldstein made a similar argument against homeschooling recently.

Only some things have happened since I wrote that post, and as it turns out, I’m homeschooling Pseudonymous Kid right now. Not technically: he’s on “home hospital,” which is what the state calls it when a kid is out of school long-term for medical reasons. The way this is supposed to work on paper is that all the kids’ textbooks come home with him and he works his way laboriously through the workbooks and questions at the end of each chapter, and someone from the district comes out for an hour each week to make sure he’s keeping up.

The way it’s actually working in practice is that I’m hiring various people to come out once or twice a week to coach him in math, science, and general learning stuff (like being able to take instruction, developing “study skills”, and so on) while spending hours each day doing online research about “gifted kids” and mental health and behavior problems and blah blah blah, as well as trying to make sure that we inch towards having a schedule where he/we do some math together, read books, write some stuff, and so on. One plan, for example, is that we’ll put together a “Portal / Half Life Encyclopedia,” because I’ve realized he has actually done quite a bit of research into the nuances and corners of those games and if I can get him to write it up and teach him how to do a web page about it he can (1) get some writing done; (2) get “credit” for Language Arts; (3) develop some transferable skills for when he goes back to school.

In other words, for the time being we are no longer in the public school system on a day-to-day basis. We still have a foot in the door, both because the law requires some kind of documented school attendance and because I am not yet ready to take sole responsibility for establishing myself as a “private school” and documenting everything he does so that we can demonstrate that he’s not just playing video games for several hours a day (even though that’s a lot of what he’s doing) when it comes time for him to go to high school or college. God knows I would like to get him back in one of the public schools next year, though probably not the one he was attending, because homeschooling him is pretty much taking over my life and I don’t want to even think about paying $10k or more a year for private school (although at the moment the tutors are costing us $250/week, so). But it is quite possible that we are going to end up doing one or the other, at least for the rest of middle school.

So, yeah: I’ve ended up in the obnoxious zone where I’m not practicing what I’ve been preaching for years.

It turns out that in PK’s case, a “good” middle school with 1500 kids in it meant:

  • bullying issues that the school can’t keep on top of. With 1500 students and class sizes of 30-40, there is a lot of coded teasing and snide remarks (“what’s wrong with fish?” is one PK was subjected to—superficially not bullying at all, right? Except that it’s mocking him for frequently having smelly sardines in his lunch box and asking at one point, when someone was making fun of his lunch, “what’s wrong with fish?” You guys remember middle school). PK also overhears racist and sexist crap that isn’t directed at him. None of this is the kind of “bullying” that makes headlines. No one is getting beaten up or fearing for their safety. But it does create a pretty hostile atmosphere for a sensitive, idealistic kid.

  • Pretty dull and unrelenting class- and homework. Worksheets every day. Not a lot of project-based or creative learning. Teachers who won’t “give credit” for completed homework if the kid doesn’t “show his work”—in other words, if he’s doing the math in his head, he gets a zero for the homework even though he’s done every problem. Which frustrates him no end (and me too). He’s in the GATE class, and of course, being a “good” school, the administration and teachers are inevitably concerned with test scores, so there’s an underlying anxiety about making sure that The Standards Are Covered—which means the kids write essays that follow the format: “In the story _, the character _ demonstrates the quality of _. She demonstrates this quality through three different exchanges…” Which yes, as a writing teacher, you want kids to get the idea of a thesis, supporting evidence, character analysis. Those are the state standards. But if you’re a kid who actually likes stories and is good at talking about and analyzing them, this is stultifying. (To be fair, this teacher really works hard to make the class more fun than that, but in the end, she has to teach The Standards.)

The combination means that PK has ended up with a pretty significant anxiety problem, a huge chip on his shoulder, and buckets and buckets of hostility towards the system, the school, and his fellow students. Without going into details, we finally made the decision not to send him back on the day that the cops and the Crisis Response Team showed up at the house and interviewed him for an hour. Which as you might imagine, did wonders for his anxiety and sense of trust.

It turns out that the system’s limits, in combination with the things it “requires”—Crisis Teams! Cops!—are not always what’s best for kids. Yes,  schools ought to Do Something when a kid is having the problems that PK has. Unfortunately, between what schools Can’t Do and what they’re Required To Do, Something isn’t necessarily the best thing, and might actually be a bad thing.

Ultimately, of course, there is no one right thing. People vary more than systems do. Hence, most kids and their parents learn to make accommodations: yeah, the homework is kinda dull, but just get it done; let’s pack peanut butter instead of sardines; let’s designate your kitty socks and brightly-colored pants as “play clothes” so that you aren’t wearing them to school, learn to “ignore” the bullies, learn not to care when you overhear someone yelling “hey Chinese!” at an Asian kid during lunch. (Or, as the school suggests, “he should tell an adult”—to which PK says, “I’d be constantly running to adults every five minutes, and most of the time I don’t even know the name of the kid doing the bullying.”)

But those are a lot of accommodations, you know. And PK isn’t the kind of kid who makes accommodations easily, and to be honest, he is the kind of kid who requires some accommodations from others: he’s argumentative, he’s got a temper, he can be impatient, he sometimes swears, he likes being “weird”. Some kids, like PK, can’t make all those accommodations without doing violence to their sense of self: sometimes the result is quiet and tragic, and sometimes—like with PK—it’s loud and demands attention.

Indeed, if PK were the quiet and tragic sort he would still be in school. But he’s not.

So I am developing a certain humility, let us say, on the question of what parents “should” do with their kids vis-a-vis public education. I still think that, as a nation, we ought to invest in the public system and work to improve it: give it the resources to deal with all kinds of kids, give teachers the prep time and small class sizes that would allow them to give more attention to the outliers, spend the money to build new schools when things get to the point where the kids don’t know each other’s names.
Because while we can (barely) afford $250/week to hire PK’s old math teacher, an acquaintance with a PhD in biology, and a professional “educational counselor” to come to the house and keep working with him; the health insurance to pay for therapy; and the luxury of a stay-home-mama with her own PhD to research school options, arrange for the tutors, take him to his appointments, and be home during the day so that the homeschooling option exists, most people don’t.

What we’re doing isn’t scalable, and it isn’t an acceptable solution to have a system that’s so standardized there’s not enough room on the margins for non-standard kids—not, at least, if you believe (as I do) that educating kids is an important collective concern and ought to be a national priority.

I don’t know the answer. I suspect there isn’t one, in the sense of a one-size-fits all solution.

{ 147 comments }

1

Andrew Fisher 03.02.12 at 8:41 am

Perhaps liberal, educated, reasonably affluent parents could be allowed to advocate for a world in which stay-at-home parents are not a ‘luxury’ and the homeschooling option exists for everyone? Admittedly it is a bit utopian, but your vision of pouring more resources into this institution in the hope that it will somehow make itself easier for kids and their parents to accommodate to is too bleak even for my taste.

2

Scott Martens 03.02.12 at 8:56 am

Those are exactly the kinds of issues that drove my mother out of teaching and into running a tutoring business: Standardized schools for non-standard kids. They’re all>/i> non-standard kids.

One-on-one, even relatively untrained non-teachers can learn to adapt and get kids to learn. In even small groups though, you need teachers able to recognize what’s going with your non-standard kid, and be in possession of the knowledge and experience to figure out what works for them. This means treating education as an actual profession with a required skill set – knowing how to make different kids of kids learn by understanding different teaching strategies, and having the time and resources to implement them – rather than treating it as a one-year program you take at the end of a liberal arts degree. That, in turn, can only work if you spend money in ways that lead to identifying, training and retaining the teachers able to do that.

But that’s just not how things are done these days.

I had the good luck of parents who were themselves teachers and knew very well that when an inexperienced rural school district psychologist gave me an IQ test she didn’t understand how to give, and then pronounced me mentally retarded, the system had screwed up. They’re doing a bit better nowadays, from what my mother tells me, but only barely.

As for the anti-social environment of middle school… It sickens me that they call the cops on kids acting out these days, but I don’t have an answer either.

3

Russell Arben Fox 03.02.12 at 12:00 pm

Tedra, if you haven’t followed Laura McKenna’s ups and downs with her two boys and the public school system where she lives in New Jersey, you really should. Harry Brighouse and some other regular commenters here know her situation well, and know that she’s a very strong public school advocate. But she also ultimately got to a point where she realized that it was better for her children for her and her husband to decide to give up on their school district and search for education elsewhere. This latest post of hers summarizes many of her feelings…

http://www.apt11d.com/2012/03/a-tale-of-two-school-districts.html

…but in the long run, she has no simple solutions to the problem of how one turns education into a priority for all the children of “the public” either.

4

Adam Hyland 03.02.12 at 12:32 pm

I agree strongly with the general thrust of this post and I sympathize with your efforts at home as well as your internal struggle with the future of education.

But please for the love of pete don’t discount the virtues of rote work in areas like mathematics! Unless you’re raising Hardy or Ramanujan the path to a strong foundation in mathematics is almost invariably through years of tedious work and laborious practice. Your son is likely very smart but he will rapidly reach a level in math where he can no longer do the work in his head and the habit of neglecting steps on paper will come back to bite him. I understand that this all feels very Prussian–middle school math feels like Taylorism of the mind. But it is so because you are laying down the foundations to work through arithmetic and manipulate equations at a very low level. Most of the progress made at this level won’t feel like learning. It won’t look like creativity and it won’t really invite cross-pollination with other subjects. But it is nonetheless vital.

I’m not saying the subject needs to be miserable. There are great ways to teach middle school math that don’t depend on *everything* being soul crushing. But there is almost no way to escape homework problem after homework problem.

Working through those problems (and showing his work!) will give him the freedom to be creative with math as he grows older. It will be the difference between his understanding and profiting from a challenging seminar in calculus and just barely grasping an entry level pre-calc course. That kind of instinctive understanding is nearly impossible to pick up at an older age (believe me, I’m stilly trying) and familiarity with mathematics will open up a wide range of options for him as he grows older–even options which may not seem to be math heavy.

So please don’t recapitulate the New Math mistake at home.

5

Eli Rabett 03.02.12 at 12:38 pm

First a piece of maybe unwelcome advice. Build a record that an evaluator (HS or college) can look at and figure out whether PK meets or exceeds their requirements. As someone who has looked at a lot of applications for summer programs, it is pretty much impossible to figure out whether the home schooling is any good or not, or what the talents of the kid are and where they fit without this. These can be portfolios rather than tests, but there has to be something.

Second, go out and look for a classroom in a trunk. Many years ago a friend brought two kids and a curriculum trunk on sabbatical. The kids worked through the stuff on a regular schedule. It worked pretty well. Of course you have to be careful and find real educational material not cultish stuff, and maybe there is someone in the Ed School at your place who can help. The material should match or exceed the curriculum guidelines of your local school board.

In spite of what we think, parents in general know very little about how to educate kids

6

dsquared 03.02.12 at 12:41 pm

It probably says something really bad about me (and I really do sympathise and promise to write something more substantive about the post later) that I had the same gut-flinch as Adam here – developing the habit of doing things in your head and not showing working really is going to lay up problems for later life in terms of mastering maths at more advanced levels.

7

J. Otto Pohl 03.02.12 at 1:03 pm

This is only indirectly related to the post. But, when I was in middle school bullying meant getting beat up, sometimes frequently. But, I do not recall any parent ever removing their children from public school in response. It was considered the normal run of things. If things were persistent over years then eventually some of the bullies ended up in reform school, but that took hundreds of violent incidents usually. Have things dramatically changed in the last 30 years in American middle schools? Because the examples in the post seem extremely mild compared to my memory and my own experiences in OC California were not anywhere near the really bad stuff that took place in places like Grant District, CA where my uncle used to teach. There bullying meant pretty severe beatings. If the worst thing that occurs in middle schools today is verbal taunting then a huge amount of progress has been made.

8

Sam Dodsworth 03.02.12 at 1:10 pm

If the worst thing that occurs in middle schools today is verbal taunting then a huge amount of progress has been made.

From personal experience… no, that’s not “a huge amount of progress”. You might want to reflect on what counts as bullying in the adult world – any workplace bullying resource would be a good start – to see what the problem is, here.

9

LizardBreath 03.02.12 at 1:19 pm

On the same point as 4 and 6 (which is completely peripheral to the post. On the post generally, my sympathies): Something that might make the ‘showing your work’ less pointlessly tedious feeling for him is explaining it as a variety of communicative writing. You couldn’t write a persuasive essay consisting of just a conclusory sentence, you need to work through your reasoning so that the reader believes you. Same with a math problem: ‘showing your work’ is communicating with the reader, not solely an aid for the problem solver to get the right answer. I’ve had some success with impatient students (my own kids and back when I was teaching) with that explanation of why it’s necessary.

10

Steve LaBonne 03.02.12 at 1:19 pm

I would have homeschooled my daughter at that age if there had been any way to do it while still putting food on the table. She used to refer to school as “jail for kids”.

11

guero 03.02.12 at 1:20 pm

Peggy Kohn wrote a piece in Dissent not long ago called “If you’re an egalitarian why do you send your kids to private school?”

She makes the argument that we liberals should actually be supporting some form of school choice, since it’s essentially what we are demanding for ourselves.

12

rf 03.02.12 at 1:24 pm

J Otto

I would have found personal abuse worse than the fights to be honest, and looking back on people I knew at that age (or a bit older) I think it was the ‘smaller’ more consistent, and therefore dismissible, acts that did the most damage. Someones reaction to this isnt really your business, especially as you have to assume you never really have the full context

13

Heide 03.02.12 at 1:28 pm

Don’t beat yourself up for doing what’s right for your kid. Just because your kid isn’t in public school now doesn’t mean you’re not an advocate for public school, for better public school, for public school that serves all kids.

Gifted kids really, truly are different from other kids, in the ways in which they take information and ideas in, process them, work with them. They often don’t function well in a mainstream educational environment, and it’s not just because of worksheets. Think about the possibilities of having a kid in the lowest 1 percentile in a mainstream classroom without accommodations, and now think about a kid in the highest 1 percentile in that same classroom. Why is it assumed the latter is fine? Good luck with researching.

14

Steve LaBonne 03.02.12 at 1:31 pm

She makes the argument that we liberals should actually be supporting some form of school choice, since it’s essentially what we are demanding for ourselves.

The devil is in the details. Conservative versions of “school choice” are simply designed to destroy public education, not to improve it. Conservative “education reform” cheerleaders will just go on sending their own kids to expensive private schools, regardless. (But they’d love to save some money for themselves on school taxes.)

If a system is troubled, destroying it usually isn’t an intelligent way to set about fixing it.

15

JSE 03.02.12 at 1:51 pm

I don’t see where you’ve been hypocritical. It may be that public schools fit most kids but not all — it’s hard to see how it could be otherwise. In which case, the large majority liberal, affluent, educated parents will will advocate for public schools, and keep their own kids in the system, and do fine. I think LAE folks also tend to advocate for public transportation, and to use it — but if the bus route that goes by your house gets canceled, then the actual service provided is no longer a fit for you, and you drive to work (because you are fortunate enough to have the resources to do so, instead of losing your job) and there’s no hypocrisy there.

What your experience _does_ emphasize is that advocacy for public schools ought to include advocacy for alternative schools, so that the number of kids poorly served by the system ends up being small as possible.

Finally, speaking as a guy who teaches math for a living, I tend to be in favor of requiring students to show work, for the reasons given above and for one more: when the student _does_ get an answer wrong, I have a much clearer picture of what has gone astray in their reasoning.

16

Pete 03.02.12 at 1:53 pm

Bullying: it is generally better, or at least less violent, than it used to be; it’s still completely horrendous for any kid that doesn’t fit in and firmly moulding if you do.

Maths: if the kid can reliably do problems without working, raise the level of problems. Coincidentally I was having this discussion with someone with a bright kid the other day; he reccomends Khan Academy’s instructional internet videos.

I hope that people with progressive ideas about education read your article and are shamed into abandoning the idea that sealing the exits to trap the middle class inside the poorly performing public education system, as this primarily harms children without improving the public system. In the UK at least there is shouting from the far left about abolishing private schools, religious schools, homeschooling, the remaining selective schools, and indeed all options other than the local comprehensive. This distracts from the real issues of realising that education is hard work and kids can be each other’s worst enemy.

17

Andrew Fisher 03.02.12 at 1:54 pm

School choice isn’t the issue here, surely. The OP is clear that we are talking about what is called a ‘good’ school.

Sometimes destroying a system is exactly the right thing to do with it.

18

Steve LaBonne 03.02.12 at 1:57 pm

Sometimes destroying a system is exactly the right thing to do with it.

Not unless there really is something, that isn’t a complete scam, to replace it. As Atrios pointed out this morning, “The smart bet in this country for decades has been to find new and creative ways to siphon taxpayer money into your pockets. That’s what education privatization is about. That’s what social security privatization is about. “

19

Marcus Pivato 03.02.12 at 1:57 pm

Tedra, perhaps you feel like a hypocrite, but you shouldn’t. The fact that you are committed to improving the public school system (or publicly provided goods more generally) does not mean that you are normatively committed to make your own child a foot soldier in that battle. In fact, there are several good arguments to the contrary.

1. When fighting against a dysfunctional institution, sometimes “exit” is a better option than “voice”. (As you have probably discovered, “voice” often doesn’t work very well with public school bureaucracies.)

2. In the long run, if your own children are to be effective foot soldiers in the fight for social justice, they need the best education possible.

3. When fighting for social justice, you have the right to impose upon yourself whatever sacrifices you want. However, it is not clear you have the moral right to impose sacrifices on other people —especially people who are both powerless and not yet capable of giving informed consent. (For example, you have the right to donate your own retirement savings to OxFam if you want. But arguably, you do not have the right to donate your child’s college fund to OxFam.)

4. Pulling your child out of public school does not constitute a blanket condemnation of “the public system” in general. It is a condemnation of an underfunded, overcrowded system, with undereducated, overworked, over-regulated teachers and administrators who are incapable of coping with unusual children, because they can already barely cope with their baseline workload.

5. Pulling your child out of the public system does not itself damage that system. You are still paying taxes, I presume? In fact, by removing your child, you have infinitesimally improved the per capita resources available to other students in the public system. (The real problem is how you will afford the time/money to educate your own child.)

Good luck.

20

Pete 03.02.12 at 2:03 pm

On reading http://www.apt11d.com/2012/03/a-tale-of-two-school-districts.html : as someone observes in the comments there, the local public in fact get the school they want, which in the case of the bad one is one that doesn’t care very much about academic achievement or inclusiveness but is very competitive about sports.

21

ajay 03.02.12 at 2:06 pm

developing the habit of doing things in your head and not showing working really is going to lay up problems for later life in terms of mastering maths at more advanced levels.

Yes – I always insist on students showing their working for exactly this reason, also because I am a Good Teacher and I want to know which bit they’re all getting wrong so I can explain it and (with any luck) they won’t keep getting it wrong. If they’re getting it right then it’s not really necessary, but the problem is that you can’t say to pupils “you only have to show working if you’ve got the answer wrong”.

22

cjcjc 03.02.12 at 2:09 pm

“The fact that you are committed to improving the public school system (or publicly provided goods more generally) does not mean that you are normatively committed to make your own child a foot soldier in that battle.”

Certainly not when there are plenty of other people’s (far less gifted) children around, eh?

23

Sam Dodsworth 03.02.12 at 2:11 pm

Pete@20 the local public in fact get the school they want

Might what the local public in fact want be influenced by class at all? Might this possibly show a problem with the line that it is the noble duty of middle-class parents to remove themselves and their children from the state education system?

24

ajay 03.02.12 at 2:12 pm

Hence, most kids and their parents learn to make accommodations…But those are a lot of accommodations, you know. And PK isn’t the kind of kid who makes accommodations easily, and to be honest, he is the kind of kid who requires some accommodations from others: he’s argumentative, he’s got a temper, he can be impatient, he sometimes swears, he likes being “weird”.

The thought occurs that teaching kids to make accommodations for other kids who are different to them – socialising them – is also an important function of school, and is the one area where, by definition, homeschooling really falls down.

25

Joyce Reynolds-Ward 03.02.12 at 2:20 pm

Public school special ed teacher here chiming in on the chorus to support showing his work. Middle school kids–gifted and sped alike–HATE showing their work in math, but it is crucial. One way around it is that often teachers will give partial credit for correct process even if the calculations are wrong.

My son (who was very similar to your son in middle school, though it was a parochial school he blew out of into a public school which was multiple times better with fewer suspensions and problems) fought showing his work all the way through Algebra II in high school. It’s biting his butt seriously in college work. When I’d share my struggles to get my kids to show their work, especially the bright kids with learning disabilities, he’d earnestly tell me to tell them to get over it. And offer up examples of his own college math work to share with them.

And the bullying piece–sadly, until parents of the bullies get serious and work with the school to shut it down in their own kids, it’s not going to go away. I’m contemplating writing an article about the teacher’s eye view of the bullying process and the ongoing battle with those behaviors in the classroom–and how so much of it is fueled by complicit behaviors from society. Kids who think movies such as “The Hangover” and “Jackass” are acceptable for school viewing…shakes head. And yes, I’m serious.

Without strong adult modeling that bullying is unacceptable, it’s going to happen in middle school. Without strong adult support for school authority from parents and society as a whole, bullying is going to get worse. In a culture where teachers are being blamed for all that is wrong with public schooling, it’s hard to kill bullying behavior.

26

jc 03.02.12 at 2:24 pm

As a progressive, I think you should be considering the implications of your own experience for other parents who don’t have the resources that you do-who perhaps would love the ability to have their kid be tutored individually instead of going to public school, or at least pick a school more tailored to the child, in lieu of the school in their district.

Maybe there is some way that we could allow parents to have the resources to choose different educational options for their kids if the public schools don’t seem to suit them. If only there was some sort of political movement in the US trying to reach this goal.

27

sc 03.02.12 at 2:36 pm

i was one of those gifted types in my younger days – and i had to get over my prejudice against showing my work, too.

it was all so simple when 2x + 3 = 7, but once things got harder, doing things in my head wasn’t so easy (smart kid yes, dick feynman no) and because i’d pissed around just writing down the answers i’d never actually learned the process to solve for x.

28

Steve LaBonne 03.02.12 at 2:39 pm

If only there was some sort of political movement in the US trying to reach this goal.

Indeed. Instead we have only a branch of the broad movement whose goal is funneling public money into private pockets. Shame, that.

29

SamChevre 03.02.12 at 2:53 pm

My wife was among the first children legally home-schooled in Virginia, and I’ve spent a lot of time around homeschooled children and homeschooling parents. (And we are very likely to homeschool our children.) My brother teaches in California, including some tutoring of homeschoolers.

A few suggestions (which may be completely useless):
1) Check out your state’s homeschool association (HomeSchool Association of California). There’s a massive amount of resources out there.
2) California is a cover school state[1]; the one I know about from my brother is Sunland. It costs about $600 a year.

1) In Virginia, you can homeschool; in California, children must be enrolled in a school. The work-around is to enroll them in a school that does tests and keeps records, but delegates the actual teaching to the family–that’s a “cover school”.

30

David Hobby 03.02.12 at 2:53 pm

“But please for the love of pete don’t discount the virtues of rote work in areas like mathematics! Unless you’re raising Hardy or Ramanujan the path to a strong foundation in mathematics is almost invariably through years of tedious work and laborious practice.”

Following up on the math comments of Adam Hyland in #4 and ajay in #21, it depends what’s meant by “showing ones work”. Yes, students should write down intermediate steps in math problems. The best heuristic is “when it’s too hard to remember what you’re doing, write down a step”.

But they should NOT be made to write down extra steps that they can comfortably skip over. You want students to “chunk” groups of steps into single steps, that’s how expertise is gained. For instance, I had a discussion with my (college) precalculus class yesterday, where I’d pointed out that going from A = B/C to C = B/A really should be a single step by now. Most of them were completely mystified. They’d been taught that there had to be an intermediate step of AC = B, and asked “how did you get from there to there?”

I’d argue that if they had been permitted in high school to skip steps they were ready to skip, that they would be much better at planning algebra strategies, as opposed to slogging through algebra steps.

31

Rar 03.02.12 at 2:58 pm

I’ve taught my university’s writing seminar, and I can tell you that many of these students did not know The Standards. Many times I wished that it wasn’t I, but their middle and high school teachers, who were teaching them about “supporting evidence” and “structure.” Maybe there’s a better way than the rote-learning of 5 paragraph essays, but so many college students can’t even get the basics of an argumentative essay. Heaven forbid I want to talk about something more interesting, like the importance of incorporating counterarguments.

32

Rich 03.02.12 at 3:01 pm

I have never understood why advocating for good public schools while sending your kids to private schools counts as hypocrisy. We don’t think that people who advocate for good public housing and generous welfare benefits are hypocrites because they don’t live in public housing and draw from the dole. Seats in public schools cost money, a lot of money. Sending your kids to private school is effectively a donation to the public school or at least the government as it allows resources to be reallocated. If you believe that your child is so wonderful that his or her very presence improves the school, then you are withholding a donation by withholding your child. But this makes you less generous, not a hypocrite. Arguments for school choice aren’t necessarily wrong. They are just similar to arguments for relaxing restrictions on what types of food can be purchased with food stamps. Of course, making transfers in-kind is a way of means-testing them. If you remove the restrictions it is probably better to impose some sort of means testing. I suspect, however, that once you acknowledge that public schooling is just another form of public assistance the support for it could diminish. As a result, we pretend that it is something different.

33

joy 03.02.12 at 3:11 pm

@ Steve LaBonne. I have spent a bit of time in a NY max-security women’s prison teaching family law. The first time I visited I couldn’t get over why it felt vaguely familiar. Then I realized that it reminded me of school. The architecture, the regimentation, the petty (and not so petty) bureaucrats…
@ Tedra. I am so sorry that PK is having such a rough time. I have loved reading about him for years, and I hope that you and he come through this phase with spirit and mental health intact.

34

jc 03.02.12 at 3:14 pm

@steve labonne-if you think about it, tedra is essentially shuffling her own funds into others pockets by paying tutors. but she’s only able to do this because she’s middle class-if she were poor(er), she would have no money to pay tutors. in that case, if her kid was EXACTLY the same, but poor, she would have to leave him in public school. i suppose you’d prefer that option over say an education savings account where poor people could also afford private tutors because then “public money goes into private pockets.”

35

Gaspard 03.02.12 at 3:20 pm

Surely we need to separate bullying and behavioural issues from worksheets and showing your maths work? Learning to deal with tedium and negotiating institutional environments is most definitely an underestimated life skill, no?

Fancy private schools are often not so great at dealing with former either, and have their own problems with things like drugs, etc etc. I am dumbfounded about the cops, though – is this some kind of compulsory post-Columbine risk management?

I’ve already plugged it here recently, but Astra Taylor is worth watching/ reading on this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwIyy1Fi-4Q and at n+1 mag.

36

jim 03.02.12 at 3:21 pm

My sympathies, too. My impression is that middle school is pointless. I don’t think either of my children actually learned anything in middle school. The system thinks of it as a holding action. The students can no longer be treated as little kids, but they can’t actually be taught as people yet. And in this interregnum a variety of pathological symptoms occur.

In high school it gets better. My youngest’s experience was that it got better every year. You might look at just holding PK out for the rest of middle school.

37

Steve LaBonne 03.02.12 at 3:22 pm

i suppose you’d prefer that option over say an education savings account where poor people could also afford private tutors because then “public money goes into private pockets.”

Wake me up when right-wing nostrums like charter schools are anything but scams. I supported the charter school movement until it turned out to be one. And the data on that are crystal clear.

38

Jacob 03.02.12 at 3:25 pm

I recommend you watch the documentary “Let’s Get Real,” about middle school bullying and social dynamics. It’s made for teacher professional development and for student “advisory” sessions, but it really describes your average American middle school very well.

That said, middle school doesn’t have to be like this. I worked at a great one for six years, that was able to balance the Standards and doing things that mattered to kids emotionally and intellectually. Middle school is really the last time in kids’ lives where school is the most important thing in the world to them, and schools need to honor that. The solution is not boutique schools that cater to individual types of kids, and I actually think the most pernicious thing about our American system is the orientation of educators towards individual parent demands, towards differentiation without difference. It is a customer-service vision of education, that fails in making school an experience worth having for anyone. Making ten different worksheets for ten different types of kids still leaves everyone doing worksheets, yet that is precisely what most school administrators encourage their teachers to do.

39

Steve LaBonne 03.02.12 at 3:26 pm

Also, other right-wing “solutions” like teacher “accountability” via stupid standardized tests have actually made the problems worse. Few of the proponents of these things actually care about education and none of them know anything about it.

We COULD have public schools that provide a humane learning environment for all kids if we were willing to learn from other countries.

40

Ted Lemon 03.02.12 at 3:31 pm

The situation you are in seems to tie in to a phenomenon that Bruce Levine recently wrote about, http://www.madinamerica.com/2012/02/why-anti-authoritarians-are-diagnosed-as-mentally-ill/. I relate pretty strongly to this because when I was in school it was obvious to me that most of the authoritarian crap I was getting was nonsense coming from people who didn’t really know what they were talking about, and didn’t like being challenged.

Schools are a shamelessly authoritarian environment. Different kids react to it differently, but it works well for pretty much nobody. Kids who are willing to cave to authority get by, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good for them. Schools are authoritarian because they have to be—when you have large numbers of kids per adult, and when you aren’t allowed to segregate out unruly kids, you have to come down like a ton of bricks on anyone who isn’t willing to get along.

So as long as we are willing to have our public schools be massively underfunded, as long as we are willing to spend more on administrators than on teachers, as long as we consider computers and other technology a better investment than a high teacher-to-student ratio, it’s inevitable that our public schools are going to be harmful to the students who go to them.

If our public schools are harmful to the students who go to them, then it’s horribly dishonest to claim that a parent who takes their kid out of the school and sends the kid to a private school is undermining the system. They are doing what they have to do. The fact that more parents can’t do it is a problem.

I don’t see an easy fix for this: de-funding public schools makes this situation worse, but the people who most strongly advocate de-funding public schools do often seem to be the ones who are pulling their kids out of the schools. But let’s at least be clear about what the problem is.

41

Steven 03.02.12 at 3:33 pm

Whether or not it applies to Tedra (and I don’t assume it does), one of the messages here is not to let a general unfamiliarity, phobia, or dislike of math dictate its pedagogy. I had a strenuous argument with a professor at super fancy school once about whether or not an unsimplified answer is correct. He said it wasn’t. But of course it is. He was just trying to express that there is a convention that math teachers prefer answers for which no work remains, or that are expressed with the fewest remaining operators possible.

This should not be confused with not being able to demonstrate how to set up and work through problems of growing complexity. Not doing this is analogous to studying literature by reading only the beginnings and ends of books. It may work for Corduroy, but not for Moby Dick. Progress in basic math comes from successfully setting up problems, understanding the symbols contained in them as well as the relationships they entail, and manipulating all of this correctly into a more simplified format that expresses the simplest relationship possible. Often, that final expression is nothing more than a number. Indeed, up until about high school, that’s all it will be. But memorizing relationships is important, and this comes from rote. Once these are in hand, the discovery and understanding of other, more complex relationships is imminent. This is learning math, in my opinion. It takes a bit of work.

I waver on the bully problem, especially when its moderate bullying, as described here. Life is full of bullies, at all stages, in its insidious ways. Insulating a smart, sensitive idealistic child from the low-grade ambient bullying described above strikes me as similar to insulating a child from germs. There is no getting away from them, anywhere, even in Norway, and so exposure and building up some resistance and coping mechanisms seems necessary.

The worry is that PK will remain a smart, sensitive idealistic person still unable to deal with the bullies that will confront him in middle school… high school… college… the workplace… the bar… etc. I am not talking about the physical menacing and wedgies, but exactly the type of “what’s wrong with fish?” comments here. There are a million ways to ask that question, throughout life, and people will continue to ask it.

42

Jacob 03.02.12 at 3:36 pm

A friend of mine once said, of the atmosphere of crisis in most schools, “if you’re hanging from the edge of a cliff, you’re never going to dance.” Lots of schools were bad before accountability and NCLB, but accountability is making schools bad in very similar ways to one another.

43

Jacob 03.02.12 at 3:40 pm

#37 (Ted)– American schools are very well funded. New York City spends 17,000 per student. (Newark spends 22,000 per student.) But we should be honest about how that money is spent. In NYC’s case, only 5,500 for each general education student goes to teachers’ salaries.

44

Jacob 03.02.12 at 3:48 pm

The visit from the Crisis Team that Tessa mentions is another worrisome development. We have responded to the real stresses of bullying and social tension in schools by “banning bullying.”
Teachers in New Jersey who do not report incidents of bullying are, as of this year, not just professionally liable but criminally liable.

Living with other people civilly is a very hard thing, but it is not made easier by making incivility illegal.

45

tomslee 03.02.12 at 3:54 pm

This discussion reminds me of UK in the ’70s (my Dad was in teacher training). Comprehensive education was becoming mainstream and Ivan Illich was railing against old-style education. The end result on the left did sound like “Traditional education is hierarchical, conformist, and stultifying! And there’s so little of it!”

I suspect that Tedra is right that “What we’re doing isn’t scalable, and it isn’t an acceptable solution to have a system that’s so standardized there’s not enough room on the margins for non-standard kids”. But which parent believes they have a standard kid?

46

Ted Lemon 03.02.12 at 3:58 pm

Jacob (#39): yes, indeed. But there are other costs associated with running schools, so this isn’t completely shocking. As Tedra pointed out, cops and metal detectors cost money too, and the way we currently run schools, the perception that they are necessary probably isn’t completely inaccurate.

47

K Zhang 03.02.12 at 4:06 pm

As a college math teacher, I feel there are significant misconceptions about mathematical education in general. Take the example of “showing your work”. It seems like if you have more efficient way of getting the answer (intuition, often), you shouldn’t be forced to use the standard method. That is true IF your purpose is to find answers to a question. That is not the purpose of mathematical education. The purpose of mathematical education is to give people a way to find answers and being able to check the correctness of the answer without any outside help. That is why the work is important, it is a means to ensure the correctness of the answer.

My second point concerns with the “standardized test” in general. A “uniform” test, in the sense that everybody takes the same test, is important. This is simply to ensure we compare apples to apples. However, the test itself, at least ideally, should never be standard. The point of a test is to evaluate the students when they are faced with new questions. The value of a test is diminished when the students can rely on memory or intuition to solve the problems. A majority of the college students I taught seem to have a deeply ingrained concept, that only problems they have already seen should be on the test. Hence, passing a test become a simple task of training oneself to perform a certain known procedure. In this sense, the American system has already been “teaching to the test” without ever admitting it.

48

CharleyCarp 03.02.12 at 4:09 pm

So sorry to read about PK’s struggles.

I pushed my non-standard kids pretty hard to standardize, at least enough to get through. I still wonder if I might have done differently, and better, by them. On the other hand, I find myself still doing it (eg lecturing my soon to be 26 year old daughter [at which point she’s off our health insurance] that she really needs to be thinking about things like benefits [and not just self-actualization] when assessing work opportunities), and, well, there are costs to being a square peg, and some of them aren’t worth paying.

49

Anarcissie 03.02.12 at 4:40 pm

It’s not just the schools. I think we need a different kind of agora, but this is a major change in the way we do things in the workplace as well as school and other social loci, one some of us are working on. Meanwhile, home schooling might be a good option for many people.

I am pretty sure rote work destroyed my ability to do mathematics, but it’s a long story and my contribution to the mathematics world would probably not have been very great anyway. Instead I became a slut for computer programming.

50

Steven 03.02.12 at 4:42 pm

Zhang says: “The purpose of mathematical education is to give people a way to find answers and being able to check the correctness of the answer without any outside help.”

This is only one purpose. Another is to learn the language by which facts and relationships about and within the natural world are expressed, and also to be able to engage in symbolic manipulation and reasoning.

For engineering, shopping, and personal finance, Zhang is right, but you might as well just use a computer and get it over with, because a computers are very reliable these days for every reason an everyday person needs to solve a math problem.

For citizenship and a richer life, this other purpose applies. In any case, it requires a deep understanding of math that takes a fair amount of rote work to obtain.

51

Joey_33 03.02.12 at 4:44 pm

I was your kid. It’s how I ended up at an expensive private school that accommodated my needs, had no / little teasing, and focused on fostering a love of learning in its students rather than demanding rote work. I did great there and ended up in the Ivy League, law school, etc. I doubt I would have even finished at a typical high school. It’s a sad statement on education in this country that that’s so often the only option, but your kid only has one life.

52

JSE 03.02.12 at 5:02 pm

But which parent believes they have a standard kid?

No parent believes this, but lots of parents believe their kid is within the fairly large range of kids who thrive in a conventional public school. I expect Tedra’s “good” school is in fact no-quotes good for lots and lots of kids, including some gifted kids, and some sensitive kids, and some idealistic kids, but not for hers, and I don’t feel inclined to assign any moral valuation to that fact.

53

bemused 03.02.12 at 5:26 pm

Tedra, this is why my family helped found California charter school #1, to have a school that accommodated square pegs, used constructivism where possible, integrated school-day and after school care, required parent participation and fostered a culture of lifelong learning (students, educators, parents, community members). Please don’t make the mistake of lumping all charter schools together. The idea of the charter school, at least in California, is to allow schools based on different philosophies to be created and tried out.

Re math, I concur with suggestions about Khan Academy…I have used it in tutoring, and it has the merit of ensuring that each concept is mastered to form a good platform for the next. It also allows a student to plunge ahead if they are interested. The teacher/coach gets good tools to watch the student’s progress as well.

54

chrismealy 03.02.12 at 5:27 pm

I wouldn’t spend two days in a job where the abuse Tedra describes goes on. No kid should either. Especially not kids because they’re so vulnerable.

Charters used to seem like a great idea. I had imagined they’d be cool little storefront schools full of oddball kids, small classes, attentive teachers, and no sports and pep rallies. In reality they’re the equivalent of Halliburton running Iraq. What was the old dsquared line on Iraq? Something like, I’m for the war, but not if Bush is running it? That’s how I feel about charters. That their biggest backers are the worst people int he world (Heritage, Cato, AEI, etc) is pretty much all you need to know.

Also, another vote for showing your work. I slipped from getting A’s in math to B’s around 9th grade. Showing my work and better handwriting got me back on track. All of mistakes had been from dropping a minus somewhere and mistaking 9s for 7s.

55

ben in el cajon 03.02.12 at 5:29 pm

Perhaps we could work on school size. Were we to limit the size of every primary and middle school campus to 300 students, and the size of every secondary school campus to 500 students, teachers and other adults would know the kids’ names, kids would face less competition to participate in extra curricular activities, and therefore to become recognized individuals, and the prison qualities of the schools would be reduced.

The one-room schoolhouses of American lore weren’t successful because of skilled or enlightened teachers, or testing, or traditional values. They were successful because they were small communities.

56

Alice 03.02.12 at 5:37 pm

I’m kind of amused by math tangent here–which is of course why I’m commenting. I regularly “failed” math assignments in junior high because I had correct answers but didn’t show my work, and I have to tell you all, no amount of stamping your feet can force a kid who can do the math in their head to write down their work because there is no work to write down. If you can look at a problem and know the answer without going through a reasoning process, a teacher insisting you show your work is asking you to slice open your brain. And the only way an inability to show my work in junior high math classes has affected my life is that I am skeptical of the claims of math teachers.

57

chrismealy 03.02.12 at 5:40 pm

@41, what I learned from bullying is that suicidal ideation can be a relief. Turns out that spending your childhood anxious and depressed takes years off your life. I wish instead I’d learned to drop out of school.

58

rageahol 03.02.12 at 5:42 pm

#55:

what, exactly, where they successful at, in the gilded age where the lower classes often died of TB or measles or black lung from working in coal mines.

59

Maria 03.02.12 at 5:52 pm

JSE @ 52 – heartily seconded.

Schools with over a thousand kids sound horrific. How can teachers get to know the kids, or the kids to know each other? I understand they may seem a good idea for policy reasons, or to pool resources like swimming pools and libraries. But I would far prefer my public convent school with barely facilities for half an hour of sport a week, no library, but where every teacher in the school knew me and my classmates and could tell you at the drop of a hat how well any of us were doing. In truth, it was kind of mediocre academically, we had class sizes of 40, limited subject choice and no central heating. (And I walked 10 miles to school and did my homework on the back of a shovel, etc. etc. ) But there was almost no bullying and odd-ish kids such as yours truly made out just fine.

Tedra, I hope your situation resolves. PK is lucky to have parents with both the resources and the courage to pull the pin out for him.

And as to calling the cops on an unhappy kid – I can’t even begin to parse how stupid and wrong that is. Though it makes me wonder, has there ever been a school shooting in schools of, say, 500 pupils or less?

60

adam.smith (was Sebastian(1)) 03.02.12 at 5:56 pm

Does anyone know if there is any research on whether middle school makes sense as a concept in the first place? I hear all these stories from Americans (and This American Life ) about middle school, it’s awkwardness, the social pressure etc. I may be idealizing my own schooldays, but I remember nothing like that from my school that went from grades 5-13 (German Gymnasium). I certainly would have been a likely target – I was pretty smart, pretty arrogant about that, my parents didn’t feel like spending 80$ on jeans for a growing teenager, etc.
I could be completely wrong about this (and there were, in fact, two suicides of students during my 9 years at the school), and it could be entirely unrelated to the age structure of the student body, but intuitively it just seems like an odd choice to me to separate out students at the most awkward age without the balancing influence of some older peers.

(P.S. I’m with team “rote” on math, too. In addition to the many good things people say above, I’d add that computer coding often resembles “writing out your answers” to a math problem in a particularly schematic way.)

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Marc 03.02.12 at 6:11 pm

@45 – Public schools worked well for my daughter, and they worked well for my son at the elementary level. A charter school was an absolute lifesaver for him at the high school level. If there was a non-charter public alternative with a similar model we would have chosen that. I appreciate Tedra’s point – that a humane system must have room for how children vary so much.

62

bemused 03.02.12 at 6:20 pm

BTW our charter was/is a K-8 school, and enrolls about 300 students. I agree that small size is important, and I think the idea of “middle school” is perverse. In a K-8 school, the older students become mentors to the younger kids, and take on responsibilities within the school that build their independence and skills. In addition, it avoids transitioning kids to a new and unknown environment and new social setting just at the time that their hormones have begun to rage. I truly think the early teen years are so fraught with biological change that it is a wonder any kids get through this time learning anything.

63

SamChevre 03.02.12 at 6:29 pm

to have a school that accommodated … required parent participation

At least here in Richmond, that’s been exactly and explicitly the reason for the opposition to charters–that by requiring parent participation, they’re “”tak[ing] the best and brightest from … other elementary schools where those types of parents are desperately needed, it will have a negative effect on the schools they left behind.”

Delegate Jennifer McClellan

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Omega Centauri 03.02.12 at 6:35 pm

I had one problem kid, who was also probably top 1% intelligence wise. In my case; a public California school in a community with well above average median income, special ed took care of his emotional needs rather well, but left him with fewer academic credentials than I would have liked. He still made it into second tier University where he is getting straight A’s, but academics wise it is a bit of a shame he isn’t in a tier 1 university (where he would be challenged).

Junior high for me was a terrible social disaster (although I did learn some valuable thinking skills). I was never physically hurt, although the threat was everpresent. However, it created a lifelong social deficit for me. The cost can be long term.

65

ragweed 03.02.12 at 6:51 pm

Tedra,
I feel for you and understand the choices you had to make. My daughter has oral-motor apraxia, which is a neuro-muscular condition typified by delays in speech, motor coordination issues, and often reading delays, but otherwise normal intelligence. As is often the case with apraxia, my daughter had receptive language skills in the 95+percentile, and expressive language skills below the 10th.

Our local school district has a special program for kids with apraxia, which involves putting kindergarteners and 1st graders at little desks and drilling incessantly with little worksheets. “We have had to sacrifice most art, music, and phys. ed. in order to really focus on making sure they stay up with reading and math.” There was no additional speech therapy or specialized services other than what is the normal district IEP. It was a mill to try to keep them from dragging down district scores. My daughter is a tough kid and would persevere, but it was the perfect formula for making her hate school.

We were in the fortunate position to be able to put her in a private Waldorf school with a curriculum that suited her much better. I believe in public schools and all the arguments for it, and respect that we had privilege that most kids with similar challenges are not in the same position. But I also couldn’t see putting her through that kind of mind-deadening situation. If we can afford food, we shouldn’t starve our kids because other kids are starving.

(As an aside, we were lucky on more counts than financial – very few private schools, with the exception of a specialty schools, will take children with any sort of learning disability. We were there with the understanding that we had to find ways to provide the extra support she needed, that there was no expectation she would ever be “at grade level”, and that her presence at the school was up for evaluation year-by-year).

Now she (and my son) are back in the public schools, in an option K-8 that has a project-based social justice curriculum and she is thriving. Despite being a natural target for teasing and bullying (awkward, unusual speech patterns, academic delays) she reports that there has been no teasing at all. I wish we had found it sooner, though it is unclear whether the district would have let her go there in Kindergarten.

One of the challenges of parenting – actually with most parts of life – is that we are faced with these conflicts between the needs of our specific children and the changes that we would like to see in our society as a whole. I wish the world were one where every child had access to an appropriate, liberatory education, but until then we have to work with what we have, and advocate for the change we can.

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Tedra Osell 03.02.12 at 6:57 pm

So much to respond to, here.

First, re. math education: of course PK needs to learn to show his work, etc. Right now, though, the struggle over YOU MUST DO THIS has become a huge psychological block that’s related to a bunch of other things, so we’re backing off on it for the time being. Perhaps that is wrong, in the long run, but it is the best I can do. Sometimes with mental health stuff you have to be patient and take baby steps.

Second, re. charters, public, options for other parents, etc. The primary thing this is making me rethink isn’t charter schools, but vouchers, actually. Though as with charters, currently the voucher solutions on offer mean draining the public system, rather than adding options. Which I think is ultimately *the* biggest problem. For instance, our district has *one* school psychologist who travels between campuses–first of all, that means she’s responsible for thousands of kids, which is clearly ridiculous, and second of all, as anyone who’s ever worked with a psychologist knows, if the psychologist/patient relationship is a bad fit (which can be the case for a lot of reasons), that leaves kids with no options. In our case, it’s unfortunately a bad fit, and, as with the math, forcing PK to work with her right now would make things worse, not better.

I think a great starting place would be Ben’s suggestion in #55: to limit the size of *schools*. Obviously there would (still) be the potential, in a school with bad leadership, for individual kids who don’t fit in to become pariahs, as with the lesbian whose school administration cancelled prom to prevent her from attending. But smaller organizations are much easier to change, if change is needed–and I don’t think that limiting the size of schools would by any means be *the* solution. Though it would mean that in most communities there would be a lot more schools to choose from, which is at least a start.

It would cost money, though. And I still think that our biggest problem is the refusal to acknowledge that educating *everyone in America*–because we all go through childhood, after all–is an enormous national project, at least as big as health care or social security, and that we need to invest in it accordingly.

67

ragweed 03.02.12 at 6:58 pm

@ many of the posts above
“She makes the argument that we liberals should actually be supporting some form of school choice, since it’s essentially what we are demanding for ourselves.”

The devil is in the details. Conservative versions of “school choice” are simply designed to destroy public education, not to improve it.

There are versions school choice that do not mean destroying public education. Our school distric has a number of “Option Schools”, which offer alternative curriculum within a fully public-school setting, and are open to any student in the district (though transportation options are more limited). In some cases they are little more than private-school models in the public schools (and some cluster in higher-income neighborhoods with extensive parent fundraising – which is a whole other problem). But it also means there is a small arts-oriented high-school for students who don’t fit into the usual 1500-student behemoth, a couple Montessori K-5s, and both a K-8 and an alternative high-school that are built around a social justice curriculum (much to the chagrin of the school board, who has on occasion been faced with a room full of activist high-school students).

The choice should not be between one-size-fits-none institutional education and privatized charter-schools for the upper-middle-class. Progressive education reform should stress equal access and elimination of disparities as well as a multitude of flexible humanized educational models that treat all students as human beings. Equal access and progressive pedagogy should be hand-in-hand, not opposed, and we should not give up the ground of having a choices over how we and our children are taught to the right.

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ragweed 03.02.12 at 6:59 pm

(1st two paragraphs of above post should be in quote italics)

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parentprose 03.02.12 at 7:05 pm

If PK is out of school for medical reasons, then the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act may apply, and you may be able to get reimbursed for your private education costs.

ADHD is one of the medical conditions that are covered under the IDEA. There’s a lot more info at the cde website

http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/

…but I should add that trying to get services from public schools under the IDEA (or section 504) is an exhausting and frustrating experience.

70

Steve LaBonne 03.02.12 at 7:05 pm

Yeah, charter schools are great in theory. (I did say I used to support the charter movement.) But in aggregate charter schools are, at best, no better than the traditional public schools on which they are parasites; the big success stories are far rarer than the disasters (and tend to be explained in considerable part by the ability to cherrypick students), and the financial damage to some hard-pressed public school districts has been serious. Sometimes pretty theories don’t work out so well in the real world.

Anybody with an interest in the state of US education needs to be following the recent work of Diane Ravitch, who used to be a big supporter of all kinds of education “reform”nostrums that sounded good on paper. The column on Finland to which I linked above is a good place to start.

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Tedra Osell 03.02.12 at 7:06 pm

Ragweed @65: “We have had to sacrifice most art, music, and phys. ed. in order to really focus on making sure they stay up with reading and math.”…. It was a mill to try to keep them from dragging down district scores. My daughter is a tough kid and would persevere, but it was the perfect formula for making her hate school.

This, exactly. And as all teachers know, you *can* do reading and writing and math in conjunction with art, music, even phys ed–but planning that kind of thing takes time, which teachers are no longer allowed to have. Only actual contact hours = work! Again, if we’d stop cheaping out on education, and be willing to pay professionals a professional salary and endow them with the trust and time to do their jobs well, many (perhaps not all) teachers would be able and far, far more than willing to step up the creativity and challenge of the work they’re doing.

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bemused 03.02.12 at 7:08 pm

Sam Chevre 62: I have two sisters who live in Richmond, and a brother in law who teaches special ed in the city schools. From what I hear from them, most parents who can afford to do it put their kids in private schools. The church related school these atheist/agnostic relatives chose were racially integrated in much more than a token way, so I don’t think you can ascribe this to white flight. Maybe public charter schools should be seen as a way to pull such parents back into city schools, because it gives them some control over the environment.

Each states’ charter law is different, but the California school district our K-8 school is in converted all but one of its public schools to charters after the 1998 legislation that headed off a charter school initiative and expanded the number of charter schools allowed from 100. This allowed the whole district to take advantage of various relaxed charter regulations. (The one unconverted school was an artifact of legal requirements mandating at least one non-converted school.)

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Linnaeus 03.02.12 at 7:32 pm

I could definitely support giving parents and students more options within the context of the public school system, e.g. smaller schools, specialized curricula for students who want it, etc., but that’s going to take 1) resources and 2) political will (among other things) and those two in particular seem to be lacking. Not to mention that in a lot of areas, schools serve as de facto social service centers which taxes their resources even further.

As an anecdotal aside, I do have to say that I went through a “traditional” comprehensive public school system and I think it suited me well. I had my ups and downs and certainly had days when school was the last place I wanted to be, but on the whole, I liked school and I liked being in school. Much more so than I liked being at home, frankly. And when I consider how well I do in unstructured situations, i.e. not all that well, the more regimented aspects of my primary and secondary education were probably healthy for me. Just a note to say that public schools aren’t necessarily a soul-crushing prison-like experience.

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Kaveh 03.02.12 at 7:41 pm

The discussion on bullying here is interesting because there are a lot of somewhat contradictory, but very valid points. Yes, it’s good to develop a thick skin against obnoxious people, but no, we wouldn’t tolerate a lot of that stuff in any workplace. It’s interesting that whenever I hear discussions of bullying, people always seem to talk about it in terms of specific acts, or types of acts, not in terms of power relations, whereas it is really only the latter that constitutes bullying.

Children’s play involves a lot of testing each others’ boundaries, including physical ones, and most of this is not bullying. Bullying is at its most potent when a social situation is created where a small act (‘accidentally’ knocking a pen off someone’s desk) can make someone feel threatened.

A lot of teachers I’ve known have a strong ethos of insisting that children work out conflicts on their own, intervening as little as possible, and I get the sense that that’s a widespread attitude. So it’s interesting to also hear authoritarianism being blamed for social problems. If anything, it’s the lack of a certain kind of authority–not a cold, indirect, impersonal authority that (deftly or clumsily) tries to avoid detection, but a direct, personal, visible authority that advertises its own presence and admits its own limits–that exacerbates bullying and maybe other problems too.

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Ohio Mom 03.02.12 at 7:44 pm

Delurking to say, Please do not negotiate with your school system by yourself. Find a professional advocate. You do not know special ed law, you do not know all the progams and options that exist. I mean, why would you? But the school does, and so has the upperhand — and they like keeping it that way.

I’ve been doing this for years and I NEVER go into an official school meeting unarmed as it were. Even if that means just calling and chatting with the staff member at the local special ed agency (with whom I’ve cultivated a long, friendly relationship) on the issues du jour. And I live in a fabulous school district that’s generally pretty responsive!

In my state, parents with children who have special needs (and these include mental health issues) can get free advice about and help with school issues from a number of different sources, among them a state legal aid agency and a mediator program through the state board of ed. There are als0 (pricey) advocates in private practice and attornies specializing in education law. Obviously, I don’t know what’s available in your state.

Yes, finding out what is available means one phone call after the other, endless phone trees, time on hold and being disconnected during phone transfers. As a result, you’re excused from worrying about the state of public education and whether or not you are inadvertantly contributing to its dismantling. Your best source will probably be other mothers with kids who have similar issues to your kid’s. That’s why goggle was invented.

Good luck. Off to pick up my kid now.

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Aulus Gellius 03.02.12 at 8:33 pm

The whole “letting kids work it out for themselves” argument about bullying drives me a little crazy. If we really let kids work it out for themselves, a lot of victims of bullying would work it out by leaving their schools, which is, after all, the obvious solution to being in a situation where the people around you are mean to you. They can’t do that, because we don’t let them work it out for themselves: we compel them by force to stay in school. So having intervened in this huge and important way, it seems a little ridiculous to say that we should stay out of it and let them deal with it on their own.

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K Zhang 03.02.12 at 9:13 pm

Tedra Osell: On math education, I agree with you on the peril of “you must do this”, although it is important not to feel as if the teacher is forcing the students to do useless stuff. This type of thinking seem to be one of the main conflicts between a teacher and the students/parents. A good teacher (not just good in teaching, but good in math) will recognize a student’s individual need. To me, a good measure for a good math teacher is in whether she can recognize good mathematical thinking even if the student gives an unconventional solution. Unfortunately, many teachers are not up to this standard, and resort to very dull methods of teaching. These are serious problems and every effort should be made to improve the quality of teachers. But to me, these problems are not evidence against school education as a format. It would of course be very nice if one has an excellent teacher in a home school environment. But wouldn’t it be a better use of resources to let her teach more students?

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Tedra Osell 03.02.12 at 9:22 pm

Ohio Mom @74: Finding out what is available means one phone call after the other, endless phone trees, time on hold and being disconnected during phone transfers.

Oh yes. It also means being told one thing by one person, then another a week later by someone else, then finding out yet another week later that they were both wrong….

K Zhang @76: these problems are not evidence against school education as a format. It would of course be very nice if one has an excellent teacher in a home school environment. But wouldn’t it be a better use of resources to let her teach more students?

Um, yes? I’m not saying that good teachers shouldn’t be teaching–at all. And the person doing our math “tutoring” is, in fact, PK’s 5th grade teacher, who still teaches 5th grade at his old school.

The best use of resources would be to empower good teachers like this to have some autonomy in the classroom. Which she does, at that particular school–and that’s why she took the job and moved away from the more traditional school she was at before. But the school she teaches at now is an “alternative” (non-charter) public school that survives only by the skin of its teeth, ridiculous amounts of parent volunteer time, and the extreme good will of the district superintendent, who is willing to keep it going despite its being “underenrolled”. Not sure how she’s doing it, tbh.

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JanieM 03.02.12 at 9:26 pm

It would of course be very nice if one has an excellent teacher in a home school environment. But wouldn’t it be a better use of resources to let her teach more students?

Taking myself as a prime example, the answer to this is an emphatic no, you can’t assume this makes sense or extrapolate in this way; sorry, but it is a big oversimplification to think you can. My kids were mostly homeschooled, and I was asked this question more than once over the years. And it was rarely really a question, it was almost always a judgment thinly disguised. But I won’t get started on the presumption, condescension, and patronizing judgment-passing I encountered about homeschooling during those years.

I was very capable of helping my kids with a lot of things, math in particular, but it doesn’t follow that I would have been able to do that with strangers, and it especially doesn’t follow that I would have been any good whatsoever at handling a classroom of kids. Nor would I have wanted to; I knew that about myself even when I was a kid in school myself. I’ve done a little teaching at the college level and I’ve enjoyed it a lot, but I am not effective in dealing with more than a handful of people at a time if they haven’t chosen to be there themselves. (And even that is a big oversimplification.)

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Retief 03.02.12 at 9:58 pm

What country are you all living in that has no workplace bullying in it? And in this economy, how is just leaving really an option if one is being bullied on the job?

I’ve been pretty lucky, but I’ve seen plenty of both real bullying and rough-and-tumble socializing at work. I’ve seen things ranging from one board member making fat jokes about another, to a supervisor screaming abuse at someone, to a boss who thinks fear is the best motivator, to verbal back and forth establishing a pecking order on the factory floor. The practical joking that is common in some professions can also turn to bullying or be taken as bullying. I’m thinking of firefighters here, with which I have some second-hand acquaintance. Wasn’t it here that I saw some discussion of Jennifer Dibbern’s complaints? I’d call her supervisor a bully. Flight isn’t always an option.

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Kaveh 03.02.12 at 10:10 pm

@76 I want to +1 K Zhang’s remark that to be a really good math teacher, you need to understand mathematical thinking.

@75 There is a very familiar kind of ‘laissez-faire’ logic to the whole ‘make them work it out themselves’ ethos, as if children are fully-autonomous subsistence farmers who can always go off and find more land over the horizon. I say I’ve met ‘a lot’ of teachers who are real believers in it, but that really just amounts to a handful, and not all of my teachers had that attitude. Is there anyone here who is in the teaching profession, or well-informed about the profession, that can comment on how prevalent this ‘let them work it out’ approach actually is? Is it a kind of conventional wisdom, something more part of the professional norms that everybody gets told in teaching school (or work environments), or just one of a range of common approaches?

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K Zhang 03.02.12 at 10:37 pm

Tedra Osell: I guess I wasn’t really sure what point I was arguing about before. I wasn’t saying that every tutor is better off being a teacher. I simply meant home school is only applicable to specific cases and should not be the norm. But this was your point to begin with.

What I really wanted to say and did not say very well is the following. The argument that, because a teacher cannot pay attention to every kid, hence the school format is bad, is false. A good teacher is perfectly capable of keeping track of the individual needs of the students, and use her time in the most efficient way. I think the direction for better education would be to make sure every teacher is well qualified in that standard, and I think it is achievable. Emphasizing home schooling as a counter to current low standards of school education seems to be a distraction. But of course, there are cases when home schooling is the best solution.

JanieM: I agree it is an oversimplification, and not a very helpful argument anyways. I respect people’s choice to home school their kids, as it is often the best choice. As a society, I wish we would have more trust in the teaching profession.

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Billikin 03.02.12 at 11:09 pm

Adam Hyland: “But please for the love of pete don’t discount the virtues of rote work in areas like mathematics! Unless you’re raising Hardy or Ramanujan the path to a strong foundation in mathematics is almost invariably through years of tedious work and laborious practice.”

Oh, help! The path to math anxiety and revulsion is through years of tedious work and laborious practice. Galois thought that his examiners were idiots because they asked him to explain how he got his answers. (Not that he was right to do so, but tedium is not the royal road.) John Conway, no slouch in the math department, always makes a big hit when he visits schools because he makes math fun. :)

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Billikin 03.02.12 at 11:17 pm

Pete: “Maths: if the kid can reliably do problems without working, raise the level of problems.”

Absolutely!

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SarahK 03.02.12 at 11:31 pm

I also want to express my regrets for the difficulty your son has been going through. My own experience from public schools suggests that some of these scars can last a lifetime; minimizing them makes good sense. Regardless of whether you continue to homeschool or not, it would be a good idea to check out the HomeSchool Association of California. They have a lot of information from very informed people, including legal counsel, and you can subscribe to their Yahoo Group at no cost. There are definitely homeschool groups in your area.

It’s actually a misconception to think that homeschooled kids are completely shielded from unpleasant social interactions. My own son had some very difficult experiences with bullies in various homeschool groups we participated in when he was young. The thing that struck me at the time was that 1) he did not have to deal with those people every goddamned weekday of his life and 2) because he didn’t have them in his face on a daily basis, we could talk about what was going on and think of ways he could try to cope with it. And I’ve always thought that while it’s true that people can be unpleasant, and there will always be unpleasant people in one’s life, it’s better to have grown and matured and developed some emotional maturity before tackling the problems they present. Why should a bunch of kids, immature themselves, get to negatively influence your child’s sense of who he is?

Regarding math, while I agree that showing work is a good idea, an alternative that I’ve settled for with my own son (sometimes) is to have him demonstrate why the answer that he has arrived at is correct. One benefit to showing work that hasn’t actually been mentioned so far is that when the student is tackling more complex problems, then they themselves may be able to find the error once it is clear to them that the answer they have reached is incorrect.

Lastly, if you’re concerned about demonstrating proficiency with an eye to returning to the mainstream sooner or later, I would recommend participating in STAR testing. I understand that standardized testing sucks, but it’s also a fact of life in our country, and I would bet that PK could ace these tests standing on his head.

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Pete 03.02.12 at 11:39 pm

“letting kids work it out for themselves” argument about bullying

And if you let them do this, then sometimes they try hitting back. Sometimes this works, sometimes it works but gets them in trouble (I suspect this is what happened to PK), and sometimes it turns them into the bully.

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Meredith 03.03.12 at 1:07 am

Perhaps not relevant to PK’s situation at all — I can’t pretend to know enough there and trust everyone responsible for PK just to do their best — and that things will turn out well in the end.
But as for the “rote” concerns. Do terms like “rote” and “mere memorizing” and “discipline” and “practice” and “imagination” and “creativity” tend to get thrown around unthinkingly? With the latter two somehow (and wrongly) assumed to be opposed to the former? In my experience they do.
All children, not least very bright children, will thrive when provided opportunities for exploration and mastery. Memorizing and practicing (sometimes with a bit of tedium involved — if it happens in the right context, it can teach the virtue of “delayed gratification”) are the tools of imagination and creativity, or can be. Without such tools, imagination and creativity atrophy.
Which is not to endorse poor teaching that stultifyingly relies on “rote learning” and uselessly repetitive exercises. Just want to insist that the imagination and creativity are not opposed to some “rote learning,” to memorizing, to sometimes tedious practice.

Also want to agree with ajay (I think it was) way back: an old argument (at least back to the 1920’s and 1930’s) for public education is socialization, that is, different classes, different levels of intelligence or preparation provided by background, different races and ethnic groups. Somehow that element of public education too often gets lost in these discussions.

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Retief 03.03.12 at 1:12 am

they try hitting back. Sometimes this works, sometimes it works but gets them in trouble

Also an important life lesson. “Tell an authority figure” is frequently the advice of authority figures but they often can’t or won’t actually help.

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Donna 03.03.12 at 2:08 am

We COULD have public schools that provide a humane learning environment for all kids if we were willing to learn from other countries.

Sounds great! Finland spends 18% less than the US per student.

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Tedra Osell 03.03.12 at 2:30 am

K Zhang @80: because a teacher cannot pay attention to every kid, hence the school format is bad, is false. . . . Emphasizing home schooling as a counter to current low standards of school education seems to be a distraction.

Oh, I agree completely on both points. And I don’t think that current standards, academically speaking, are “low”–though I think they’re somewhat limited. IMO the specific stuff that they want kids to know at specific ages is quite impressive: I certainly wasn’t doing pre-algebra in 6th grade, as PK is, and I seem to remember his teacher using the word “thesis” in first grade (!).

Where I think our standards are low is in the expectation that everything boils down to test scores, which should improve annually and be the sole or primary method of “evaluating” teachers. And in class/school size. And in thinking that teaching academics doesn’t mean schools need nurses/psychologists/etc, or art or music or libraries; that teachers don’t need prep periods and can’t be allowed to create their own curricular materials, etc.

And no way is homeschooling a viable option. If anything, its apparent surge in popularity with educated/affluent parents suggests, to me, that we *need* (a) viable option(s).

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Sebastian 03.03.12 at 2:39 am

Tedra “The primary thing this is making me rethink isn’t charter schools, but vouchers, actually. Though as with charters, currently the voucher solutions on offer mean draining the public system, rather than adding options. “

This is great, and I completely think you are right. But why is that the case? I think it might be the case because of way we have allowed the school wrangling to play out. Are committed liberals pushing hard for GOOD voucher systems, designing GOOD methods and making it work? No. The only people designing voucher systems are conservatives who get demonized for “trying to destroy our schools”. They weren’t trying to destroy the schools of course. They want good education for students, they just don’t agree with the current methods. The problem is that we have spent so much time demonizing each other that we refuse (not can’t see, actively REFUSE) to learn anything from each other.

“It would cost money, though. And I still think that our biggest problem is the refusal to acknowledge that educating everyone in America—because we all go through childhood, after all—is an enormous national project, at least as big as health care or social security, and that we need to invest in it accordingly.”

I find this frustrating, because it is so horribly out of date. It was an excellent criticism of US schooling in the 1970s, but in the 2000s (especially in California) we spend more per pupil than most Western countries. Only a very few European countries even spend as much as we do per student. It isn’t about the amount of money. It is about how we spend it. It used to be that we didn’t spend enough. Now we have other problems.

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Harold 03.03.12 at 3:05 am

Schools in other countries don’t have to provide health insurance or pensions (in many cases) so naturally the figures are skewed.

In the USA we spend very unequally. Schools on Long Island have libraries comparable to public libraries and gyms with every luxury including weight-lifting equipment and turf covered sports fields. Schools in NYC have nothing but a bit of concrete and spend hugely on special ed. students, some of whom require one-on-one instruction over their whole lives. In my son’s elementary school the principal rented out the schoolyard to an adjacent Yeshiva, on the grounds that if the kids went outside to play he might get sued if they hurt themselves, and told the kids to bring a pack of cards to school at recess.

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Sebastian 03.03.12 at 3:09 am

“Schools in other countries don’t have to provide health insurance or pensions (in many cases) so naturally the figures are skewed.”

What? Schools in other countries definitely provide pensions, and I’m pretty sure they provide health insurance too in states that go through the insurance model (Germany).

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Tedra Osell 03.03.12 at 3:27 am

It was an excellent criticism of US schooling in the 1970s, but in the 2000s (especially in California) we spend more per pupil than most Western countries.

Source? Because I’m pretty sure this misrepresents the truth, which is that school spending in CA has tanked since the 70s. See this pdf: http://closetheloophole.com/sites/default/files/Resources-race-to-bottom.pdf

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Sebastian 03.03.12 at 4:05 am

Official expenditures per student from the OECD

[From your source, California average per student in elementary/secondary education is $8826]

Average OECD spending $7401, average US [10,768]
Various OECD slackers compared to California are Australia [7590], Canada [8045], Finland [7216], France [8070], Germany [7243], Israel [5345], Japan [8012], Korea [6663].

Pretty close to California (though still under) Sweden [8773], UK [8622].

So your link is correct, California doesn’t spend as much per pupil as much of the rest of the US. But it spends more, and in many cases MUCH more than countries with generally excellent education systems. (See especially Germany, Korea, Japan).

I can’t find the historical links, but your criticism of spending USED to be correct compared to other countries. Back in the 70s you would have been right. But it isn’t anymore. Average US spending per pupil is thousands above even VERY advanced countries.

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Sebastian 03.03.12 at 4:09 am

And please don’t make me feel link trolled. I actually went to the trouble to find it with the idea that you cared about the numbers.

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logern 03.03.12 at 4:39 am

We COULD have public schools that provide a humane learning environment for all kids if we were willing to learn from other countries.

Sounds great! Finland spends 18% less than the US per student.

Eh, suppose the variable is that California students are less likely to remain in the same district which could be more true in 2012 than 1970 and that is having an effect on performance. How do you isolate all the possible variables?

For that matter, how does one even know all the possible variables?

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Arwen 03.03.12 at 4:55 am

Standardization. I HATE IT. That is all.

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Harold 03.03.12 at 6:41 am

It is my impression that pensions and healthcare in European countries are generally not paid for by local property taxes but are pooled. I may be wrong, of course. In any case college tuition is generally free.

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Emma in Sydney 03.03.12 at 7:19 am

Harold, as a parent of a student attempting to study at a European college, I can tell you it is not free. At all.

In Australia public education is a state responsibility, nothing to do with local districts or property taxes. The New South Wales education department educates over 700,000 students at a cost of over $11,000 per student. ( I think the figures Sebastian had above might have been for Federal money per student? or averaged over public and private school students, perhaps). As a result, schools vary according to the capacity of the parents to raise extra money, but not in their basic facilities and entitlements. On the other hand, private schools, some of which are extraordinarily rich, also receive public money, much to the disgust of some of us.
My kids have been a to a number of different public schools in Sydney, and have generally had a good and successful time there, so I feel very lucky.

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John Quiggin 03.03.12 at 10:30 am

We thought pretty seriously about the homeschooling option, for broadly similar reasons, but decided against. Our son had some tough times with school, similar to what you describe, but has pretty much put them behind him now. The standard arguments pro-con we went through were
* sooner or later you have to learn to deal with group dynamics that invariably involve some elements of bullying/exclusion, subtle or otherwise, particularly if you are a bit different and unwilling to change too much
vs
* the middle school version of this is peculiarly awful

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Phil 03.03.12 at 11:12 am

We pay for our kids’ secondary education. I swore I never would – what with being a soc1alist and having been to a fee-paying school myself, which frankly wasn’t all that – but when it came to it…

Here are some thoughts I put down a few months ago, in response to some discussion on another blog. The trigger was the publication of the PISA data which showed that, across Europe, the results delivered by tax-funded secondary education were just as good as those of the privately-funded variety. This raised the obvious question: if private schools don’t demonstrably deliver better outcomes, why do some parents pay the money? Exclusivity? Snob value? Networking opportunities? Fear of the oiks?

Or (I wrote), here’s another reason: because we’ve looked at the local comprehensive and we’ve looked at the local fee-paying schools, and – while there’s nothing wrong with the local comp – we think one of the fee-paying schools is the right school for our kid, offering the kind of environment we think [s]he will really benefit from. It’s not that we want our kids to go to Balliol / run the Foreign Office / have Tory MPs for personal friends, or whatever. We’d like them to have the career they want to have – and if they’re all right for money so much the better – but that’s not the point right now (we do know that it’s possible to go to university from a comp, after all). What we want right now is for them to be happy and fulfilled and stimulated & challenged for the next seven years, and not to be seen as “the brain”, “the geek” or worse. We think they’re bright and thoughtful and academically oriented, and we want them to be in a school where those things are valued – even by the kids.

Speaking personally, my partner and I aren’t loaded; we both work part-time (not entirely by choice), and school fees for two kids take up more than half of our joint take-home salary. We haven’t done the big belt-tightening Woe Is Us No More Foreign Holidays thing, though – it was more the other way round; we weren’t having foreign holidays or spending much on ourselves anyway, so the money was pretty much there.

There are certainly some people who want to keep little Justin away from the local oiks; what’s worse, there are certainly some people who spent money coaching little Justin to make sure he got into the Good School, and are spending money now to make sure he can keep up with the clever boys now that he’s there. I wish there weren’t – that is the big problem with academic selection with a price tag. (I wouldn’t be sorry if every private primary-level school in the country closed tomorrow.) But academic selection per se – selection for the kids who want to study Latin and analyse Keats, to keep them away from the normal kids – I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, and I don’t think people necessarily choose it for bad reasons. (Years ago, Colin MacCabe argued for selective state education, with no stigma attached to the less academic branch of the system. Nobody listened – by and large, the people who want selection are the same people who want it to come with stigma attached.)

As for PISA, once you’ve controlled for socio-economic status, home language etc you’re effectively measuring value added – and teaching an illiterate eleven-year-old to read is a much bigger improvement than introducing a literate eleven-year-old to semi-colons. You aren’t always comparing like with like: the fact that state schools are responsible for big advances in the literacy of their intake doesn’t necessarily mean they’d make equally big improvements in the kids who don’t go to them. Unfortunately there’s no way of finding out, short of a controlled experiment.

Mark Steel, he of the crack undercover SWP comedic subversion unit, has a good argument against precisely this kind of what about my kids handwringing –

eventually you’ll hear their catchphrase: “Because you can’t put your principles before your children.”

In other words, you must bring up your children with no principles because the two can’t possibly go together. Principles are things you can have when you’re young, like a gap year. Whereas people like Nelson Mandela are a disgrace for carrying on with them. If he had any decency, as soon as he had kids he’d have dobbed his comrades into the apartheid police and spent the reward money on a chemistry set or a telescope.

Anyway, imagine if poor people took the same attitude, and said: “We had to get Bruno into a decent school, so we robbed the rich house by the park and flogged all their jewellery. We don’t normally approve of breaking and entering, but you can’t put your principles before your children. And we were very ethical about it because we didn’t shit in the wardrobe.”

Not sure how to answer that, if I’m honest, although my immediate response involves three words including “Oh” and “off”. (Touched a nerve, have we?)

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Phil 03.03.12 at 11:12 am

Italics fail. Everything from “eventually” to “wardrobe” is Steel, not me.

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Fall in Queue 03.03.12 at 11:48 am

Emma in Sydney, are you assuming 1 AUD=1 USD? Sebastian’s numbers from OECD are probably PPP adjusted, which means 1 AUD is about 0.7 USD. So 11,000 becomes about 7,7000, close to Sebastian’s figure.

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Rich 03.03.12 at 12:42 pm

Sebastian,

The OECD report you cite includes ” expenditures per student from both public and private sources”. Thus it might be skewed by spending on private schools, but probably not too much. Some spend a lot, but the local Catholic school spends much less per student than the local public school. I spent a few minutes with a search engine and found this report on state spending on public education which gives similar numbers for per pupil spending

http://www2.census.gov/govs/school/09f33pub.pdf

This cite suggests that per pupil spending has risen in the United States since the 1960s, though perhaps it should have risen more

http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=66

This is not my area, and I have no idea if these numbers are trustworthy. I don’t normally comment here, but I have some interest in our subject as we are debating whether to send our son to public or private school.

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novakant 03.03.12 at 2:33 pm

#102

lol, that Mark Steel rant is hilarious

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liberal japonicus 03.03.12 at 2:35 pm

But it spends more, and in many cases MUCH more than countries with generally excellent education systems. (See especially Germany, Korea, Japan).

I would be very cautious about comparing education spending in the US to Korea and Japan because both those countries have incredibly extensive networks of private after-school education (juku in Japan and hagwon in Korea) that would probably send their per pupil expenditures way over the US. This section( from google books) says that spending on juku alone is about $3,150 a year, and home tutoring is even more expensive. It also points out that households accounted for 21% of spending on educational institutions before outlays for juku. Your pdf says that private sources include household expenses such as tuition, book rental and food services, but I don’t think it includes the money that goes to juku and katei kyoshi (home tutoring), because if it did, then the total expeditures without this would be around $3,500, higher than only Chile, Mexico and the Slovak Republic.

Here is a blog post that details how big that industry is in Japan and notes that juku are considered so important that some prefectures actually subsidize low income families. It also notes how many families receive ‘supplemental assistance’. I suspect that these totals are not reflected in your pdf.

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purple 03.03.12 at 3:40 pm

Deleting as obnoxious but saving the post #.

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purple 03.03.12 at 3:42 pm

Deleting as obnoxious but saving the post #.

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purple 03.03.12 at 3:51 pm

Deleting as obnoxious, but saving the post # for the sake of clarity.

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Pete 03.03.12 at 4:33 pm

Deleting, with apologies, since it no longer makes sense and was irrelevant, though provoked.

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Harold 03.03.12 at 6:24 pm

I investigated local parochial and public schools for my older child. The public school was far superior IMO. It was no contest. Our first child also had special needs and the public school accommodated them. I live in an “urban” area and I have great respect for public school teachers, they are real pros.

However, I was unhappy with the trend in both public and private schools here to push academics in pre-school and kindergarten. When our second child was 2 years old I discovered Waldorf education when a friend of mine found a Finnish Waldorf teacher who lived not too far away, and she got together a group of parents to hire her. (We had to pay huge amounts of insurance for out little kindergarten, BTW). Our child spent second grade in public school and then transferred to a full Waldorf School, finished high school there and is now in college.

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Harold 03.03.12 at 6:38 pm

Here are some graphs about comparative expenditures on higher education and privatization in the USA :
http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/zunguzungu-on-privatization-and-brutalizing-campuses-my-favorite-graph-juke-of-the-week-oecd-education-edition/

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Tedra Osell 03.03.12 at 7:21 pm

@95: That is interesting. Context matters, though, and I wonder very much how those numbers would look if one controlled for the US’s paper-thin social welfare system, since we know that poverty is (I will phrase this poorly because I am just embarking on my morning coffee) a, if not the major variable in educational outcomes in the US, across groups. IOW, I suspect that countries with stronger social welfare states probably spend money elsewhere that here, we spend on schools.

The other thing that I know is a huge issue in CA is second-language instruction. CA is pretty unique, even in the US, in the huge number and variety of languages immigrants speak: Hmong, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Mixtec (I read an article a year or so ago about Mixtec speaking immigrants–it’s an indigenous Mexican language), Spanish, Mandarin, etc. I also *suspect* that CA has an unusually mobile population.

In any case, though I do think that there are things to be learned from comparing different systems (including different expenditures), I think it’s a mistake to use either the “they spend less!” or “look at how awesome Finnish schools are!” argument to criticize US schools. There really are major differences–a history of African-American slavery/racism, immigration, less density of population, religiousness, and so on.

Also, I would much rather look at what can be done better and just do it rather than being driven by some arbitrary budget number, you know? We are capable of figuring out what kinds of things work for most students, and what kinds of things are valuable variants, and focusing on what works educationally rather than how much it costs or whether or not it produces good numbers, etc.

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EWI 03.03.12 at 7:46 pm

@ Arwen

To what extent is standardisation made worse by No Child Left Behind and all that? That particular Bush program seemed to me to have three objectives: (i) turning the scholls into sausage factories for industry, rather than being about creating well-rounded citizens, (ii) creating fake ‘metrics’ for education because this helped the case of the private schooling industry and (iii) punishing the poor, just Because.

In Ireland we have the much-loathed Points Race to get into college.

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Anon. 03.03.12 at 8:24 pm

T.O., do you detect any parallels between your (now discarded) views about egoism vs. the public good when it comes to schooling, and when it comes to more general economic matters?

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gastro george 03.03.12 at 9:59 pm

A++ to Mark Steel.

I’m not sure how different the system is in the US than the UK, but surely the problem here is concerns the fallacy of composition. Many a liberal middle class parent will come to the conclusion that the rational decision is that their children should get the “best” education – which is not in the public system. But when you aggregate that, you get a self-fulfilling prophesy, and even more middle-class flight.

It’s notable that some of the best and happiest public system schools in the UK are in small market towns of a size that only accommodates one secondary school – so there is no choice unless you have the money to ship your children miles away each day or board. Then you find that the commitment of middle class parents to ensure little Tarquin gets on helps the whole population.

The backstory to this is really class segregation and fear, the persistent underfunding of the public sector, and misguided educational policies such as testing.

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Tedra Osell 03.04.12 at 12:13 am

Anon @116: Not sure what you mean. I haven’t “discarded” anything, least of all an interest in the public good: if anything, what I’ve come to realize is that the public good isn’t addressed by simply saying “stay in public schools at all costs.” Nor do I get the implied connection between school options and “more general economic matters.” Care to elaborate?

119

Sebastian 03.04.12 at 3:47 am

“In any case, though I do think that there are things to be learned from comparing different systems (including different expenditures), I think it’s a mistake to use either the “they spend less!” or “look at how awesome Finnish schools are!” argument to criticize US schools. “

I agree with you here, but I think it is possible that you’re misunderstanding why I brought it up. I *didn’t* bring it up to talk about how much US schools suck (though I think they have some very serious systemic problems). I brought it up to counter the frame you are using to talk about the issue. [i.e. “And I still think that our biggest problem is the refusal to acknowledge that educating everyone in America—because we all go through childhood, after all—is an enormous national project, at least as big as health care or social security, and that we need to invest in it accordingly.”]

That kind of statement combined with quite a bit of your December post make me think that the frame of your whole approach regarding this topic is wrong, or maybe the more proper thing to call it is ‘dated’. You seem to be making the kind of argument that was going on about US schools in the 1960s and 1970s. At that point in time there was an excellent argument that a lot of what was wrong with US schools was a lack of funding. There was a lack of overall funding (the total level was really very low compared to the rest of the modern world) and a lack of fair funding (the school specific level was very uneven, fucking over schools in poorer neighborhoods). The first issue just flatly isn’t true anymore. Even in the ‘worst’ spending US states we spend more, quite a bit more than peer nations. The second issue is greatly mitigated compared to the 1970s. Big states like California and New York have gone to various schemes to better distribute funding for schools (that is extra-especially true of California where very little of the revenue stream comes locally anymore).

And even charter schools, which you don’t seem to like much, are very much a second choice for most critics of the modern US school system. Vouchers were always a higher priority choice (and it is interesting that you seem to be settling onto them) but there was immense pushback against them from the entrenched system.

And a similar frame can be seen from others in the discussion here, see for example the idea that NCLB was a Bush thing, instead of remembering that it was an important pet project of such noticeable Democrats as Edward Kennedy and George Miller. (And remember that its method of failure was known in advance, Kennedy wanted it to play out a few years and then revisit it by implementing the strategies of the best working schools–something that never happened).

I guess my point is that maybe the part you are wrong about IS NOT the specific question of whether or not progressives should let themselves pull their kids from public schools. You are caught in an old frame of thinking about schools and the questions/battles surrounding them, which led to you to get that question wrong, which was revealed when you had to actually interface with the school system as it exists.

The fact that you are leaning toward the answer *very most hated by the system*, might suggest that your understanding of the system up to now wasn’t quite right.

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Cranky Observer 03.04.12 at 3:57 am

= = =
sebastian @ 3:47 “And a similar frame can be seen from others in the discussion here, see for example the idea that NCLB was a Bush thing, instead of remembering that it was an important pet project of such noticeable Democrats as Edward Kennedy and George Miller. (And remember that its method of failure was known in advance, Kennedy wanted it to play out a few years and then revisit it by implementing the strategies of the best working schools—something that never happened).”
= = =

Kennedy was sucker punched on NCLB; it was clearly designed from the beginning to destroy public schools and it has come (I would say “came” but the pushback hasn’t been strong enough to kill it yet) close to achieving that goal. Kennedy and the other neoliberal supports of that bill were told at the time what would happen but they were out-written and out-strategized by the hard Republican right.

Cranky

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Cranky Observer 03.04.12 at 4:22 am

= = =
Cranky @ 3:57 “Kennedy and the other neoliberal supports of that bill “
= = =

That was poorly phrased. Kennedy of course was a real liberal, not a neoliberal, but NCLB had strong support from the neoliberal crowd.

Cranky

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Sebastian 03.04.12 at 4:32 am

Cranky, I don’t really agree with you on NCLB, but even if you’re totally right, why did Kennedy support NCLB? I think the answer is that he accepted that the reality of the public school problem was no longer just a matter of money. He correctly saw that it was systemically broken in ways orthogonal to the spending of money, and needed verifiable ways of showing how it was broken. He, and other bona fide liberals who voted for it, saw the problem in a frame that was different from the more common frame found here.

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Dan Simon 03.04.12 at 4:34 am

I find that the biggest problem with discussing the quality of the American educational system is that everyone asssumes a consensus on the meaning of “quality”, when in fact that consensus is simply nonexistent. The discussion here in this comments thread illustrates the problem nicely: slipping in every now and again are casual asides that actually betray huge, glaring disagreements over such questions as the proper balance between “core” subjects, like language and math, and more peripheral areas such as the arts, athletics or practical life knowledge; the relative importance of academic achievement vs. “character development”–socialization, moral development, love of learning, and so on; and the relative value to society of raising the achievement levels of the least academically successful tier, vs. raising the overall median, vs. raising the top tier.

This is, I believe, the very root of the problem of education in America. Large, universal systems work best when their goals and means are a matter of solid societal consensus, and worst when they are subject to widespread disagreement. In America, no neighborhood–let alone an entire school district–contains even an absolute majority of residents concurring on the answers to some of these basic questions about the purposes and methods of the educational system.

One result, of course, is that many parents simply remove their children from the public system, and find an alternative private community in which consensus is reached by voluntary participation. Another result is that among those who stay in the public system, none is the slightest bit embarrassed about campaigning relentlessly for his or her particular preferred outcomes–they’re not afraid to buck the consensus approach to dealing with their child, because there is no such consensus approach. In the face of such a cacophony of conflicting pressures, it’s no wonder that the public education system ends up accomplishing very little.

Unfortunately, this is not a hopeful analysis, since the American people are not likely to unite suddenly around a single educational philosophy anytime soon. But I think it’s important to view decisions such as Tedra’s in this context. It’s easy to conclude from her experience that the public system isn’t for everyone after all–but the more important lesson is that by trying to be “for everyone”, in a country where “everyone” is as diverse and fractious as in America, the public school system usually ends up being for just about no one.

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Robert 03.04.12 at 11:11 am

You know, when you were waxing dismissive about home schooling, I thought about bringing up bullying, but decided against it. I’m glad to see you got there.

We need good public schools. They aren’t going to work for everybody. We also need those schools to come down harder and faster on bullying. But in the end some of the cruelest bullying takes the form of disapproval and the withholding of things, not just in the dealing out of violence, verbal and physical. Contempt cannot be prohibited, only certain forms of its expression.

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Anon. 03.04.12 at 12:21 pm

@118

The way I see it, in the past you were advocating that people should choose to be worse off themselves (keep your kid in a public school instead of a better private one) in order to benefit society as a whole (public schools will become better if those kids are not sent to better private ones).

When it came to making the choice yourself however, you rather quickly (and understandably) sided with the wellbeing of your family over that of the public school system and society as a whole. Of course you still think that “as a nation” we ought to do SOMETHING to improve public education. But you or your family not so much.

I am sure that if you take a stroll through the rest of your economic and political convictions you will find a plethora of ideas whose point in the end is that some people should (be forced to) be worse off so that others are better off.

The question is, since you chose contrary to your prior convictions on this case, what other situations can you think of where you would discard these ideas to the benefit of you and your family, and to the (alleged) loss of society as a whole?

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tomslee 03.04.12 at 1:39 pm

Anon. Your insight into the inner workings of TO’s brain, based on so little information, is remarkable.

In particular, you can see that in making a difficult choice to go home-school she “discarded these ideas”. Personally, I take actions all the time that do not sit comfortably with my ideals, but I call this “real life” rather than discarding ideas. It is easy to cry hypocrisy (especially anonymously!) from your no-doubt ideologically pure and consistent mountaintop. Some of us, down in the depths of compromise, who actually have to ask ourselves how much we are prepared to inflict on our children in order to be consistent with our ideals when facing a problem that cannot be solved individually, find it actually courageous that TO has faced up to, and owned up to, this difficult individual choice. Because we’ve all made them. Well, except you, of course.

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Tedra Osell 03.04.12 at 6:31 pm

Anon @125: When it came to making the choice yourself however, you rather quickly (and understandably) sided with the wellbeing of your family over that of the public school system and society as a whole.

I think your reading is ungenerous and unnecessarily personal. FWIW, this wasn’t a quick decision at all, was only made after things had escalated into an unignorable crisis, and PK is still in the public system: he’s on medical leave for the rest of the year but still enrolled.

you still think that “as a nation” we ought to do SOMETHING to improve public education. But you or your family not so much.

We still pay taxes. I am writing, publicly, about the problem, which is doing something. I am continuing to have meetings and communicate with the district, which is doing something. Where my convictions have changed is in thinking that educated, reasonably affluent parents should insist on keeping their kids enrolled in public schools at all costs. I still think that we ought to enroll our kids in public schools and try to make them work until and unless there is evidence to the contrary, which is what I did and am doing, and I still think that we ought all to invest–public money, time, thought, research, resources–in improving the public system because it is ours. And where it doesn’t work, we ought to figure out why, and fix it.

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Tedra Osell 03.04.12 at 6:38 pm

Sebastian @119: Hm. Well, I firmly believe that the thing that changed in the 70s was that integration happened, and as a consequence white flight, including tax revolts and a broad national shift in emphasis from public goods to private “responsibilities.”

Re. NCLB, I have often said (and I think I said here?) that the higher standards for what kids are taught is a great improvement. The problem I see is that we now focus almost solely on standardized testing, that we view test results year-by-year with no consideration of long-term results, and that we use the results to punish schools and individual teachers and to reduce funding, rather than looking at where there might be shortcomings and actually addressing them.

In any case. I’m not at all clear on what alternative framework you’re proposing. Is there a way to look at public education that doesn’t involve at some point talking about where the money is coming from and how much it’ll cost?

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subdoxastic 03.04.12 at 6:47 pm

@Sebastian:

Echoing Tedra, I would be interested in hearing you lay out what you feel the issues/problems are surrounding public schools and how they are orthogonal to issues of funding or cost.

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Cranky Observer 03.04.12 at 7:05 pm

Two points on Sebastian’s “incomes have been equalized across districts” assertion:

First, you are going to have a hard time convincing me that school district income has been equalized between, say, Winnetka and Robbins, Illinois. Just a drive past their respective high schools should raise serious doubts. Additionally direct tax receipts and state payments are only one part of the picture: our local high school’s athletic booster club just raised $2 million for a new football field and a graduate who did well donated the funds for an entire new wing for the language dept and a subsidy to hire a Chinese teacher. And we’re nowhere near Winnetka in per capita income or property value.

However, assuming for the moment that equalization of income has occurred, there’s still a small problem. Our placid middle-middle class suburban school district accepts a certain number of voluntary transfers each year [1] from a local utterly failed urban school district. The transferees are generally not classified as special needs, just kids who grew up in economically disadvantaged and socially chaotic areas of our metro region. By eyeball estimate I would say that faculty and staff expend on average 50% more time and effort on these kids than our local middle-middle class crop, and in some cases 3x the effort.

That’s fine, we have the time and resources (or we did until the Little Depression really started hitting our revenue last year) and for the most part our faculty and staff like the challenge. Point being that the urban district from whence they came doesn’t have the time, resources, and staff to spend 50% more than our average even on their best potential students. And of course those potential best students are now out in our schools, leaving the urban district with an even bigger deficit than before. They would need at least 2x per pupil, and maybe more, just to have a chance of equaling our services. And that’s before the extras noted in my first para.

Cranky

[1] A lot fewer than we used to, though, since no matter how well we do at catching them up to grade level their test scores still have a negative affect on our NCLB rating.

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Phil 03.04.12 at 7:57 pm

surely the problem here is concerns the fallacy of composition. Many a liberal middle class parent will come to the conclusion that the rational decision is that their children should get the “best” education – which is not in the public system.

This is halfway there. As I explained at some length in my comment above, I’ve got no interest in getting my kids The Best Education; I want them to have an education that will suit their particular needs & learning styles, which as it happens are highly academic. This should be good, what with schools being academic institutions and everything, but in practice it can be a very mixed blessing. They were both top of their classes throughout primary school; another seven years of that would have got pretty boring pretty quickly.

There is a problem of social sorting, I’ll grant you – arising mainly from the fact that the only available Freakishly Academic Minority schools trade on social elitism and have high snob value. But what I’m not getting from your comment is any recognition that the aggregate problem may arise from individual decisions which actually are correct, rather than seeming correct or being in line with people’s prejudices. I’m sure my kids would have got a good education in the public system; I’m also sure that it wouldn’t have been as good a fit for them as the educations they’re getting now.

The backstory to this is really class segregation and fear, the persistent underfunding of the public sector, and misguided educational policies such as testing.

And we’re back to square one, with those awful middle-class parents who are scared of their kids mixing with the oiks. Much simpler.

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Cranky Observer 03.04.12 at 8:08 pm

= = = Phil @ 7:57 “I’m sure my kids would have got a good education in the public system; I’m also sure that it wouldn’t have been as good a fit for them as the educations they’re getting now.
[…]
And we’re back to square one, with those awful middle-class parents who are scared of their kids mixing with the oiks. Much simpler.” = = =

For almost 100 years both Chicago and New York City, among others, maintained school districts that provided social assimilation, educational specialization, and high academic standards. I graduated from some of them, as did Ms. Michelle Brown. Yet today it seems such districts can no longer do so [1]. Presumably something changed; perhaps you can help me understand what.

Cranky

[1] Both have survived to a certain extent, NYC more so than Chicago I think. But not Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis, etc.

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Phil 03.04.12 at 10:55 pm

I have no idea what goes on, or doesn’t, in Chicago or NYC. I’ve only been to the States a couple of times, and I never visited either of those places unless you count a stopover at JFK. As far as the schools in Manchester, England, England are concerned, I’ve described my thought processes reasonably fully in comment 102.

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Sebastian H 03.05.12 at 2:18 am

“In any case. I’m not at all clear on what alternative framework you’re proposing. Is there a way to look at public education that doesn’t involve at some point talking about where the money is coming from and how much it’ll cost?”

Of course we can talk about how much it’ll cost. But that isn’t the same as coming at the issue with the [incorrect?] assumption that we aren’t spending enough/committed enough now. It used to be likely that we just weren’t spending enough. Now that we spent the entire 1980s-2000 era drastically pumping money into the system, we might want to start asking if maybe there are other things we need to look for.

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gastro george 03.05.12 at 1:47 pm

Phil @131

No I think I’m with you pretty much all the way. The point about the fallacy of composition is that the micro decisions are entirely rational. It’s the macro result that is disastrous. So public policy should never reinforce the micro, but try to frame policy to wards a better macro result.

Of course getting from A to B is rather problematic, especially politically, and especially in extremely unequal societies.

Apologies if you took the last paragraph personally, it wasn’t meant to be.

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ragweed 03.05.12 at 6:08 pm

re “letting kids work it out themselves.”

Letting kids work it out themselves can be an incredibly valuable lesson, if properly supervised and guided. I know that is a bit of an oxymoron, but true. Social interactions are an area of education just as much as anything else. Kids are no more born knowing how to have healthy social interaction, or deal with difficult ones, than they are born knowing how to read. In my own dealings with my children and their friends, I tend to tell them “you have to work this out in a manner that is fair to everyone.” And then try to stay out of the way unless it seems clear that they need some help. It is amazing how compassionate and thoughtful kids can be when given the opportunity.

Really good teachers can do this, but it is not always fair to expect the typical overworked teacher to be able to. Among other things, it requires a great deal of attention and focus on the interpersonal interactions going on, which is always the big challenge for any class. It is even more difficult when you have a class full of children that come from widely varied backgrounds, with widely varied values around conflict.

“Because you can’t put your principles before your children.”

There is an interesting class dynamic to this as well. I feel that we should not put the well being of our individual children above the well being of all children. But that is, to a great extent, because I am the receipient of much societal priviledge and assume that I, and my children, will have an unfair advantage in life and that social justice requires I work to undermine that advantage. Thus I was always very uncomfortable with the idea of a private school, particularly as it means putting a lot of volunteer work into an institution that, however progressive its education may be, is ultimately elitist.

My partner, who grew up in much less priviledged situation, does not assume she or our children will have an unfair advantage, but assumes the opposite. Thus if you have the opportunity to get your children in a better school, you should do so because you cannot assume they will get anything but shafted by the local school system. She would (has) called my perspective a politic of priviledged guilt, and one that is totally counterproductive to actually changing things.

It is a very different class perspective and one that should not be dismissed. The goal is, after all, that all children get high-quality, liberatory and meaningful education, not that they all get an equally crappy one.

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Dan S. 03.05.12 at 8:38 pm

Sebastian H: “It used to be likely that we just weren’t spending enough. Now that we spent the entire 1980s-2000 era drastically pumping money into the system, we might want to start asking if maybe there are other things we need to look for.

Philly teachers scramble for supplies“, Philly.com, 3/2/2012: “It’s been a good week for Aileene Halligan. The social studies teacher at Kensington Urban Education Academy just got funding for five cases of paper, enough to last her school through the end of the school year.
Sounds like no big deal, right?
It’s actually a major deal.
Ask any teacher, especially any Philadelphia School District teacher, how much money they have to spend out of their own pocket to keep their kids in paper and notebooks and other supplies, and the answer is usually in the hundreds. Or thousands. Halligan, a second-year teacher, has spent at least $1,000 so far this year…

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MS 03.05.12 at 8:44 pm

This is precisely why I was wondering about the hostility toward charter schools. If the school is horribly wrong for your child and they are suffering what do you do?

Most people can’t homeschool or bring anyone in to tutor. You simply subject your child to a miserable situation day after day and hope they survive with a minimum of self esteem and ability to manage higher levels of education they will need to have any sort of decent job–or any job whatsoever.

When the parents are educated and have time to pay attention and/or are not afraid to be assertive in institutional contexts then the kid has a better shot. If the parents aren’t, they have a much tougher road. How many brilliant criminals and their not-very-brilliant sidekicks result from that latter situation I often wonder.

I am very surprised anyone would criticize parents for seeking options when things get so bad for their children. But parents can be incredibly vicious toward one another about the success or behavior of other children. And people who don’t have children assume so much about why one’s children are this way. There is almost no understanding for children with hidden emotional or cognitive disabilities and children and parents experience so much judgment and cruelty on the part of teachers and other parents.

The saddest thing is this is happening to sweet kids, smart kids, kids with potential, kids with disabilities they can’t do anything about, etc., etc.–in short, all kinds of kids with all kinds of parents. Many times the problems are due to cognitive differences that the children are born inclined toward or even hardwired to have.

I would homeschool PK or send him to private school and never look back. Don’t let people guilt trip you. If he is happy and learning it is worth the money. You tried public school and you shouldn’t subject your kid to years of misery simply because public school is so vitally important to our society. Support public school some other way.

@Omega: My child seems very intelligent. It’s hard to say right now as these are early grades. A Tier 2 with straight A’s? I will cry for joy. I’m not saying I don’t empathize but boy the ability to modulate and manage in the school environment (which is probably even *more* stultifying at the college level)–it feels like you’ll never get there if you have a child who can’t master the ins and outs of school. Meanwhile, my kid immediately understood the idea of algebraic variables from reading about them in some comic book but can’t manage the 2nd grade classroom. It’s hard to know where we’ll end up.

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MS 03.05.12 at 8:44 pm

This is precisely why I was wondering about the hostility toward charter schools. If the school is horribly wrong for your child and they are suffering what do you do?

Most people can’t homeschool or bring anyone in to tutor. You simply subject your child to a miserable situation day after day and hope they survive with a minimum of self esteem and ability to manage higher levels of education they will need to have any sort of decent job–or any job whatsoever.

When the parents are educated and have time to pay attention and/or are not afraid to be assertive in institutional contexts then the kid has a better shot. If the parents aren’t, they have a much tougher road. How many brilliant criminals and their not-very-brilliant sidekicks result from that latter situation I often wonder.

I am very surprised anyone would criticize parents for seeking options when things get so bad for their children. But parents can be incredibly vicious toward one another about the success or behavior of other children. And people who don’t have children assume so much about why one’s children are this way. There is almost no understanding for children with hidden emotional or cognitive disabilities and children and parents experience so much judgment and cruelty on the part of teachers and other parents.

The saddest thing is this is happening to sweet kids, smart kids, kids with potential, kids with disabilities they can’t do anything about, etc., etc.–in short, all kinds of kids with all kinds of parents. Many times the problems are due to cognitive differences that the children are born inclined toward or even hardwired to have.

I would homeschool PK or send him to private school and never look back. Don’t let people guilt trip you. If he is happy and learning it is worth the money. You tried public school and you shouldn’t subject your kid to years of misery simply because public school is so vitally important to our society. Support public school some other way.

@Omega: My child seems very intelligent. It’s hard to say right now as these are early grades. A Tier 2 with straight A’s? I will cry for joy. I’m not saying I don’t empathize but boy the ability to modulate and manage in the school environment (which is probably even *more* stultifying at the college level)–it feels like you’ll never get there if you have a child who can’t master the ins and outs of school. Meanwhile, my kid immediately understood the idea of algebraic variables from reading about them in some comic book but can’t manage the 2nd grade classroom. It’s hard to know where we’ll end up.

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Steve LaBonne 03.05.12 at 8:56 pm

This is precisely why I was wondering about the hostility toward charter schools.

The hostility in most cases is directed not at the idea, but at the (great majority of the) actually existing implementations thereof, and the motives and agendas of most of the actually existing proponents. How often does this need to be repeated so that people don’t ignore it?

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Sebastian 03.06.12 at 12:20 am

Dan S. ““Philly teachers scramble for supplies“, Philly.com, 3/2/2012: “It’s been a good week for Aileene Halligan. The social studies teacher at Kensington Urban Education Academy just got funding for five cases of paper, enough to last her school through the end of the school year.”

Here is the thing about anecdotes like that. You clearly want me to believe that this means we aren’t spending enough money on schools. (Though for all I know Philly is the worst place ever). Why couldn’t this anecdote be explained by the idea that we are spending plenty of money, but doing it wrong?

Steve: “The hostility in most cases is directed not at the idea, but at the (great majority of the) actually existing implementations thereof, and the motives and agendas of most of the actually existing proponents. “

Funny, that is exactly what lots of people think about the existing school system. Common ground at last!

142

Salient 03.06.12 at 1:02 am

So, yeah: I’ve ended up in the obnoxious zone where I’m not practicing what I’ve been preaching for years.

…fwiw, I fail to see anything obnoxious about continuing to advocate for greater participation in a massive social-improvement project, even though your own kid isn’t able to participate in without experiencing ongoing suffering. It would likewise be completely non-obnoxious to advocate for parents to enroll their kids in physical sport activities, due to the net benefits this sort of widespread enrollment would provide to society, even if you had to withdraw your own PK from soccer ’cause he has a tear-prone ACL or something.

Why couldn’t this anecdote be explained by the idea that we are spending plenty of money, but doing it wrong?

Sure, there’s no a priori reason to reject that interpretation, and it’s hard to disagree with “we are spending plenty of money, but doing it wrong” — the disagreement’s over what “doing it right” ought to look like.

Funny, that is exactly what lots of people think about the existing school system.

The throwaway line was enjoyable, but too take it too seriously for a moment, I’m a bit skeptical about the claim that lots of people feel hostility toward the great majority of the actually existing implementations of public schools, the greatest IMBY issue of our time.

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SB 03.06.12 at 2:04 am

Right, it was at the idea (which came from people within our community) and yes, it was terrible hostility directed right at those people. Frankly, it was insane. My kid’s in the public school and we probably would never have sent her to the charter school because we don’t want to uproot her from her friends. The reason I was unnerved by it was because it got so ugly and because the kinds of education they proposed probably would have been good for my child and other kids like her.

It was a closed argument: Any charter school is terrible so those posing such an idea must be evil elitists and must be absolutely demolished so no charter school ever comes to this town, ever. The proposed charter was *completely* a home grown thing of local progressive parents and demolished by a wave of fury like I’d never seen. I’m not involved in local politics and I had no fish to fry of any kind. The reaction to these parents was outrageous–they were shunned and barred from local events, for example. The scariest part was that everyone was pitted against everyone else–everyone fighting for crumbs and people were claiming that these neighbors were now a threat to their children’s education.

The city’s schools are not good, to put it mildly. The arguments against the charter were not good–they were deceptive and amounted to name-calling. People had gotten a little innovative cluster at another school and it had been stomped out. That was part of the impetus. They had a project-based learning thing at a local school and they wanted more creative teaching for kids who are withering under the current regime of teaching for the test and who were only looked at as a drag on test scores by local schools, who always have abysmal scores.

Maybe it was a bad idea, I don’t know. I couldn’t help but think this charter school thing is more complicated than it looks though.

It is hopeless for parents to work within the school system as far as I can tell and charter schools don’t seem to work as a larger solution. So what’s a parent to do?

I don’t blame teachers. It seems that the schools are a barometer for our whole winner take all society where we’re all at each others’ throats just for a space to be a cog in the machine and to make sure our kid gets a place somewhere. The testing mania seems like a symptom of that–we quantify everything now. Will a visit to the art museum raise reading scores? Will reading scores ensure a place at a 1st tier university? If not, don’t bother with the art museum for all working and middle class kids–what’s the point? We don’t want them their aspirations to torture them as they toil away in their cubicle (if they get lucky and get a desk job).

I think things *must* have gotten worse since the 70s. I was in an experimental gifted program in my public school. They had programs for artistic talent also. Those things had to have cost the moon–constant field trips, dark rooms, film shops, art supplies up the wazoo. I am sure they spent much more money–we had everything–music, art, PE, home ec, shop, super cheap lunches and free breakfast, a nurse always on call, a school counselor always on call…I was in the economically poorest district in my entire city and plenty of upper middle class people sent their kids into that district’s schools. I am sure half the class was on food stamps (me included). NO ONE sent their kids to private school. I would bet anything that that exact demographic doesn’t do that now. What happened?

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Sebastian 03.06.12 at 7:36 am

“The proposed charter was completely a home grown thing of local progressive parents and demolished by a wave of fury like I’d never seen. I’m not involved in local politics and I had no fish to fry of any kind.”

Union politics isn’t always pretty.

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Jay 03.07.12 at 2:25 pm

The worst part of the managerial/corporate paradigm in schools, to me, is that “quality” is measured as the percentage who meet some minimum standard. A school that teaches 90% of its kids basic reading and math is judged better than a school that teaches 89% of its kids basic reading and math, never mind what happens to the top 50% of the students.

Just remember, adolescence sucks for everyone. Anger at the system is pretty normal for an 11 year old boy, not that you should encourage it. As a former gifted kid myself, I know that he just has to learn a basic rule of life: the world is made by and for average people. It sucks, but there you have it. Corollary: geniuses and idiots both do unusual things, and the system can’t tell the difference between them.

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JaneB 03.07.12 at 7:43 pm

PK is so lucky to have you as a Mum.

My parents couldn’t for various reasons (not least, I was at school 30 years ago in northern England where there just weren’t the options) do what you are doing for PK. I too ‘like being wierd’, love to learn (but struggle with conformity to arbitrary ‘standards’ that don’t make sense), am sensitive, have values I am passionate about – seems to me those things are actually pretty necessary for developing that tolerant, multicultural society and flexible workforce such as the politicians go on about) – school was a nightmare, because I was not prepared to do violence to myself (as you put it so nicely), but at least my parents were loving, empathetic and brought me to the library a lot, so I had some kind of sense that the whole world wouldn’t always be like school. Looking back, I see the roots of all my current issues – an eating disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and depression – in my adolescence, but whether that was adolescence or school I couldn’t say!

But I ended up OK – I went to university, and I found ‘my peeps’, people who would sit up until 3am getting hilariously silly on nothing stronger than black coffee doing a close reading of popular fictions (I still have some of our diagramming of episodes of Star Trek somewhere) or playing around with math just because it was neat. I got a good job and I’m fine and I’m sure PK will be.

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Aidan Kehoe 03.07.12 at 10:45 pm

‘But that is, to a great extent, because I am the receipient of much societal priviledge and assume that I, and my children, will have an unfair advantage in life and that social justice requires I work to undermine that advantage.’

Thanks for that, ragweed; I didn’t quite understand that anyone actually had that attitude, it’s very far outside my individual experience. And, given my own honestly-held beliefs (warning; not very sосial-democratic), ascribing what you say your position is to anyone without them saying so, would feel like constructing a straw man.

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