Kids in poverty are behind before they get to school, which means the problems we need to fix are not problems with school.

One teacher gives a first-hand account of how incredibly huge the gap is between kids who have a stable home life and kids who don’t. This, too, has nothing to do with what the school provides.

And an experiment in post-hurricane New Orleans revealed data to show that a good school is not a passage out of poverty. New Orleans parents in poor school districts got vouchers to send their kid to any school — even private school — and the kids scored no better than poor kids who don’t have a choice of which school they go to.

The most successful school reform is turning school into a social service arena—including healthcare, food pantries, and parenting classes.

But that solution doesn’t work until we admit that school should be social services. Because when we pretend school is not life support, we tell ourselves it’s okay to stop school in the summer. But actually kids in poverty have a hard time losing the structure and stability of school for the summer, and struggle to adjust again come the fall.

I am starting to believe that the only way to give poor kids a chance of escaping poverty is for everyone else to leave the public school system. Stop sucking up the resources your family doesn’t need.

This is already happening among the wealthy—few of the economic elite in the US send their kids to public school. So it’s the middle class who think they cannot stop sending their kids to school.

Ironically, though, for the middle class to create economic mobility for their kids, they, too, need to get their kids out of public school. If the wealthy homeschool, then to compete with those kids, the middle class kids have to stay home from school. The benefits of homeschool are too great to leave them all to the rich kids.

Once we start believing that keeping kids at home is a normal thing for stable families to do, there will be only impoverished families taking advantage of public schools, and that’s how it should be. Schools are not in any position to serve kids who are not at risk. What schools do best is provide stability and predictability. If your child can’t get that from you, only then should you send your kid to school.

 

46 replies
  1. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I live in the LA area, and here the wealthy are not all taking their kids out of school, some do for sure like Elon creating his own school and famous actors hiring tutors for their kids at home to accommodate their active lifestyle of being on the go; but, the *majority* of wealthy parents from movie executives, directors, CEO’s, Lawyers and Doctors send their children to 20k-40k/yr private progressive schools, like Muse, that cater to kids self-directed learning, don’t use a traditional grading system, and have programs like gardening, yoga, vegan lifestyle, STEM, or whatever the child wishes to work on. Those schools are more like camps and not like the traditional model of lecture/worksheet/grades/testing education that one would find in most public schools.

    The middle class here who pay $$$$$$$ to get into expensive school districts aren’t competing against the rich kids. They are competing against all the other middle class kids that make up a majority of their classrooms. This is where one finds the high stakes testing, hours of homework, and insane schedules that produce so much anxiety in many children starting in middle school. Those that homeschool with intent of going to college are still competing against those same middle class children but *some*, depending on parent background, philosophy, time, and money are receiving an equivalent education to what the rich kids are getting in those progressive expensive schools at a fraction of the cost.

    I agree so much on wanting to help the poor, and I like the social services aspect of it all. I hope that something gets done to help those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. But, I am having trouble seeing how simply opting out of public school would automatically give poor kids more resources. Depending on how schools are funded, like in my area, I actually see it as potentially devastating. The government, both state and federal would need to change how they do the funding so that if/when there is this mass exodus from public schools it doesn’t create even more harm for the poor.

    In my specific school district, when enrollment declined drastically a few years ago, a bunch of teachers were laid off and they combined the schools that were ranked poorly. Schools that are ranked poorly in my district show that the majority of the kids are on free lunch, and the parent involvement is very low. I admit, I don’t know all the ins and outs of how a school functions and operates, because I homeschool. But from what I do know, it isn’t just a philosophy change that needs to occur. The problems are systemic.

  2. Lucas
    Lucas says:

    This is so wrongheaded
    1) most wealthy people do NOT homeschool they’re usually two working parents with nannies or the non working mom just doesn’t do that
    2) wealthy people DO use public schools just almost never in city areas
    3)poor kids are not my responsibility. Don’t be a hypocrite. What are you Doing for poor kids
    4) schools shouldn’t be social services! Encourage marriage! Single motherhood usually equals poverty. By the way Americas iPhone poverty is unsympAthetic. If kids Are hungry it’s from parental neglect.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I think most logical and informed people are in agreement that having an educated population is in everyone’s best interest. This means taking care of those who are disadvantaged socioeconomically. If schools were more like social services more of their needs would be met which means that the potentially the cycle of poverty in those families will end. Half of my state income taxes go to fund public education, and I am ok with that even though we aren’t using the system.

      • Caitlin
        Caitlin says:

        I think the question is “what does it mean to have an educated population?” Because we’re totally kidding ourselves if we think that school is giving us that… I think the challenge is trying to come up with an alternative system where we don’t know what the hidden costs will be since our whole society is adapted for the system of free babysitting/child raising and having children locked up all day doing worksheets. Like, what would happen if herds of children were roaming around all day and getting into trouble because we didn’t have schools? Or maybe we’d easily adapt and everything would be seamless….but that’s where it gets hard because a meaningful change will be risky.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Caitlin,

          That is a good question to ask, and it is a difficult one to answer because education means something different to everyone.

          What is true, is that schools that cater to predominantly socioeconomically disadvantaged groups are often more than just a teacher or school for those kids. They offer child care before and after school, often free or with extremely reduced prices for that care. They get free breakfast and lunch, often being the only meals these children will eat. Sometimes they offer parenting classes, like “How to handle your strong-willed child” and try to encourage these parents to be a good guide for their own children. The kids are looked after, *typically* by teachers who want to be there and care about the kids. Maybe the education they are getting isn’t academic, but is more social and emotional and provides them with the social services they need, keeps them safe, and allows them to get a few moments to breathe and focus on what life could be before they go back to their dilapidated house filled with more people than is legal.

          Arguing for stronger families misses the point. A lot of kids right now won’t ever have a strong family, and education can include these topics. Most of us teach our kids these things, we have two parent households, we have fancy degrees, and high-earning spouses. Our kids will be fine regardless of the educational output.

          When the problems are so systemic, we need to ask bigger questions. And we need people in a position to actually do something about it.

          • Caitlin
            Caitlin says:

            Breaking up families by putting kids in the school system weakens families and gives children sub-par parenting 35++ hours/week. This doesn’t solve poverty because it’s well adjusted people that we rely on to help those in need, and school results in people being more poorly adjusted than they would be with their own parents and with a customized education. Obviously. It’s just that people (see Lucy M) are short-sighted and only thinking about how to help poor kids within the current system in the short-term.

            Also, it’s so messed up to think of middle class and wealthy children as a community resource to be milked (@Bostonian- well put). What?

            The zero-sum game mindset has to stop. What benefits one family ends up benefiting other families because society runs better when people are healthy and happy. People understand this, but they’re mad because it doesn’t seem fair. And it’s not. But it’s effective, and arguably it’s more moral to solve problems effectively than fairly.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Caitlin,

            Who is breaking up families? Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states. No one is forcing these parents to put their children in school. Many families in the socioeconomic class I am referring to, don’t even have a stable family life to begin with, they are broken before kids are even school aged. I’m not sure if we are talking over each other or what.

  3. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    Such a provocative post and I see your logic. I see the kids coming to my church every Sunday for youth group — in a neighborhood riddled with poverty and all its trappings. We provide a place where the kids are wanted, where it’s safe, where they feel cared about. We try to connect them with what meager resources are available to help them figure out a life. Some of you are probably going to blast me for classism but we subtly try to teach them what the life rules are in the middle class, because those appear to us to be the rules that will help them live more successfully. The rules in their families are more about survival.

    If the schools were more focused on social services and less on education, it would be better for them, even if they learned a whole lot less.

    • Julia
      Julia says:

      Not only that, but we do poor kids a disservice by trying to teach them more and more and more. Schools where wealthy kids go don’t necessarily teach more, they teach better (though more more more is also in the equation for public schools in some wealthy neighborhoods, the point is that wealthy kids have much more access to better — self-directed, inquiry-driven, resource-rich — programs). The idea that poor kids should be crammed with more more more knowledge content has wreaked havoc on our education system. I’m ready to go in with those who want schools to be social service centers (see also Chan and Zuckerberg).

      • Rayne of Terror
        Rayne of Terror says:

        Middle class and wealthy kids generally arrive at school ready to learn, i.e. well rested, fed, not particularly stressed, homework complete. My kids’ teachers are quality teachers, but they aren’t any better than my mom or my college roommate who both teach in title 1 schools.

        • Julia
          Julia says:

          That’s not what I’m saying. Schools in poor neighborhoods tend to use a cram-the-knowledge approach (drill and kill, scripted curricula, “no excuses”, and so on), while wealthy schools are freer to use better methods. The state of poor kids when they arrive at school is the most relevant factor, but the crime is that schools respond with such terrible instructional methods.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Such a good point about Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg. When I read how forward thinking Priscilla is about school and medical services I didn’t take a close enough look at it — I should write about what she’s doing with her school philanthropy. Thanks for the reminder.

        Penelope

  4. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Ha! I love the title. And I love how intense you are.

    Interestingly, the people I know who are most emphatic about how everyone should be in the public school system are the people who work in the public school system. Many my friends who are teachers and admin in the public schools don’t believe in charter schools or private schools (or homeschool) because it deprives the schools and the poor kids of the most valuable resources: well-adjusted parents. What’s funny is that they’re admitting that schools don’t really do much because really it’s just good parenting that allows children to succeed. So, their solution is then to make it so that no one gets (very) good parenting.

    You make a good point that you’re actually doing The System a favor by not sucking up resources. But, how will the Social Services [school] make it so that the kids are around healthy people? I tend to believe that somehow it works out- maybe if we’re intentional about raising happy, healthy people, everyone will benefit. Because really, the whole system depends on the healthy and character of many individual people. You have to have good people to have good systems. And good people don’t just happen.

    • BJ
      BJ says:

      I’m a teacher and it took me less than 6 weeks of teaching to see that the system is broken and college isn’t for everybody – not by a longshot. One semester, and I was convinced that high school isn’t for everyone. Let’s start getting people prepared for jobs and life!

      I have no intention of sending my kids to public school; MAYBE a really unconventional private school. I have two preschoolers and it’s homeschool for them.

      Too many people working in and for the system believe that it’s the only way because it’s too scary for them to think otherwise.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        BJ,

        I have been unschooling my 3 kids for over 3 years now, and for my preschooler I found an amazing Reggio Emilia school for 3-5 year olds. It is about as close to unschooling as one could find, it will meet all her social extroverted needs, and includes things like yoga and gardening. This unschooling mom is happy with that option.

      • Firefly
        Firefly says:

        I agree so much! I’ve always been “book smart”, but even for me, by my second year of uni I noticed how broken the system was, and felt like university was by and large a big waste of time (but a necessary one – gotta jump through those hoops!) For most of us, you go to school for 12 years, and come out with barely even the job skills to be a cashier or receptionist, and then you go to uni – and half the time, you don’t even come out of THAT with the job skills needed to actually succeed at anything. And certainly, uni is not a good fit for a large number of people – and yeah, even high school is questionable for a few as well.

        In my opinion, looking at the core high school diploma requirements where I live, the only thing there that most kids SHOULD be taught after grade 10 are social studies (since most kids don’t really start to “get” things like politics until they’re around 14 or so, just for developmental reasons, but it’s important) and biology (cos knowing about your own body is always a good thing). By the time they’re done grade 10, they should already have the English and math skills they’d need for most things. The rest of it should be much more free-form, with flexibility to go a more academic route, or not. I’d like to see lots of work experience, job shadowing, and learning about life skills like personal finance & home economics (cos most people I know buy a new shirt if theirs gets a small hole in it, and many have credit debt coming out their ears). I’d add philosophy (cos many people have somewhat weak reasoning skills), and maybe some basics of child development and parenting (which is woefully absent from modern sex ed, despite the fact that most of us will eventually have kids). That way when they graduate, they’ll have solid life skills, some job skills, a good lead on a career path, and hopefully have developed some other skills as well.

  5. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    What I have seen over my lifetime is local school districts become less empowered to determine what works best for them. The balance of economic and decision-making power has shifted to the State and Federal government level. Parents, local leaders, and civil society institutions at the local level should be making many more key decisions for what works best for their children.
    It never ceases to amazes me how much local communities can do with the scant amount of money available to them. It is a stark difference compared to money sent to the State capitals and federal government and then filtered back down to the individual schools.
    The poor are best served by the people in their local communities. The people who know them and their needs. The poor need hand-outs only to the extent that it gets them on their feet and they’re able to sustain themselves. The poor need opportunities so they are able to set-up and maintain lifestyles as dignified and respected individuals. The role of the family to achieve some of these goals can’t be overestimated. The government, who is in charge of education in the public sector, does not create wealth and it doesn’t do a good job of managing it. In fact, the government’s monopoly on public education makes it inefficient and least responsive to the needs of a fast changing economy. A limited and scaled down government and influence on education is my preference.
    In summary, the moral obligation rests with the government who is consistently raising my school taxes and not giving me choices to donate to church, charities, etc. I don’t want the government in charge of creating more socioeconomic classes in our society. When the government is in charge rather than the people, there is a continuum of unintended consequences generated for everybody. Many times not for the good.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Since the US is such a diverse country with many areas needing vastly different social and educational services not one system should be taking priority over others. This is where common core really screwed up. They needed to take a district (if the residents vote and decide) and test it there for a couple years. From what I understand though, they were still writing the curriculum (of which the own authors now say is misguided due to their biases of what they think kids should know) up until it was implemented. The need to rush whatever through has shown the negative and far reaching impacts that kind of process delivers.
      A district, made up of parents, should have more options or at least say in the matter, not less and yes that includes poorer districts.

  6. Eldon
    Eldon says:

    I have so many issues with this article that I don’t know where to start. Having been both homeschooled and having attended a public school, I think this is both missing the point entirely and misconstruing the arguments.

    1. Speaking to the point that the wealthiest do not use public schools. This is correct, but they are not homeschooling in large numbers, they are putting their children in expensive private prep schools where the caliber of education is top notch simply because they can afford to pay for the best teachers and the best opportunities for their students to learn. Arguing that more affluent people should stop utilizing public schools because they are “sucking up resources that [their] families don’t need” is counter-productive. This would simply widen the divide between the haves and the have nots. In today’s political world, people scream bloody murder when they are asked to pay taxes for things that they “don’t use” which is part of why we are where we are with a massively underfunded public education system. This argument would only increase that problem, and the poorest people who need the education the most would have even less support.
    The fact that our government spends nearly $600 billion (53% of the budget in 2015) on defense and just under $70 billion (about 6%) on education is appalling. If we want to address the real reason why our public education system is broken, don’t blame the curriculum, the structure or the methodology, blame the politicians who refuse to provide the funding to give ALL students a quality education. The failures in the structures, curriculum and methodology used in today’s schools is more often than not directly related to budgetary constraints, i.e. the lack of funds to provide better options. This problem will not be solved by removing the wealthy children from the system, because if that happens, the politicians who insist on not adequately funding the public schools to begin with will simply point to falling enrollment numbers as another reason to cut education funding still further. In a world where it is ok (politically expedient even) to say “Don’t touch my hard earned money to pay for something I don’t use!” this will be seen as logical and reasonable.
    I propose a counter-argument. Instead of demonizing the public school systems as ineffective and outmoded and damaging and all the other words that are so easily thrown around, we should be discussing how we can better fund and improve the education system to help lift the poorest of the poor out of poverty while providing an option for a GOOD education for those of us who can’t afford the luxury of keeping our children at home or paying for an expensive private education.

    2. Making the argument that good schools have no impact on a poor child’s ability to escape poverty is naïvety at best and willfully ignoring of the greater picture at worst. Education is only one piece (albeit a very large one) of the whole picture. Having several close friends that teach in a very disadvantaged school district, the consistent issue I hear them talking about is the fact that the kids lack the support at home. Part of this is because they were born into families where education is not understood or valued, but an equally large part stems from the fact that their parents are stuck working 3 and 4 part-time minimum-wage jobs trying to make ends meet. When parents are unable to help their children or the children are so impoverished that hunger and lack of fundamental necessities impede their ability to learn, I would agree that the quality of their school is going to have less impact on their ability to escape. However, arguing that this means we should merge schools with social services is ludicrous. School is NOT social services, and should never be. They should work together in some ways, but the roles are distinctly different and must be separate systems.
    Instead of merging Social Services with our Education system, we should instead attempt to fund and support these crucial safety nets to the levels they so desperately need, instead of continually attacking them as a vampiric waste of honest, hard working people’s money. If we cared as much about the poor child who never sees his mother because she’s working 90 hours a week to feed him and his 5 siblings as we apparently care about having a military that can drop a 500 pound bomb on anyone on earth, we might actually see that poverty is a social construct of our own making.

    3. Finally, the sheer tone deaf superiority in the last paragraph made me want to scream. To begin with, in todays world of stagnant wages and rising living costs, it is a small percentage of the population that can afford to homeschool their children. Of that population, there are many who love to their careers and/or do not have the desire or ability to homeschool. To insinuate that anyone who is not impoverished is either wrong or somehow inadequate for not choosing to homeschool is insulting. Taking it one step farther and insinuating that impoverished people cannot provide stability at home, and anyone who chooses to not homeschool should only do so because they are unable to provide stability is so many levels of wrong. This notion would stigmatize public education as an institution of poverty, which would further destroy its value to a point where it would be a farce. If you are trying to abolish public education altogether, this is an effective method.

    In closing, I will just say, if you choose to homeschool your children, good for you, please but don’t judge anyone for sending their children to public schools, whatever their reasons. Your choice may not be one that is available to someone else, so lets all agree that there are many different methods of education and our public school system (and society as a whole) needs us to make sure that it is as strong as possible for everyone. If we truly want to fight poverty, lets not destroy one of the best systems we have in place to combat it, lets focus our attention on strengthening it and fighting for the funding it needs to help everyone. You may not choose to send your children to public school, but I would hope you fight for a system that you would be comfortable with having your children attend if, God forbid, you ever lost the luxury of being able to homeschool.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      The arguments are antiquated and blind to reality. School already provides most social services besides education to impoverished (and well to do for that matter) kids: food, counseling, healthcare and services, babysitting before and after, summer schooling, to name a few.

      The School system we have today does not teach the skills for the kids in poverty to get out of poverty. It does practically nothing for social mobility. So let’s not look the other way and pretend that is the case.

      My own personal feelings on minimum wage workers is that the pay rate needs to be increased to a living wage. This can be easily done and it would greatly help.

      Eventually this will all come out in the wash… I looked at a few smaller cities alternative schooling options. Almost every town has multiple self directed private options in the 7-12k per year range. This figure is doable for most middle class families. I checked a couple of years ago and there definetely were not as many options as there are now popping up. This points to a trend- many middle class communities are taking their kids out of the system and making a new one that actually promotes their child’s education. This is just to say the divide will continue to happen until public school is left to the lower class.

      With that in mind..ideally… I would fully support redistributing the funds currently put towards traditional public schools by putting in place a voucher system in which the lower class families could pick a privatized school that fits their child’s needs.
      Right now, those families do not have options. They are suck with the crappy public school in their neighborhood. That has to change if we want to progress with purpose.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        What? I have a link in this post that is a large experiment in New Orleans doing exactly what you say — giving kids in poor neighborhoods the choice to go to any school. And doing that changed nothing – the kids still performed poorly in school because it’s a social services problem not a school problem.

        Also, to those of you who think school provides social services, you have obviously never needed them. To a kid who is living in a home with parents who are never there, going to a social worker one hour a week to talk about abandonment issues isn’t gonna cut it. And getting help with homework after school doesn’t make up for no parent involvement in school . The social services we need for kids in poor family far exceeds what schools offer now.

        Penelope

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          Our issue is a cultural one. Social services here are not ingrained and used by every part of the society as they are in much of Europe.

          A one size fits all approach won’t serve all of the communities in the US, since the needs are vastly different.
          The one thing I think everyone can agree on is that wages are too depressed to even give these families the time of day to be a family as well as the time to seek or advocate for extra social service support.

    • Julia
      Julia says:

      What Jessica said. Your argument sounds nice, and straight out of a first year Ed school grad student. What is your proposal for getting 300 million people to decide that the government should spend more tax money on education AND social services for the poor? What is your proposal for getting our politicians to decide to do that? Do you think no one thought of that before? Like for decades people haven’t been screaming the same thing? It’s not working. I totally agree that the problem with making public schools only for poor kids runs the risk of further segregating and stratifying society, but we’re at a point where it might just be worth the risk. Something different needs to be done in the effort to reduce poverty. If schools (which are government funded and not going anywhere) could direct badly needed resources to the families that need them, why not try?

    • mh
      mh says:

      Eldon,

      Your federal budget breakdown is flawed.

      Social security is approx 23% the annual federal budget.
      Medicare is 15% the annual federal budget.
      Medicaid and other assistance programs (veterans, SNAP, etc.) comprises another 25% of annual federal spending.

      Mandatory spending on these programs is approximately $2.5 trillion per year.
      Defense spending, in comparison,is about $600 billion per year, which is about 1/4 the amount spent on poverty assistance.

      It’s not even close.

      I got my info from the national priorities project, my favorite democrat-leaning political statistics organization.
      “Federal spending: where does the money go?”
      Based on OMB data.

  7. Lucy M
    Lucy M says:

    If you want to homeschool your kids, that is a fine choice to make. But to suggest you are making that choice to help poor kids is disingenuous. With a little bit of research, you would have seen that poor children are suffering in the places where some version of your vision is already happening (either because wealthy and middle-class parents are putting their children in private school or because of the rampant segregation that exists in many urban school districts). Why? In part, because many of the schools with the highest percentage of poor children receive the least funding (per student) of schools in their districts. Like many of the unjust systems we dwell within, our education system favors the rich and deprives the poor. But even your plan were to result in more funding for poor students, it’s naive to think that money alone will solve the problem of child poverty. If only systemic change were so simple. What we do know, though, is that poor children fair better in integrated settings, where they have access to all of the resources that middle class and wealthy families bring to schools–funding for sports and music programs, better facilities, assistance from parents in the classroom, political advocacy, connections to community programs and mentors, etc. If you are really as concerned for the poor as you claim, then she should invest all of the time and resources you put into homeschooling into your children’s public school classrooms! Disguising self-interest as altruism is wrong. If you or anyone else in this chain is interested in learning more about this topic, I recommend this report, which is grounded in research: http://www.schoolfundingfairness.org/National_Report_Card.pdf. I also suggest you listen to a voice from the other side–a poor child who is navigating a broken school system in this podcast: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/562/the-problem-we-all-live-with

    • Julia
      Julia says:

      I don’t disagree with your argument that disguising self-interest as altruism is wrong. I’m not sure that’s entirely what’s going on here though.

      The problem with everything else in your argument is the same as everything that’s wrong with Eldon’s comment above. Yes, we should have a more fair system of school funding, and yes we should be sending much more tax dollars to high poverty schools, and yes our schools should be better integrated so that poor kids have more contact with middle class kids. But guess what. That’s not happening. You can mandate a policy of desegregation but you can’t force people to go to integrated schools. You can make very clear research-based arguments that we need more and better distributed school funding, but that has yet to sway the majority of policy makers to actually do something about it.

      So is there a better solution in turning schools (and the funding that goes to them) into social service providers? Can poverty alleviation come from using schools as a source of structure and stability for otherwise chaotic lives, and focusing on that rather than focusing on ridiculous academic accountability? I don’t know but increasingly it looks like an approach worth trying.

      • Lucy M
        Lucy M says:

        Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment, Julia. You make some good points about how difficult it is to facilitate systemic change in a broken system. For that reason, Penelope’s argument is more of a thought experiment than a real solution (it’s incredibly unlikely that all middle-class parents will simultaneously unite and decide to homeschool, and even if that happened, it’s extremely unlikely that decision makers within the broken system would choose to use the freed-up cash in the manner Penelope suggests).

        Thinking about how to create change in complex systems can be incredibly frustrating (and I can relate to the urge to disengage from unjust systems entirely). When I think about how education reform can happen, if ever, I think that the advocacy and engagement of relatively empowered stakeholders (such as educated, middle class parents) will be a necessary ingredient. I am deeply suspicious of any argument that comes from an outsider, who (no matter how intelligent or well informed) simply cannot understand the intricacies of the system. I also am deeply suspicious of top-down approaches in large bureaucracies. Any meaningful and effective solution must prioritize the voices and perspective of those it is intended to help (in this case, poor students and their parents), as well as those who will be expected to enact it (teachers, social workers, etc.). So how can wealthy or middle-class parents help? I suggest that rather than withdrawing from the system, they can use their power and resources to serve as allies. They can seek out the unheard and underrepresented voices and amplify them.

        • mh
          mh says:

          Perhaps systemic change is overrated.

          Education isn’t a system. Education isn’t _provided_ to anyone. Education is an individual attainment. Reading can’t be taught to a group. Each individual child must learn to decode reading as an individual. Every child has to “get it.” I can’t give my child the ability to read, the child has to develop that skill. Each one, individually. The more standardised the education system becomes, the worse individual students do within it.

          So parents, who s re light years ahead of “educational reformers,” take the initiative to individualized their children’s education. This is seen as threatening to the “system.” And in truth, it is threatening.

          One part of the problem with schools is that they are a political power center, established to benefit adults, not kids. Permanent, well-paying, taxpayer funded, relatively easy jobs for adults. Free daycare, to enable adults to worry less about their children’s daytime activities. A source of predictable votes and social activism. Tools in a power struggle about real estate values and taxation among… adults.

          Education _might_ happen in a school, but it’s not Job #1.

          Keeping the system going is Job #1.

          Pulling kids out is disruptive to the system.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Lucy,
      I don’t think any of us is making the choice to homeschool in order to help poor kids. Speaking for myself, I’m not much of an altruist. I’m homeschooling to help _my_ child. But I don’t think it’s out of the bounds of reason that homeschooling would help poor children. I don’t even think school teachers and officials all disagree with the idea that it does.

      I live in one of the urban districts you mention. I sent my son to public school mostly because I went to public school and my friends sent their kids to public school and my son seemed to like the idea. He was assigned by our lottery system to a school of middling reputation not too far away from home. I removed him a year and half later, after a long period of violent bullying, and official obfuscation, that left him traumatized.

      I eventually learned that my school district talks a great talk about bullying being unacceptable, but in practice the principal method of reducing its incidence is pretending it never happens, and refusing to see it when it does. In the process, it became clear – and was indicated to me by multiple administrators – that my son should leave the district if he wanted to be safe and happy.

      I had previously had the naïve idea that my son had a right to be safe at school, but I learned that the practical policy of my district is that some animals are more equal than others and other kids’ rights to be violent at school trumped my kid’s right to be safe.

      Our schools are famously, officially desegregated, but are in fact more segregated today than they ever were in the sixties or seventies. I recall a parent council meeting at my son’s school, where a mother stood up and shouted that she was sick of XXXXX* kids coming in and “taking over” a YYYYY* school (*insert color here). Her anger was met with applause – and nods from the principal. Needless to say, this did not make the parents of XXXXX children very happy.

      I thought it was wrong, objectionable, unfair. But maybe she had a point – maybe they all had a point. I had choices, I had options, I did not need to have my kid at the school or in the district. Why was I using resources that could be spent instead on a kid who really did need them? Just because I had an idea of social justice?

      In our district, money follows the child – it’s called “weighted student funding.” If a child has special needs, is poor, or speaks English as a second language, more money follows him to the school. Did it hurt my son’s school to have a base rate kid attend it? It reduced their budget, after all. So what if fundraising from me might raise more money for the art teacher; the school budget was probably dropped by more than I ever gave because of my son’s lack of a disability. Maybe after we left his spot was taken by a disabled or impaired kid, who brought an extra 12K to the budget. Maybe it was unfair to the school and the other kids for me ever to send him there.

      Six years later, my son is again contemplating school. One of the schools he might attend is a city exam school, Boston Latin School. He will easily gain entry, because it’s calculated on test scores and grades, and it happens that his are great. At orchestra this morning, I spoke with the parents of another young musician, who entered BLS last fall, coming from one of our area’s best private schools, assuredly also with excellent grades and test scores.

      In our city, it is considered by many to be unfair that children like ours, who did not suffer the gauntlet of Boston Public elementary schools, should be allowed entry into our city’s exam schools. The student demographic of Boston Latin School does not resemble that of most other schools here (in fact, it more closely resembles that of our city). This is seen by many as a problem. Some complain about rich kids getting great private educations and preparation, and then sniping the exam at the last minute (perhaps us homeschoolers are the worst!), thereby taking the spot from a lifelong public school kid who deserved it more. Some characterize it as de facto racism. Some have proposed a restriction whereby residents may only attend the city’s public exam schools after completing elementary school in the city’s public schools.

      Such schemes are unlikely ever to reach legal viability, but to follow their rationale to its conclusion, it would be more fair for my son (and all other children who have the option to homeschool or attend a private school) to decline any invitation to our exam schools, thus potentially freeing those spots for a child who may be poorer or have less private preparation.

      So where does the line fall? If it is morally appropriate for well-off families to decline public exam school admittance, is it not also morally appropriate for us to decline public elementary school seats? One, but not the other? Neither?

      I understand that our children are seen as a salutary resource for other children, and would be happy to help insofar as I can, without forcing my own children into danger or suffering. But is there any way to do that without unfairly taking a spot away from a needier child? It’s like gentrification – you’re damned if you move to the burbs, and damned if you renovate a house in a rundown neighborhood. It’s unfair if well-off kids cluster together in a rich school, and unfair if they colonize a poor school. Where exactly should middle class and wealthy children sit in our public school system so they can best and most equitably be milked for sports and music funding, parent assistance, political advocacy, etc?

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Bostonian,

        Every time you share your experience with more tidbits of information regarding BPS it gets more asinine. Good luck there my friend! Do what’s right for your kid!

      • Lucy M
        Lucy M says:

        Bostonian,

        Thank you for responding to my comment and for sharing so candidly from your own experience. It sounds complicated and frustrating, and I am saddened to hear that your son was bullied (both my husband and I were bullied in middle school, and it is upsetting to hear how disempowered the victims of bullying and their parents still are).

        You ask some really challenging questions in this post, and I appreciate that. I think those questions boil down to this essential ethical dilemma: What do we do when the best decision for ourselves (or our families) hurts someone else, or vice versa? In other words, how do we balance our moral obligations to ourselves and our families with our moral obligations to others and to society?

        Philosophers, ethicists, and religious leaders have grappled with this question for millennia… And I grapple with it every day. There’s no easy answer. But I will offer this observation: I think Americans, in particular, tend to prioritize self and family over the broader good. I wonder what this says about our culture. I wonder how this has shaped the way I see the world. I wonder what to do with all of this wondering.

        • mh
          mh says:

          Public schools teach poverty. This imposes negative externalities on students, parents, employers, and society.

          When do we start looking at what it continues to cost America to indulge in the public schooling fetish?

    • Niki
      Niki says:

      The podcast about the desegregation was interesting. Thanks for sharing, Lucy. It reminded me of the article I read a few months ago about the opinion of Chief Justice Roberts on the issue of affirmative action (www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2015/12/what-chief-justice-roberts-misunderstands-about-physics/421755/).

      I’ve been homeschooling my boys for 4 years now. They used to go to a Montessori school in a very wealthy neighborhood. I still keep in touch with many mothers I’ve met while my kids were there. They are always curious about what we’ve been up to since they want to make sure their kids in expensive private schools are not going to miss out on something us homeshoolers are doing. I’ve also befriended numerous moms from the homeschooling charter that my kids go once a week in a not so wealthy neighborhood in the last 4 yeears. While I don’t see eye to eye on many educational issues with these ladies, they have affected me in a way I didn’t anticipate; they have taught me to calm down and just enjoy the kids. I feel so lucky to have this experience because my boys are definitely benefiting from having a mom who is less stressed and anxious about picking the right AP courses and choosing the right extracurricular activities.

      PT’s blog (+ all the interesting people who comment on the blog post) has also influenced my thinking about education in the last couple of years, but there is something about having physical contact with people with vastly different ideas.

      This passage from Scott Barry Kaufman’s book “Ungifted” really resonated with me because of my experience with moms from diverse socioeconomic background. “Compelling new research suggests that any experience that violates how things are supposed to happen or forces someone to think like an outsider can enhance divergent thinking and cognitive flexibility. This probably explains why periods of immigration often precede extraordinary periods of creative achievement; immigrants bring their own customs and ideas to new environment, diversifying experience for everyone. This probably also explains why living abroad, multi-cultural experiences, and bilingualism area all related to the generation of ideas.” This made me wonder what we could be missing as a society for living in such a socioeconomically segregated society today.

      • Lucy M
        Lucy M says:

        Niki,

        I really appreciate your response (and thank you for taking time to listen to the podcast). Your words gave me so much to think about. Through my own personal experiences, and through my observations as a college professor, I too have seen the value of coming into contact with people who are different from us (not just in ideas but in culture, age, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, etc.).

        Encountering difference (and engaging it with an open mind) has challenged and shaped me. And I will note that my experiences with difference began in the public elementary school I attended (in a large city in the South) and intensified in public high school (where, as a white, middle-class student, I was in the minority but had more power and opportunity than many of my black and Hispanic peers).

        I have to be more intentional, these days, about exposing myself to difference (and I don’t always do a great job–so safe and easy is it to dwell in the “university bubble”). But I believe it’s vital, absolutely vital, when it comes to making compassionate, moral decisions.

        Have you heard of construal level theory? It’s a psychological theory that basically says the more distant we are from an object or event in time, space, social distance, or likelihood the more abstract our thinking about that object or event is. Conversely, the closer we are temporally, spatially, socially, or in likelihood the more concrete our thinking becomes. So, theoretically, a parent could concretely envision the effects of a forthcoming public school policy on her child who is enrolled in a public middle school. However, it would be harder for a middle-class parent who homeschools to concretely envision the effects of a hypothetical policy change on poor children.

        I bring all of this up not only because it has clear relevance to this blog post, but also because listening to that podcast completely changed the way I construe segregation in schools. I suddenly had a story, a person, a whole set of concrete associations that replaced my hazy thinking about school segregation.

        In decision making, I think both abstract and concrete thinking are important. And an obvious way to improve our concrete thinking about people who are different from us is to get in there and open ourselves to those people and their perspectives. I wish you continued joy and learning as you share life and experience with a diverse array of people.

        • Niki
          Niki says:

          Hi Lucy. Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply to my comment. I was astounded to hear that desegregation was so effective in decreasing achievement gap. I actually cried when I heard one of the moms of the African-American girl followed the bus on the first day of the school because that is exactly what I would have done if it were my boys going to the school 15 miles away under such challenging circumstances.

          I absolutely agree with what you said; it is vital for us to get to know each other in concrete ways to make the right decision.

  8. Madeleine
    Madeleine says:

    This is beautiful. This is the post I’m going to bring home to meet my parents (who have begun asking how I will school my 3.5 year old).
    Thank you Penelope for reading a million articles so I don’t have to and for being so good at internal and external links.
    You can tell this is an important post by how many people are pissing their pants in the comments section.
    bravo.

  9. john
    john says:

    Penelope, are you familiar with Amanda Ripley http://www.amandaripley.com ? She is an “education reporter” who has written extensively on U.S. Education vs. other countries in the world. She argues against the preconception that it is necessarily poverty or diversity that depresses U.S. academic achievement. U.S. has one of the highest spending per student in the world. And even areas with low minority populations compare negatively vs. world averages. It’s an interesting concept.
    I’ve long come to the conclusion that good schools come from good kids, not the other way around. The school (i.e. the teachers, the administration, the building, the curriculum, equipment, etc.) probably makes very little difference in the student’s academic achievement. What does, then? I’d say the home culture – one that stresses the importance of academics, where the student feels that there is something in it for them. I went to a public school where the top students were poor Asian immigrants. Politicians bicker about changing the schools but the real challenge is so much more complex – changing the culture.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Thanks for the link, John. I’d read her book, but didn’t realize she had published so very many articles. Good for her.

      One of her articles mentions the theory that the United States shows poor relative test scores because we basically abandon high performers. If you can do the work, you sit at the back and goof off while teacher focuses on the kids who can’t.

      I suspect that one of the factors in the phenomenon you identify is not just lack of ambition but the resurgence of good old American anti-intellectualism. Honestly, this has been one of the things I’ve felt most comfortable about with homeschooling: my son doesn’t get exposed to anti-intellectualism at school.

  10. Leeann
    Leeann says:

    1) it is not the job of government to fix broken homes. If you want to pay for poor kids education why support the school tax system. I’m not saying we shouldn’t educate kids. But I think homeschooling parents merit reimbursement and large families need to pay more.
    2) teachers are not parents!!! Most teachers in low income area complain exactly about this and rightly!
    3) urban teachers are NOT underpaid nor are affluent suburban teachers. Other teachers including private school teachers may very well be. Explain to me an 70-100k salary in a falling school, summers off endless vacations.
    4) I have heard of no successful large social services education program. A charter school that does well and a successful outreach program are hardly a national model or even a state model. Until something more broad is successfully implemented it’s silly to hold it up as something we need to do.
    5) if you don’t think a stable two parent home is a large factor in school performance read more

  11. Purva Brown
    Purva Brown says:

    Much as I love having museums, parks and pretty much everything to ourselves during a normal school year, during the summer I see parents with their children everywhere and sometimes fantasize about how much better the world would look if we could see them during the day! You know, if they could actually interact with the world and people of all ages – if they could actually “socialize” instead of being relegated to one building all day long, raising their hands, standing in lines.

  12. thebrel
    thebrel says:

    Except, generally schools receive funding per pupil. So, taking your kid out, actually gives that school less resources.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Maybe, maybe not. See Bostonian’s comment above.

      Children who are easy to educate command the basic rate of student funding. Children who are difficult to educate command much higher student funding rates.

      See also, the popular explosion in rates of IEP’s.

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