When we moved from New York City to Madison, WI, I did tons of research on how to pick a place to live. But I didn’t realize that once you pick a city you have to do a lot of research about where to live within that city.

We had never even visited Madison before. We looked on a map. There was a nice park, and if you live in NYC, the idea of living in a rented house on a park is a dream come true. So we moved there.

It turned out that six registered child molesters lived within two blocks of our house. Something you never consider when you live in NYC is that there are places in the United States where renting costs so little money that people who exist on the total fringe of society live in houses.

Nearly all the kids in our elementary school qualified for free lunch. I didn’t think much about this until I dropped my son off late to school and I noticed there was mayhem in the classroom. I looked for the teacher and she was on the phone. Oblivious to the kids. So I went to the principal’s office and he told me there was a girl who came to school with her eye bleeding from a punch and they were calling authorities and dealing with the little girl.

Who could complain about that? Of course the girl took priority.

But the truth is that almost every day there was a problem like that. Multiple kids in the class were living in homeless shelters and they moved each night or lived in cars. (For a great book about kids living in cars—one you should read out loud to your kids—try How to Steal a Dog.)

I started trying to help. One boy, a few doors down, lived with his mom, who was some sort of drug addict. It was hard to tell what exactly was going on in the apartment because the boy told  contradicting stories. But we were sure that there was never food in his house.

I started inviting him over for dinner since he never seemed to want to go home. Then he started saving food on his plate to take to his mom. Eventually I’d just give him an extra bag of food to take home. Then he started coming to our house right after school, for a snack. And then he was just sort of a fixture at our house.

I realized that so much of his energy was consumed with how to find food. So it makes total sense to me that there is a movement to serve kids breakfast at school as well as lunch. Right now kids can go to school early to get breakfast, but we all know that school is too early for kids who already don’t get enough sleep, so asking them to get there even earlier to eat is not working.

There’s a movement to serve breakfast during school instead of before school. The idea is gaining traction, and I support that 100%.

But what will happen is that the kids who do just fine eating breakfast at home will now eat breakfast at school. And this is how school encroaches on family life in the name of supporting the poorest kids. Kids from stable families don’t need to eat breakfast away from home. There is plenty of evidence that kids who eat meals with family are more successful. So it makes no sense to me to take kids away from the family breakfast table if they are already eating there.

This is similar to the fact that kids from educated parents do not need to learn to read in school. Educators know this to be true, but we have to teach all kids to read in school to make sure the kids of uneducated parents get a fair shot at reading.

The list of trade-offs goes on and on. But anyone can see that public school is an effective safety net for at-risk kids. It could be even better if we would use the resources with that in mind. But if we continue to give rich kids equal resources we are squandering public funding on kids who don’t need it.

72 replies
  1. MBL
    MBL says:

    Nailed it!!

    This was true at my daughter’s school with 11% qualified for free/reduced lunch (free breakfast to all–taken to classroom) in a district with 65% qualification.

    Total no child left behind/no child gets ahead mentality.

  2. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I’m really curious now about rich/wealthy school districts and them giving free breakfast and lunches to rich kids. Is there a link somewhere for this? Is it like a trial program in NYC or something? I just picture in my mind, the stratosphere raising their noses to the thought of their kids getting free food. Maybe I need a reality check because I’m in my own little bubble.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Just to add to this… I completely agree with your points… I just got hung up on “rich” vs “upper middle class”. :)

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        I think the rich districts are a small bubble unto themselves. I grew up in one, and I’ve seen crazy in that as well (lots of drug/wreckless deaths)

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          My husband was in a rich district, everyone there had rich parents, not upper middle class…rich. He tells me stories that he thinks are funny, but they piss me off really bad and I tell hi. It’s not funny and walk away. Like the one time at the football game pre-cheer the one side yelled “we have spirit yes we do we have spirit how about you?” And his school replied by taking their wallets out and cheering “we have money yes we do we have money how about you?” I mean…oh my god it makes me so mad. After he graduated they started bussing kids in for diversity, but it’s still an upper middle class school…not rich like when he was there…I’m so mad still about that story.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            jessica, at a minimum it’s tacky…it’s rage inducing for me. I’m hopeful that these antics would embarrass these people today. I wanted to share the story because it shows how unequal public resources are when you have everyone in the mix. Those kids didn’t need a free public education, and a lot of them are surgeons, CEOs, real estate moguls, and PhDs, they would have been fine without public school. Those non-optional tax dollars could have better served the poor kids, but the school system is t viewed as a public service for the needy kids or kids with bad parents. The sheeple believe in their school system and send their kids cause they pay taxes into the system, they bought the nice house in the exclusive neighborhood…it seems irrelevant if they aren’t using the public schools…somehow?

    • Amy K.
      Amy K. says:

      I may have missed something, but I don’t think after-the-bell free breakfasts are coming to wealthy suburban schools anytime soon. I think kids in high-ish poverty schools (or districts, as in MBL’s case) will get after-the-bell breakfast whether their parents have applied for free/reduced-price lunch or not.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I agree, I think that is a good thing. Hopefully it helps these kids because nothing else has worked well across the board.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I grew up in a rich kid school district and when we had breakfast at school we went out to a restaurant for breakfast or it was catered.

      Penelope

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I have been thinking about your very last sentence since you posted and I last commented, because it is really bothering me. If we are going to lump rich kids and upper middle class kids into the same category, which I think we should, then let’s talk about this. Not only are they taking meals from poor kids, if school exists as a public service, but they are also taking the teachers with the specialized PhDs, and technology funding. Rich and upper middle should be able to pay more for these resources, either through private school or homeschool. I want to write an email to someone that this is all so asinine.

        If we change this to a public service, then just keep the school open 24×7 and provide work opportunities or training…

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          I suppose it’s figuring out what percentage of the population is in the group of two (or one) working adults, that send their kids to public school that really could/should go private or HS. It’s that awkward middle/upper middle class group that is still hanging in the school system. So it seems inevitable that PS will become so undesirable that the upper and middle will stop sending kids altogether. Just how long until then is the question.

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            But public schools aren’t like privates, where you have to submit detailed financial statements so they can figure out how much financial aid you qualify for. The only gauge for parental income in the public school system is free/reduced lunch applications.

            47.5 percent of public school kids qualify for f/r lunch nationally. The maximum amount a family of four can earn and still qualify is 44k per year.

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            Those that should/could send their kids to private school don’t even need to bother filling out a financial aid form.

  3. jessica
    jessica says:

    http://www.wbez.org/news/free-lunch-all-chicago-public-schools-starts-september-110447

    this article talks about Chicago schools going all – free this year. It says 90% of kids (holy sh*t) would qualify regardless.

    Further, is there a complete study on just how poor our nation’s public school kids are?! Because if that Stat is relevant cross country then I think we’ve already divided poor/rich…

    We need a better resource program for our country. Public school is such a farce.

    P, can you give a Ted talk about this? You do seem to have every stat thus far to back it up!

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      There is a lot that’s puzzling about this. I’m not puzzled by the fact that 90% of Chicago schoolkids qualify for free food. The demographic of public schools in large cities tends to be skewed poor post-busing. All meals are free in Boston Public Schools as well (prior to this decision, 78% of students qualified for free lunches). They keep the schools open all summer long here just to serve free meals.

      I’m puzzled by the jalapeño sandwich for school lunch. I don’t think that would go over great with a lot of kids. Is that really a thing?

      I’m also puzzled by this: “CPS representatives also says a swipe card payment system will be rolled out for all students in the district by the end of 2014.” I wonder what benefit a swipe card system for 100% free lunch will provide.

      The crazy math in my district means that the district will make money with free meals. The district used to collect about $585,000 per year for lunches. Now, even though the District doesn’t collect payment at lunch, total meal revenue increases by approximately $2.7 million per year. That’s right: free lunch is a profit center for the district. TANSTAAFL!

      The larger point, however, is well served by these statistics. In many cases, the schools clearly function as a social service provided to the poor, paid out of common tax money raised mostly from the wealthier classes. I have no problem at all with seeing a big chunk of the taxes on my nice house going to support poor kids in the public school while I homeschool my own. I also agree very much with PT that I’d like to see the schools own up to this and become more complete social service delivery sites. Our country is unique among developed economies for the size of our impoverished class. I’d like to see more effective help for those folks, and perhaps schools are the most suitable delivery locations.

      This topic is interesting in a different way, too. PT points us to the amount of research she did once upon a time, moving to Madison for the schools. I imagine it was a humbling experience for her, leading to greater skepticism regarding her selection process, as she ended up neither living in Madison nor using the schools. Perhaps those criteria weren’t so good after all.

      In my family, we recently had the opportunity to discuss the selection of domicile as well. My wife was recruited for a very nice job at a good company located in Wilmington, DE.

      Some pluses were seen: housing is remarkably cheap there, by Boston standards! But we’re talking about a place with no notable colleges or universities in the entire state, a dwindling population, rampant poverty, and an ongoing drug war making it the most dangerous small city in the country. If the job at the only eligible employer in the state falls through, you have to leave again because there’s nowhere else to work.

      As PT says, and demonstrates, people aren’t good about predicting what will make them happy. Here’s something that’s more easily predictable: if you live somewhere with more good jobs, your likelihood of having a good job are better. It’s possible we might leave Boston someday, but only to move to another job-rich metro area.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I was just having a discussion about the cons of moving out of CA, especially near Los Angeles. However, my husband gets recruiting offers all the time and it’s so tempting to want to move to a lower cost of living area, but there is always something else that turns me off, like hurricane insurance in Florida, strict homeschool laws (compared to easy hs laws in CA) in Cape Cod, very rural areas like mystic, ct….I’ll just sit tight here for awhile.

        I like jalepenos, my dad eats them whole, but I can see why they may not make a good sandwich for most kids. I had to see what was in the link after your comment, lol!

        With all the tax money wrapped up in public schools, how will things ever change when you have power hungry people in leadership, and a majority of upper middle income taxpayers who don’t really align with our collective thinking about public schools as a service…people don’t want to think of public school as a public service…by people, I mean sheeple.

  4. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    “Something you never consider when you live in NYC is that there are places in the United States where renting costs so little money that people who exist on the total fringe of society live in houses.”

    Penelope, don’t overlook the doctors and lawyers who live in houses who are unregistered pedophiles.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Really, can you be a doctor if you’re a registered pedophile? I have actually spent a lot of time thinking about this, having lived in the midst of so many.

      It’s hard to get a job if you have a record like that, I think. Plus, I’m pretty sure recidivism is like nearly 100% because you can’t really change someone from being attracted to children.

      So I do think there is an inordinate number of maybe very bright but blighted and impoverished careerists living in low-income areas.

      • Zellie
        Zellie says:

        I was thinking of the ones not on the fringe because they’ve not been prosecuted or convicted. But maybe you’re right- in low income areas we have an “inordinate number.” And in higher income areas we have an “ordinate number.”

  5. N
    N says:

    Free breakfast in the classroom is also extremely wasteful — in my kid’s class very few kids eat the breakfast (relatively high SES, parents don’t want kids eating low-quality high-sugar school food), but my understanding is that they have to have enough for everybody, and a lot of it just gets thrown away. Not to mention waste of class time.

  6. Julia
    Julia says:

    So, what you’re saying is that we need to set up schools as warehouses for poor children, to take care of them and keep them contained while kids with resources get the idealistic education offered by homeschooling?

    I get the idea you’re promoting here: school is a public service for the poor, and those families that can sustain a SAHP lifestyle should homeschool. But one of the important reasons we have public school is in theory to level the playing field. If you go ahead and turn schools into warehouses for the poor, that is the opposite of leveling the playing field. Yes, in practice, public schools are not currently helping to level the playing field, but giving up and acknowledging that we should just deliberately segregate the rich from the poor doesn’t seem like a step in the right direction.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Julia, you raise a good point. And you also see what the problem with it is: in practice, public schools are not currently helping to level the playing field.

      So what’s the virtue in continuing to do what we’re doing?

      I don’t see PT’s idea as a proposal to ‘warehouse’ the poor. Perhaps I’m reading my own ideas into it, but I see it as a recognition that free public school could do a much better job of serving the demographic that really needs it. And the presence of the demographic that doesn’t really need it (middle, upper middle class) may be masking its failure to do that.

      We judge our schools by averaging out the kids who are failing with the kids who are succeeding, and the kids who are succeeding by and large would have done just fine without going to school. The more such kids there are, the better we say the school is. But it’s not, not for everybody.

      More people choose to move to the district, because the schools are “good,” property values go up, poor people move out (taking the kids who weren’t doing well in school with them), the schools magically get “better,” and the kids who need school the most get clustered together in the schools with the least resources. In districts with a lot of poor kids, like the cities, almost all upper-middle class people private school or homeschool, leaving public schools that are like a big poverty cake with a little frosting of privilege.

      It might not be _deliberate_ segregation of the rich from the poor, but that’s the effect of the system we have right now.

      Maybe it would be better to stop pretending that what we have now is fair and equal, look it in the eye, and figure out what would help most those who need it most.

      • Julia
        Julia says:

        Yeah, but saying “public schools are a social service provided only for the poor” is the surest way to gut what little resources and standards public schools do have.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          It is. And hopefully those that are educated don’t ‘gut’ the resources. Hopefully these discussions aid in changing that limited and hindering perspective that continues in will full ignorance to propagate more of the same. If the resources we have for public schooling were put to better use for the under served class, we would be more empowered as a nation.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Little resources? The upper middle class district I’m in has vast amounts of resources. These schools and campuses are ridiculous. Do you know how hard it is to look at the amazing campuses in the hills where I live and know that because I’m “raging against the machine” my kids won’t be going there. The middle school up the road, in the hills, where you can feel the ocean breeze is full of resources. This is what we are talking about here. Taking these resources from kids that need them. I’m not sure how else to explain it if you can’t understand what we are talking about.

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            I get *why* people here think it should happen, but don’t understand the details of *how* it would happen. Presumably, someone would run for president with this as their platform, and s/he would have enough support in Congress to make it law. Except, if you ascribe to PT’s view, there would be no hard criteria for school attendance. Parents would self report their need for it.

            So, I’m guessing that lots of families in your town love or at least like the schools. Why would they vote for a candidate with that platform? Out of a sense of largesse for the poor?

            Also, if it went through without the support of the wealthy folks of your town, why would they not simply self-report a need for public
            school and carry on as before?

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            Amy, I see the ‘how’ as more of a gradual thing. Two basic changes need to happen:
            1. Schools need to be used for more than schoolteachers teaching classes.
            2. Parents who use schools need to be able to use them cafeteria-style, for what they want and no more.

            If those two norms can be reset, then the schools can move down the path of offering more complete services for those who need them, and parents capable of taking care of their kids can move into an intermediate situation blending homeschooling and school-based classes. Those processes would inevitably lead to a better allocation of resources.

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          Julia, you’re quite right, just as you were in your original comment.

          I can imagine a solution to the problem you identify: the schools could stop being just schools and become resource centers that serve the whole community. As soon as classes end, at 2:50, the school is locked down for the night. Right now, kids of all types get a variety of different services outside the school and outside those hours.

          For some kids, a community resource center might mean three meals a day plus classes all day long. For some kids it might mean equipment loan for off-campus groups. For some kids it might mean group sports time. Maybe there could be a homeless shelter there for other kids. Classrooms could be rented during the evenings to private tutoring services.

          As it is now in many communities (such as mine), few middle-class or upper middle-class (let alone rich) people have anything at all to do with the public schools. Part of the reason for that is that schools are an all-or-nothing offering. Either you go to school there all day long or you’re trespassing.

          Folks of a certain class just tune out when public schools are brought up here, perhaps a little tut-tutting. If there were something there for them, anything, it would increase community engagement.

    • Amy K.
      Amy K. says:

      And why wouldn’t wealthy suburbanites just send their kids to private school? Surely, in a restructuring of public schools, many new privates with glossy marketing would pop up to fill the void.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        It’s not easy to build a private school overnight. I’ve been following a private school called The Open School in Orange County, CA for awhile now, and they are estimating an opening date for Spring 2016. There is a lot that goes into creating a viable private school, lots of hurtles to get over and fundraising goals to meet at various benchmarks. Even if these schools pop up there is no guarantee they will be successful. In the interim, maybe people will give homeschool a try, then maybe they will see they never needed school to begin with.

        • Amy K.
          Amy K. says:

          “It’s not easy to build a private school overnight. ”

          Right, but that’s now, when public schools in the suburbs are filled with wealthy kids. I see it as a basic supply/demand issue. VCs hot to make some money off the newly excised-from-public-school kids would find a way to make some swank schools quick.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      But aren’t schools currently warehousing *all* children until they turn 18? Isn’t this the point of school now?

      The only proposed change is that needy children would receive better resources because middle class and upper middle class don’t need school, so the focus could go to those kids in order to actually level the playing field.

    • Hannah
      Hannah says:

      I completely agree. Segregating poor kids is not the answer although this is the most difficult problem to solve.

      In general, social services aimed at children should not be about filling short term needs, but rather breaking poverty cycles altogether. I have a few suggestions that I am putting in a comment later on.

  7. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    So interesting, this discussion. So difficult to ‘fix’, i.e. figure out how to take a child from a low-class family and end up with a professional, higher-class adult life.

    Even with a ton of funding from public schools, it is a nearly impossible task. And that is the problem, schools keep trying to ‘close the gap’ and all. But kids do what their parents do, even being at school 8+ hours a day, a parents influence is still astronomical.

    A kid has to start realizing that the way their parent leads their life is not working, and they need to do things differently. And how on earth can anyone do that? Is that even moral?

    Sure there are exceptions, I call those people high-class, but poor. And those are far and few between.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      The root of this is about empowering not just children, but the families and parents. Lower class depends on a system that does not provide many resources and it’s obvious our school system is a dysfunctional social service.

      As for can people change from the ways their parents went IF given the opportunity? Sure, it happens all the time. It’s through education and exposure that this happens.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      So true. The thing is, a lot of us here have good intentions and even though maybe I think taxes are “evil”, maybe in this case even I would be ok with keeping the same amount that we pay going to a *real* public service. I’m not an advocate for throwing piles of money at people especially when the results aren’t ideal.

      But every time we talk about how school is irrelevant you get a commenter or two asking “what about poor kids who can’t homeschool?” or “what about kids with horrible parents and can’t homeschool?”.

      The alternative seems to be to keep traditional school available for these kids. But lets not pretend that education happens here, the way it currently is set up.

      Now you’ve make this profound statement that is really the heart of the matter. “But kids do what their parents do, even being at school 8+ hours a day, a parents influence is still astronomical.” And isn’t that the truth here?

      I don’t know how I can morally justify “the state” taking care of kids and becoming their bona fide parents, but it seems like if we kept all the $$$ the same, you would have a smaller group of kids that this money goes to and gives them even more resources then they ever had. I feel like if this can break the cycle, then maybe for a generation, it’s worth it because the cycle would have been broken. This seems so much more philosophical.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        That’s the other thing- politics. Fundamentally, conservatives should not have their kids in a government sponsored system to begin with, but I digress. This maybe also the core of the issue- should the government be providing schooling at all then? Does it need to be fully privatized? This is a lot like the healthcare debate (all in or all out would be much more efficient model than what we currently have).

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          In my extended family we have many members who are very conservative, card-carrying NRA members, who send their kids to…public school. I’d like to point out the inconsistency to them but I don’t want to get assaulted. :)

  8. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    The institutionalization of meal times makes me extremely sad, and I was blissfully unaware of it until I moved to Raleigh.

    Two days after moving here, our stuff had not arrived from Minneapolis, our AC broke (100+ outside), and my husband had our car for the day. Since we hadn’t gotten Wifi set up either, I walked with my newborn son to the library to rest in the AC while getting our new life set up.

    I was obviously a hot mess when I arrived, and to be honest, I probably looked like a teen mom to the librarian who took it upon herself to give me pamphlets about all the social services in Raleigh.

    It turns out that kids in Raleigh (age 0-18) can start lining up for free breakfast at the community center on summer mornings. I was very hormonal at the time (having just given birth), but seeing this made me cry because lining up for food makes me think of the footage that I see in refugee camps, and I can’t help but think that we should do better than this.

    I’ve tried contacting the community center director a few times about an idea of converting free meal time into cooking class time, but to no avail so far (logistics would be pretty overwhelming).

    Teaching kids that food comes from waiting in lines is just the worst possible outcome in my opinion.

    These are my ideal objectives for public education (actually these are pretty close to my own goals for parenting as well):

    1. Teaching kids how to shop for and prepare food as a part of their daily and weekly routines (including how to make healthy choices).
    2. Basic financial training from a young age (such as how to plan to pay your rent and for your groceries, and how to stay away from payday lenders).
    3. Teaching kids how to set and achieve goals
    4. Teaching older kids how to network and why its important.
    5. Giving visibility to healthy adult relationships.

    • katkins
      katkins says:

      “Teaching kids that food comes from waiting in lines is just the worst possible outcome in my opinion.”

      For sure. The intentions may be good, but so often we fail to notice what lessons the kids are really learning.

  9. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    Commenter, I’m unable to reply to you above.

    How would your changes come about, politically speaking?

    I’m on Cape Cod now, visiting family. The schools here are fantastic–small classes, just tons of support for special needs, great facilities, amazing sense of community through isolating winters, etc. Why would parents who love these schools want to move to homeschooling, whether full or part time?

    Also, just sayin’ and I’m sure you would agree… most poor people in need of services at school or beyond “take care” of their children beautifully.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      Yes, the public school we go to is great, too, and only 18% get free or reduced lunch. My kid eats breakfast and dinner at home and always will. You all can homeschool if you like, but please don’t toot off stupid “proposals” that only “poor” kids should go to public school. I moved here and pay taxes to fund our great schools. That’s how it works. I’m not taking resources away from anyone else. Resources are squandered and families aren’t doing their side of the bargain at home in other communities. Families and schools CAN and do (in good communities) work together for the benefit of their kids.

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        PS…and my kid eats lunch packed from home. Quite frankly, though they do education well, they don’t do food to my standards, or what my kid likes to eat. The food served actually appears to be fairly nutritionally balanced (I eat with my child once a week in the cafeteria and see the food) but it’s just not all that appealing and we are vegetarian.

      • Amy K.
        Amy K. says:

        “families aren’t doing their side of the bargain at home in other communities. Families and schools CAN and do (in good communities) work together for the benefit of their kids.”

        Gretchen, I’m a homeschooler who’s generally with you–I think people should just do what works for them and leave it at that–but why the need to demonize poor people? I worked at a low-income school last year. The children in my special-needs preschool were cherished by their parents and extended family. But, the parents just happen to work the drive-through window at Arby’s, or the register at the dollar store. Their focus was paying rent and putting food on the table [which is actually not possible without SNAP and free/reduced lunch on minimum wage, but that’s another story for another day], not organizing the PTA or town educational foundation.

        • Jennifa
          Jennifa says:

          I don’t think Gretchen is demonizing poor people, she is just pointing out a reality. It is very difficult to help people make permanent change. No amount of money thrown at some folks is going to help them. It is a mind-set.

          • Gretchen
            Gretchen says:

            Yes, thank you. A person does not have to be poor to believe in the value of public education. But, we all know the school can’t do it all. It has got to be a partnership. I can’t answer for the drive-through worker or other low-wage parent. Personally, I was on my own since 18 and when I got pregnant before I was done with putting myself through college and I was not yet married, I had an abortion because I knew I was not ready to be a parent, and so, I have only a certain very basic level of sympathy for those who choose to have children before they can adequately provide for them. Another thread, though, I know…

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Amy, the threads max out.

      I don’t see the changes coming about uniformly. We don’t have a federalized education system here (despite the best efforts of Bush and Obama). I see the changes happening piecemeal and locally, starting with demands from two directions – from kids who need more than schools can provide and from kids who need less than schools can provide.

      As an answer for your perception of the school in your family’s town on Cape Cod, I assure you that not all the families in town love the school, no matter how rosy it seems from the perspective of your family.

      There are almost certainly children in the catchment who homeschool. One cape cod homeschool group on Yahoo has 455 members, and dozens of messages monthly. Those children would probably like it if they could use some community resources currently closed to them. Being able to use school resources cafeteria-style would support homeschooling and could free up wasted resources for those who do need them.

      Poverty is also a big problem on Cape Cod, and there are many families who would benefit from more services than the schools currently offer. There are very few year-round, good-paying jobs on Cape Cod, high unemployment, and a high rate of poverty compared to the rest of the state. These days even the seasonal jobs are being taken by Eastern Europeans on “tourism services student visas.” There are more than a thousand homeless people living on the cape – hundreds of them living hidden in tents – and hundreds of homeless children.

      In terms of “taking care” of children, I don’t mean it in a value sense, I mean it in a logistical sense. For many people suffering in poverty, taking care of children is difficult or impossible. Jobs are unrelenting, lengthy, multiple, unpredictable, and vacationless, and child care is expensive.

      If the single parent or both parents of a Cape Cod kid has to drive off-cape to find work, they _can’t_ take care of their kid during the day. If the parent shuffles between three food service jobs, she can’t take care of her kid – someone else has to. Those are the parents who need school the most, and they need more from it than they’re getting. Jobs don’t last six hours a day like school does, they last eight or ten. Add a commute from Barnstable to the Boston Metro area, or job schedules that change every day, and you need someone else to take care of your kid twelve hours a day.

      I assure you that, right in your family’s town, where the school is fantastic for them, there are homeschoolers who will never darken its door, as well as desperately poor children who are going home to an empty house with no food, or to a homeless shelter.

      Schools could serve communities better by better meeting the needs of more people in the community. If schools could offer something besides a one-size-fits-all education program to local families, people who wouldn’t otherwise homeschool would take advantage of it. Resources could then be freed up to meet the unmet needs of others. The definition of community could be expanded to include groups who don’t currently interact much, and perhaps everybody would benefit from it.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I like the idea of “community” for schools instead of being a trespasser because my kids are not enrolled. I like the way you are putting things in context here.

        I didn’t always live in this nice upper middle class neighborhood, this is a move up for us. I have to tell ya’ that it hurts a little that I’m not using these resources. Like, maybe even just the art and music classes would take care of our needs, because I don’t need my kids to be warehoused all day in classrooms. Sigh.

      • Amy K.
        Amy K. says:

        Commenter, I certainly agree with you that changes would happen incrementally, at the local level. Some states already allow a la carte access to schools.

        I’m well aware of Cape poverty–my mom’s heavily involved with ministries at her church. Unfortunately heroin and meth are scourges here as well. But schools on the outer cape spend upwards of 20k per student and my mom’s many young friends tell her that they deal with the tough weather and the seasonal employment in order to send their kids there.

        If parents’ working hours are so unpredictable the pay so low that multiple jobs are needed, wouldn’t it be better to advocate for that to change so parents of any strata could spend time with their children? Starbucks recently got called out for not giving their employees their schedules far enough in advance.

        I really enjoy these discussions. I don’t think you can talk seriously about ed. reform without tackling so many other societal issues.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I wish CA was that way. But because we are considered a private school according to the state we can’t attend public school. It’s not like where other states recognize homeschool and let those kids attend a few public school classes or participate in sports like Florida.

          I like when PT talks about family, because that’s what this is all about. How many times have we seen her links showing how working mothers would rather work part-time so they can spend more time with their kids. Need to shift thinking to more flexible options for working mothers. I can’t claim to be an expert on how this can be accomplished, but I know that family is important and most people agree with that. Where we run into disagreements is how it’s accomplished and out if affects our economy.

          I like when you chime in because you get us thinking about this stuff.

        • MBL
          MBL says:

          Okay, I understand that economically it wouldn’t work out in an apples to apples way, but isn’t it interesting that the educational cost for 2 kids, 40k, is right at the amount needed to raise a family of 4 above the poverty level? And that is without either parent working.

          I had in mind the figure, I think around 7k, that schools actually get per student enrolled and thought 20k sounded crazy. Well, with all of the admin and infrastructure costs, Minneapolis spends 22k/student. Awesome! With a graduation rate of under 50% or so.

          If we actually did trust families to raise their children, we would just give them the money, a computer, and internet access. Seriously, (using a simple 6.5 hour day) we spend $18.80 per child, per hour for childcare with a 30:1 student to teacher ratio?!? So that is $564.10/hour for the class of 30. I’m just having fun with numbers now, but if all of that money went to teachers, it would be a salary of $660,000 per year.

          Around here a personal tutor is about $20/hour. Hmmm, a 1:1 ratio in home, so no overhead for buildings.

          I think I’m going to be sick. Wow!

  10. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    I love where all this is going.

    I’ve always thought the kids should tutor each other more, older kids helping younger ones, and peers helping each other. I think the kids would enjoy that, on both sides, and also enjoy time together without an adult hovering about. (I am talking about within public school walls though.)

    As far as schools doing more, they are trying. Last year at my neices chorus concert the songs they sang were, “Drink more water”, “Develop good habits like going to bed on time”, and “Get up and exercise”. I kid you not, those were the songs, for 5th graders. The whole 5th grade chorus shouting this back at a roomful of soda-drinking, TV on in the bedroom all night, couch-potato parents. I thought it was awkward, but looking around, I heard no grumbling.

  11. Grace
    Grace says:

    Another point to consider here is that the quality of any school is highly dependent on parental involvement. The parents at my childrens’ public Montessori school put in thousands of hours of volunteer time to make the school the wonderful learning environment it is. Removing students with highly motivated parents from public schools will not help to improve school performance.

    • JA
      JA says:

      This is really good point. Before we started to homeschool my son went to two different public schools. The first one was in a middle/upper middle class area. The parental involvement was very high, competitive almost. If you wanted to volunteer, you had to get signed up early because the Room Moms hoarded the volunteer positions. These women never left the school. A year later we moved a town over and it was very different. The teachers had to beg to get parents to volunteer at school and class functions. I went to a lot of them and can say first hand that more than a few teachers had to throw class parties on their own. I know class parties as a example is a little silly, but it was a symptom of a bigger problem in the school. The parents were not there and the teachers were acting as surrogates.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        I think we just need to call a spade a spade here. Fortunately most of us in this forum live in these ‘exclusive/parent participating’ communities and if we don’t, we have access to exclusive private schools if we wanted. We have choice and time.
        We are the minority.
        Regardless of class size and parental involvement, I’ve noticed I don’t value what those parents value (and trust me I was PTA VP). In most of the circles it’s more about what’s good for the parent than the child (competing for volunteer hours, who can throw the better party, who has power…). Very little of it has anything to do with Education, the supposed point of school.

        Sure change takes time, but at the same time I’m willing to recognize what got all of us here today will not get our children to the same place and or better if we leave them in the same time sucking out-dated system that built a middle class. We as a society economically have moved beyond the rank and file formula and in 20 years I don’t want to have done a disservice to my kids when things will be vastly different in terms of employment and class.

        Don’t get me started on a large crux of the overall problem, women’s rights…

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        It’s interesting to me how people mean different things when they talk about “parental involvement”…I’m grateful for the PTA types, on one hand, though I am not one. I think a lot of what they do is fluff. When I talk about parental involvement, especially in in the context of whether public school kids are learning or doing well, I mean things like reading to/with the child, making sure they’re fed nutritious food, they’re well-rested, they don’t watch too much TV, they do their homework, engaging in edifying activities with them—all these things that are “the basics” (one would think) to caring for a child that somehow “the poor” won’t do… The PTA stuff is just the icing on the cake and I’m not sure how much it matters because, like was mentioned, it’s more about class parties or getting certain supplies for the school…

        • Amy K.
          Amy K. says:

          Gretchen,

          You’re right that ideas about what constitutes “parental involvement” means within the school setting. To me it means $$$ and to a lesser extent, volunteer hours.

          Here in CA, many towns have educational foundations, which supplements parcel tax and state revenues. Manhattan Beach asks all families for something like $1500. Annual revenue appears to be around 12 million.

          At my kids’ former school, PTA had nothing to do with class parties. Funnily enough, it was often the lower-income, non PTA members who plied the kids with food for parties. PTA was all about replacing programs that the district couldn’t cover. We paid for art and music classes, and volunteers ran the library. Sad that the district couldn’t cover those things, but there you go.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Yes and no, Grace. I know a lot of schools in this country run on the model of heavy parental involvement. Most of the public schools I know count on it for additional funding. There’d be less music, science, classroom supplies, etc. without parental involvement.

      As Gretchen and Jessica point out, however, a lot of parental involvement in schools just makes the parents feel better about themselves – it doesn’t really improve education for the students. A great deal of the extra money spent in schools is spent on foolishness.

      A quality school can also be created and maintained without parental involvement in the school. I’ve been enjoying reading _The Smartest Children in the World_, and I was surprised to learn that parents play no role whatsoever in Finnish public schools, which are widely hailed as the best in the world. They don’t even have parent-teacher conferences. They spend far less on the schools than we do, and have a much higher student-staff ratio.

      Many of the schools to which our wealthiest and most accomplished citizens send their children also have very little parental involvement.

      Sometimes I see “parental involvement” used in a way that seems like code for “not poor.” In our country, with its broad gulfs in socio-economic status, standardized tests results track SES more closely than anything. The kids who score high on the tests would do just about the same on them whether they were at public school, private school, or homeschooling. Congratulating stay-at-home parents of upper-middle class kids for their “high parental involvement” in schools as if that is an important factor in the test results may be confirmation bias.

      • Amy K.
        Amy K. says:

        Sometimes I see “parental involvement” used in a way that seems like code for “not poor.”

        Totally agree. And unfortunately, “poor” seems like the growth sector of the populace. Low-income jobs fueled the last recovery, right? Home healthcare workers, Walmart employees, motel maids, nursing home workers.

        As for Finland… ah yes, Finland. That’s the ultimate one-size-fits-all approach. There are no private schools in Finland, virtually no homeschooling, certainly no charter schools. But very little poverty as well. So the newly arrived Somali immigrants get the same exact education as everyone else.

        I don’t know. I have no answers. It just seems like compared to other countries, we have way more options. And is there a country with a MORE robust homeschooling culture that the US?

      • MBL
        MBL says:

        What I remember the most from the Finnish section of that book is that credentialing to become a teacher is hard, competitive, and prestigious. This leads to the students respecting what they have accomplished in order to have the position.

        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          What struck me most in the Finland section was the student asking her Finnish classmates “Why do you care so much?”

          The Finnish kids care so much because it’s serious: the Finnish teachers are serious professionals, they do serious work, and they treat the students like capable adults. The idea of that – and the idea that such a paradigm should be so different from her (typical) experience in school back home – is stunning.

          School in America is, in comparison to Finland, a joke: so many teachers are the farthest thing from serious professionals, the bottom of the barrel intellectually, just superannuated children who never reached escape velocity, that the idea of a kid taking them seriously is ridiculous. Schools have to literally confine students, with fences, armed guards, and patrols to get them not to just walk off during the day, because what goes on in class is so trivial and insulting to their intelligence all they want to do is escape.

          Students in America see school as a silly game because that’s what they’re given, a series of silly games played by school boards, educational consultants, teachers’ colleges, principals, teachers, guidance counselors, all the way on down.

          We have a vicious cycle here: diploma mills churn out the dumbest kids to go to college as certified teachers, jocks teach math because they’re the only men on staff, curriculum is dumbed down, micromanaged, and churned through fad after fad and test after test. The most interesting thing a kid can do in school is rebel – phone in your scores, break the rules, get away with whatever you can Ferris Bueller style, or Fast Times style. It’s become a generational tradition. The student attitude and the school attitude feed on and support each other. Why take the other seriously when he doesn’t take you seriously?

          In Finland they have a virtuous cycle: serious teachers take kids seriously. They provide interesting content, maximum freedom, and good role models. Students respond by taking their teachers and their studies seriously.

          I honestly see _no_way_ to change our school system to resemble theirs. Our school system, and our society, is too corrupt. We could try to pass laws (and we have) to make teachers’ colleges stop being diploma mills, or only certify the most highly qualified as teachers, but the unions, the colleges, and the donation-greedy politicians shut down those laws every time. There is too much money being made by too many people with the system the way it is – a perpetual state of crisis – to really change it from the top down.

          The only hope for any real change here is to make school voluntary and cafeteria-style, and have large numbers of kids opt out. Schools would then have to compete with parents, coops, and tutors by offering something worthwhile to bring those kids back in.

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            As mentioned, some states already offer cafeteria style, especially vis a vis high school sports. That makes sense, because football at the high school level would be impossible to replicate within homeschooling. So presumably some parents pressed their districts and/or states to let their kids in. Tim Tebow, right? And then some states took it further and extended other elements of traditional school to homeschoolers.

            I agree with you that this would happen locally and incrementally. But it’s not going to happen without parents pressing for it. Parents have to want it, push for it, demand it.

            I’d love to know how many parents avail themselves of a la carte school where given the chance. I believe Iowa is such a state. Increased driving for short classes would be a drawback. And lots of people work while their kids are in school and are unable to chauffeur their kids to cafeteria style offerings.

  12. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    It seems worthwhile to attempt to define how social services for children generally differ from social services for adults.

    I would say that society as a whole has taken on some obligation to provide a safety net for adults which is how we approve taxes being spent on things like army, social security, WIC/EBT, and Section 8, as well as local police force, etc.

    We also have taken on a similar obligation for children with the additional caveat that children need additional protection, and direction to grow up into productive members of society.

    Many parents can provide the protection and direction for their children without funding from the state, whereas other children will not receive adequate protection and direction without intervention.

    Schools today do a pretty good job with protecting children while children are in school (please excuse me while I abstract away from school violence and bullying), but we spend a lot of resources protecting kids who don’t need to be protected. Additionally, we don’t do a great job protecting at risk kids when they are not in school.

    On the other hand, schools do a fair job (at best) directing kids (by that I mean helping them learn things that are valuable in their life), but we spend a lot of resources directing kids who could better be directed outside of a school setting.

    By adding more stringent measures for the kids who receive social services, we might be able to offer better and more protection to the kids who need it most, and better direction to the kids who need it most. School or children’s social services can be treated quite differently than social services for adults, but this argument obviously doesn’t address a horrible political battle not to mention how to actually implement the changes.

  13. MBL
    MBL says:

    This is an in general and not directed at the poster in particular.

    At first glace I agreed with “things like reading to/with the child, making sure they’re fed nutritious food, they’re well-rested, they don’t watch too much TV, they do their homework, engaging in edifying activities with them—all these things that are “the basics” .”

    But then I started thinking–whoops. If schools are doing what they purport to do then after 6-7 hours of school, homework should not even be on the table. I am the queen of “edifying activities” but my husband is king of “plain ole activities.” After a long day at work he takes her to the lake, on bike rides, watches movies–her choice, lets her dictate the art project without turning anything into a “teaching moment.” I, on the other hand am liable to interrupt a rousing “Happy Birthday” with “did you know that…” So, while I agree that time together is extremely important, I’m not sure it need be instructional. Again, if they are really learning in school, downtime is vital.

    I know that more could/should be done on the “nutritious food” front, but there is definitely an economic component to that. Also, while I am the first to cite proper sleep as a reason to homeschool, for some parents, their work schedule may well dictate an either/or situation regarding seeing their kids/good night’s rest.

    The comment about reading reminded me of a terribly sad moment when my daughter was an infant/toddler. We were at a children’s bookstore and there was a woman reading to her pre-schooler in THE most monotonous, joyless tone. I really think it was more likely to turn the child against rather than towards reading. I’m no Robin Williams, but I do pull out all of the stops when reading things that may be a bit dry to my daughter. I wonder if there are literacy programs that emphasize inflection. Surely it is better to hear a well read Hop on Pop than a droning Anne of Green Gables.

    I truly wish I could see things in a more black and white way so I could believe there were definite solutions to these social problems.

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