A Tale of Two School Districts

We moved last September from a working-class/middle-class town (Town A) to a middle-class/upper-class town (Town B). There are some poorer kids in this town. There are a lot apartments and rentals. One of Jonah's friends has a whole family smuggled in the attic, so the kids can attend the school district. But for the most part, it is pretty affluent. 

We moved for a variety of reasons. A slightly better commute for Steve. More opportunities for Ian. Town A made us feel guilty on a regular basis for the costs for Ian's education. Actually, they tortured us. Town A was destroyed by the economy and were planning on doing weird things to increase tax revenues, like building a cell phone town 100 feet from our house. It was time to go. 

Jonah's middle school was also a big worry, but it wasn't the top problem. We loved our house and our neighbors so much that we would have just sent him to a private school, if that was the only problem. I didn't really think that a public school would be that much different in a different town. I was wrong. 

The differences between Town A's schools and Town B's schools are stark. 

In Town A, Jonah had an adequate education until third grade. He didn't get a stunningly great education, but it was adequate. He'll never thank his first grade teacher on a stage someday. He will probably never even remember her name. But he learned the basics and I didn't lose sleep over it. 

Despite the fact that his test scores and his IQ tests were high enough, they didn't put him in the G & T program. I think it was because he is a laid back kid and was never the first to raise his hand in class and didn't really care if he got a B+ on a test. I didn't push for it, because I didn't think that a 30 minute, once a week program was worth fighting for. It was a mistake. Because he wasn't recognized as a smart kid in Kindergarten, he was invisible in the classroom for the rest of his time in Town A's schools. They don't like to add kids to those programs, so even after he received perfect scores on the state standardized math exams, they still refused to put him in the G & T program. 

When he got to third grade, things began to unravel. Instead of an adequate teacher, he got a bad teacher who kept getting shuffled around the system. He would come home from school in a daze. I'm not sure what happened in the classroom, but it was certainly not learning. His handwriting became too sloppy to read, which was a sign of the un-learning that was happening in the school. Every day after school, I spent four hours reteaching him his lessons. (I was working a lot at the time, too.) 

The next three years in Town A were more of the same. He got adequate to bad teachers. The adequate teachers were dispirited. Not enough writing happened in the schools. Talking to other parents in nearby towns, I would hear about the fantastic projects happening in their schools and I would be racked with jealousy. Why wasn't my kid doing that stuff? 

I was a stressed-out mess in those three years. I knew that Jonah's school was inadequate and wouldn't stop talking about it with friends and family. I know that they thought I was crazy, until Christie released a ranking of school districts in the state this fall. Jonah's middle school was put on the list of troubled school districts, which put it on the level of poor urban schools. Luckily that list came out a few weeks after we sold our house, because we might not have been to sell our house after that information came out. 

When we moved to Town B, lots of things changed in our lives. The most striking and obvious change happened with Jonah's education. After one week at the new school, he came home from school GLOWING. Glowing, I tell you. He loved school. He no longer needed urging to do his homework. He did it and did it brilliantly. He wrote fabulous essays that came home an A+ on the front. He couldn't stop talking about how happy he was. He shared information about things he learned at school. He was turned on to learning. Moving in 7th grade should have been a traumatic experience for him, but instead it was uplifting. 

What was the difference? 

It wasn't about money. The teachers in the two towns are paid roughly the same. They have the same facilities.  Same books.  

It wasn't about the natural intelligence of the kids. Some of Jonah's friends in Town A were off-the-charts smart. One of his friends was simply the smartest kid that I've ever met. 

It wasn't about curriculum. Town B has a slightly different approach to math, but both towns cover the same material. He had science in the old school and he has it in this school. All towns are guided by state curriculum standards and they often use similar textbooks. He wasn't terribly behind or terribly ahead in any subject, when we moved. There is also no tracking or G&T program in Town B. 

Administration was a big problem. When things started unraveling in third grade, I went to the principal to complain. I asked why isn't Jonah's teacher doing Project C. I told her that my neice was doing Project C in another town. Why isn't Jonah doing it? She whispered to me, "Laura, this is a Title 1 school." A Title 1 school is one where a certain percentage of the kids qualify for the free lunch program. In other words, her expectations for the kids were lower, because they were poor. (Many of the kids weren't actually poor. Their dads weren't declaring their incomes on their taxes.)

In middle school, I went to talk to that principal about all the problems that I was seeing. I asked her why the test scores were so bad for the town. She said that "there's not much you can do with the kids when they are dumb." She complained about the families in the town, who were not invested in education and their home life was in disarray. Again, expectation for the kids were low. 

While the elementary school principal might have had low expectations, she was a smart, perky woman. After I made complaints, she made changes. She knew the kids by name and had a positive attitude. 

The middle school principal was angry. She stalked through the hallways with a growl on her face. Even on Parents Night at the school, she never looked a parent in the eye or greated parents at the door of the school. And she really, really hated me. 

School culture was a problem. The teachers were dispirited. I wonder if the administration's attitudes leaked down to the teachers or if they had their own bad thoughts about the kids. No smiles on Parents Night. Little evidence that they knew who my kid was. 

In contrast, I was shocked by Parents Night at Town B. The teachers gushed. They grinned. A few even said, "this is my dream job." When I approached them to find out how Jonah was adjusting, they eyes widened when I said his name. "Oh, you're Jonah's parents!!? What a GREAT kid!" I also happen to think that Jonah is a great kid, but no teacher ever told us that before. They went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that Jonah was adjusting to the new school. His math teacher called me to get my impressions. No teacher ever called me before, and it took me a couple of seconds to get over the shock. 

For the first time, Jonah feels special. He adores his teachers. He worships his social studies teacher. He is eager to please them and puts in extra effort on his homework and projects. 

Parents are another big difference. They are a big part of the school system in Town B, especially in the elementary schools. In Town A, I was never allowed in the school beyond the front office. There were no opportunities to work in the classroom with teachers. Parents never came in to read a story to the kindergartners. There were no plays or choral productions. I was allowed in the school just twice a year for Parents Night and for one conference. 

I knew that this No Parents Allowed policy was fishy and complained to other parents. They didn't care. When I saw that the kids weren't doing enough writing in English class, I complained to other parents. They didn't care. When I noticed that test scores in the town were terrible, I complained to other parents. They didn't care. When I noticed that we failed to make Adequately Yearly Progress, I complained to other parents. They didn't care. 

What the parents did care about was sports. Jonah had to drop out of Little League in third grade, because the parents were too intense. Dads would go down on the field and berate their kids until they cried. The football team practiced six days a week. The kids on the football team sat at their own table in the cafeteria and refused to talk to other kids. Jonah was afraid of them. And Jonah is good at sports. 

Before leaving for school this morning, I asked Jonah why he liked Town B so much better. He said that he could talk to any kid at all. In Town A, the football crowd didn't socialize with the other kids. He doesn't have to sit at the Nerd Social Outcast Table at lunchtime anymore. In this town, the smart kids have a higher social status. 

I felt really guilty about moving. I felt like a quitter for giving up. Some friends stopped talking to me after I moved, because they thought I was a traitor. As a guilt-ridden liberal, I think that grouping ourselves by social class is one of the true evils in society. But one person can't change things. I tried. I met with teachers and administrators. I volunteered my time on committees. I attended Town Council meetings and wrote letters. One person can't change anything, and my kid is too precious to become a victim to my politics. 

I spent years studying education policy, but I haven't written about it in a while. I'm not sure that I've entirely given up hope that change can happen, but I'm nearly there. The problems  that I saw between the two schools – attitude, expectations, and culture - are very hard to change with any neat public policy. I'm not quite sure what to do. 

34 thoughts on “A Tale of Two School Districts

  1. “Despite the fact that his test scores and his IQ tests were high enough, they didn’t put him in the G & T program…I didn’t push for it, because I didn’t think that a 30 minute, once a week program was worth fighting for. It was a mistake. Because he wasn’t recognized as a smart kid in Kindergarten, he was invisible in the classroom for the rest of his time in Town A’s schools.”
    So, have you softened up on Gifted and Talented? You used to be very hostile to the concept.
    My MIL the psychologist thinks it’s very important that a child’s teacher knows that they’re bright, because then the teacher will put more effort into getting a better performance out of them. (And that goes double with any child with special difficulties, of course.)
    “Every day after school, I spent four hours reteaching him his lessons.”
    Oh my goodness.
    Some years back, my nephew was enrolled in elementary school in the school district where I and my siblings attended. It was mediocre when we were in school and it’s gotten worse. The vibe is somewhat similar to what you describe in your old school district. My sister has a story about her son reading Harry Potter during reading time in school. The teacher looked at the large volume and said, “You’re not really reading that,” and she apparently really meant it. My sister has since got my nephew into a hotsy-totsy suburban school district full of Microsoft families and hasn’t looked back.
    “Many of the kids weren’t actually poor. Their dads weren’t declaring their incomes on their taxes.”
    Mmmmmhmmm.
    “The problems that I saw between the two schools – attitude, expectations, and culture – are very hard to change with any neat public policy.”
    It sounds like the parents in Town A are getting basically the school they want. It doesn’t ask a lot of them, and there’s a strong commitment to sports.

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  2. Isn’t there some sort of G&T mandate in New Jersey?
    Eldest Raggirl is in some sort of bizarrely exclusive G&T program with maybe 6 or 7 kids from the entire district (three elementary schools, all sections of 3rd through 5th grade) that meets an hour a week after school. It’s so small because they make the standards impossibly high — 98th percentile on a test for kids two grade levels ahead. (“I’m sorry,” we told second- grade Medium Raggirl last Spring, “you only tested higher than 80% of fourth graders, despite the fact that you only missed questions where you had not yet learned the standard terminology — like in math ‘4k’ means ‘4 times the variable “k”‘ and not ‘a number in the 40s’. Clearly you are not a gifted child. Back to the mines for you.”)
    When we asked why they had such a screwy system, we were told that the district used to not have a G&T program at all (under the theory that “all of our kids are gifted”), but they were now required to by the state, so they were doing the minimum possible.

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  3. Isn’t there some sort of G&T mandate in New Jersey?
    G&T or fortified wine in a paper bag. It’s a very diverse state.

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  4. When I noticed that test scores in the town were terrible, I complained to other parents. They didn’t care.
    I think, maybe, your entire post could have been boiled down to that sentence.
    I’m glad that Jonah is doing so much better! We had a (single) bad experience with a mediocre second grade teacher (who was never quite bad enough to actively complain about), and it completely ruined one of the girls’ years. I can’t imagine having to put up with that again and again.
    I don’t know how it is in other countries (France?) with better public schools for the poor, but it seems like in America, parents naturally segregate themselves into people who care about quality education, and people who don’t.
    It is partially income-based, but partially not — between two versions of working class: the “I never got to go to college, so want to make sure my children got the advantages I never got!” and the “College is for losers. I never went to college and look how great I turned out!”
    I think the bottom line is that the schools just can’t care more than the parents do, so any social policy has to be aimed at them more than at the kids themselves. If the parents are motivated, then everything else starts to fall in to place. If they don’t, then any great policy doesn’t get much further than the policy statement.

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  5. This is a good example of how and why we’ve end up with the extensive socioeconomic and cultural sorting we now have in the US. It’s not just because latte-sipping urban yuppies (or even Wall Street bankers) are horrible people.

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  6. Laura, I was struck by how you and the MS principal did eventually agree that parent investment/involvement was not present and how problematic it was. I wonder if that school doesn’t allow much parental involvement because they have had unpleasant experiences with parents in the past (like the kind of parents who would make their kids cry on a sports field in front of other kids).
    It sounds like your current situation is a wonderful one for Jonah! My kids are about to make a big switch in schools, and it’s convinced me even more that the most important aspect of a school is the people who work there, and those who send their kids there, which is almost impossible to affect with legislation.

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  7. “I don’t know how it is in other countries (France?) with better public schools for the poor, but it seems like in America, parents naturally segregate themselves into people who care about quality education, and people who don’t.”
    I suggest watching Entre les murs, which shows an ethnic French teacher struggling with an ethnically mixed class of mostly low SES junior high students. (It’s a feature film, but based on a book by a teacher, and they used real students rather than actors.) By American standards, the school really wasn’t very rough, but the teachers are depicted as having almost no idea how to connect with these students.
    There was a book club on Slate about “Bringing Up Bebe” (the recentFrench-parents-are-better book). The French dad who participated said the following about French schools:
    “Without realizing it, [Druckerman] highlighted one of the problems of the so-called egalitarian French system, which she might discover when her children enter junior high school. That’s when Parisian bobos who say they love Republican egalitarianism try by any means available to avoid schools with a bad reputation.”
    http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/features/2012/bringing_up_bebe_by_pamela_druckerman/bringing_up_bebe_a_french_dad_and_an_american_mom_discuss_the_controversial_parenting_book__1.html
    That sounds a lot like DC.

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  8. There was a book club on Slate about “Bringing Up Bebe” (the recent French-parents-are-better book). The French dad who participated said the following about French schools:
    I’ve got a mental block on the Bebe book. I managed to successfully ignore the Druckerman book while simultaneously learning that her last article had been about planning a menage a trois with her husband and another woman, and then reading that article.
    I’m not proud of that.

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  9. I’m glad to hear that Jonah is glowing; in looking back at my own school experience, the difference I note is that I was mostly bored (though I didn’t dislike school, and certainly didn’t “unlearn” or anything like that). My kids certainly have a vastly different experience because they love school.
    I think HW without tears is fascinating, and would be interested in hearing about the differences, between the old homework experience (which you blogged about) and the new. Is it the instruction in school? the attitude of the child (i.e. they care)? the homework itself? executive functioning maturation? . . . . I used to be scared of your homework stories and whether they’d be in my future some day, glad to hear that they’re gone!

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  10. Quickly… Running out of the house…
    Jackie – re: my view and the MS principal’s view of the other parents. I thought that the other parents in town were smart, good people who had different priorities than I did. She thought they were trash. She sneered when she talked about them.
    G & T program. I think the G & T program in Town A worked basically the same way as it works in NYC. It was a way of appeasing middle class parents and keeping them from disrupting the whole system. The type of parents who were concerned about schooling had their kids in the G&T program. Not a coincidence, btw. They repeatedly told me, after Christie’s report came out, that they knew the school was bad, but they thought their kid would turn out ok and then would fly in the regional, well-regarded high school. They weren’t going to fight for change, because they didn’t need to.

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  11. “I managed to successfully ignore the Druckerman book while simultaneously learning that her last article had been about planning a menage a trois with her husband and another woman, and then reading that article.”
    Based on the Slate book club discussion, you can safely skip the Druckerman book. The Slate book club discussion itself is good, though.

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  12. I’ve lurked on your blog for a while, but this post brought me out of hiding 🙂 Your post points out the difference between schools that are on opposite ends of the spectrum – IME, there is significant difference even between schools not so far apart on the income/standard scale, specifically, between Recognized and Excellent schools. We live in TX, and moved last year, to a subdivision a mile away from our old one. The change in schools was incidental, and affected only our younger one, in elementary school, as our older one is in an advanced Math program that gets him into the middle school for the new area anyway. We were perfectly happy with our old school –
    the teachers were enthusiastic, most were loved by the kids, and both kids were in the local version of G&T from first grade, so all good.
    But we see such a stark difference in the new elementary school: the school is way more invested in how the kids perform,
    the homework and projects done are at a whole different level, the school focuses on extra academic activities like Science Fair/History Fair (mandatory in both 4th and 5th grades), and even the G&T program is more rigorous, with a whole lot of optional research-type projects. And I wouldn’t say physical activity is shafted in any way: organized sports only start
    in middle school here, but the kids have PE everyday in elementary school, and they promote many fitness activities done in non-school hours and kids get points for walking or riding their bikes to school that adds up to class points etc. Music and Art instruction too, is at a much higher level here. The music teacher recognizes (We asked) that most of the kids take private music lessons in some form, so has upped the level of music taught in the 4th grade class to a level we didn’t see even in 5th grade in the old school. She also has an after-school choir organized – something we didn’t know was done in public schools at all!
    All this to say, I think the divide is way deeper than is usually reported in the media – and that I really don’t see how policy can change this in any meaningful way.
    M

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  13. Sort of off-topic but not really: a friend of mine has a spouse in the Central Falls district and is going insane with stress over the crap going on there. It seems clear to my friend that the higher level administrators (Gist, the superintendent Gallo) don’t give a fuck any more and just want to hand over the schools to the charters, and don’t even get my friend started on Viola Davis, whom my friend perceives as a sellout undermining the public schools in Central Falls.
    Anyway, my friend feels that it is a problem with administration. Yes, the students have challenges in an inner city school with poverty and second-language learners, but they were doing some terrific things. But now it feels like the administrators are setting up the schools for failure. It’s horrible.
    Meanwhile, as you can see on my blog, they hire these unexperienced kids from a program Michelle Rhee started, and what do they do? Start dating the students and buying them alcohol. OK, just one of them did. But still.
    It makes you realize how important (and how rare) good educational leadership is.

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  14. I think what’s most telling to me here, however, is the contempt which that principal had when she thought and talked about the parents in the low SES school. We sent our kids to a school once where the principal had a similar contemptuous attitude — she never bothered to learn the kids’ names, much less the parents’ names — and (this is my favorite part), she enjoyed showing up at school in a WHITE LINEN suit. She then spent the day trying to keep the kids away from her so that they wouldn’t get her suit dirty. We knew we had stumbled upon the right school later when the principal came up to us dressed in tan khakis and deck shoes, wiping her muddy hands off on the khakis before shaking our hands. (She’d been out in the school’s GARDEN — with the KIDS!)
    The problem is that when you think about an individual who is the public face of a school with 600 kids, in a school district which routinely spends 11,000/child/year, and you realize that this woman is in charge of over six million dollars worth o funds per year, and she treats the parents like crap and turns most of them off from ever trying to get involved in the school ever again. In other words, over the course of her thirty year career, approximately 180 million dollars have been thrown at the problem and nothing has changed, because of one individual’s reprehensible attitude. It makes my blood boil!

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  15. “One person can’t change anything, and my kid is too precious to become a victim to my politics.”
    You are a good parent for realizing that sometimes your child’s life/future is worth more than the fight. I’m glad that Jonah is enjoying school so much. My daughter in grade one loves school so much that she asks me all the time to go back to work so that she can attend the before and after school program! I hope she continues to feel that way in the coming years.

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  16. I really want to thank you for this piece. We are in a school that currently seems a bit like your schools in Town A, with my oldest in grade 1. If things don’t improve with the next teacher, I think we will move, even though I love love love our house and its location. We might rent.

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  17. I’m loving this discussion. My kids aren’t in school yet, the oldest will start in fall of ’13, but I’ve been mildly obsessed with where to send them since the first was born. We live in an urban district with school choice options that are very good and a neighborhood school that is not so great. If we get into the magnet school we like, fantastic, but not surprisingly everyone wants to go to that school so it’s only somewhat likely we’ll get in. We also would consider moving but we also care about diversity so we don’t want to end up in a lily white suburb.
    My older son attends an amazing preschool and I would love it if we could find an elementary school with that style of teaching. One of his classmate’s mom has a son in K this year and she visited about 30 schools in our metro area looking for the right one for her kids. Her advice was that what we’re looking for doesn’t exist-in private prep, private religious, urban public, or suburban public-so just find a place where the teachers seem happy and the parents are invested in the school. It was somewhat reassuring to hear that because it’s relieved some of my stress about finding the perfect school.

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  18. Because he wasn’t recognized as a smart kid in Kindergarten, he was invisible in the classroom for the rest of his time in Town A’s schools. They don’t like to add kids to those programs, so even after he received perfect scores on the state standardized math exams, they still refused to put him in the G & T program.
    There is also no tracking or G&T program in Town B.
    Very, very interesting. I have wondered to what extent G&T programs are used to “buy off” significant numbers of parents who are willing to fight for their children’s education.
    The problem of the halo effect of early precocity is huge, in my opinion. Somehow, how a child performs in kindergarten might follow her through the remainder of her school career. I’m happy to hear Jonah’s made a great fresh start.

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  19. I am so fortunate to not know anything but a Town B-type public school for my kids. And even though we have a “Gifted” program, qualifying for giftedness has nothing to do with qualifications for advanced or accelerated classes. So for instance, a third grader who might go to a fifth grad math class (because he’s two years ahead in math) may not be “gifted” based on his IQ and results from the Stanford Achievement tests. As a result, most parents in my school district don’t even care about the gifted program– they’d rather their kids test into more advanced Language Arts and Math.

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  20. Because that’s crazy.
    People get worked-up about this stuff. By 2022, I expect Lifetime to have a movie called She Gave Madison a B. It will be a murder mystery.

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  21. See, this is why we are at Hippie Dippie Charter School of Peace, Love and Understanding. People make all these remarks about parents at charter schools abandoning traditional public schools, but there is only so long you can be the only one willing to work for change before you’re ready to go. We found parents and educators who valued the same things we value.
    It’s made a huge difference in our lives. HUGE. Would my children have been okay in our neighborhood school? Probably. Would they have been inspired and motivated? I don’t think so. Our limited experience (2 years) proved that there were kids that needed to be pushed far more than our daughter, so she was ignored.
    I’m happy you’ve found the place for your kids. I wish it was easier to make this happen for every kid.

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  22. There is a donut shop here that advertises using a “hippie” theme. Very hard to explain the concept* to someone who isn’t old enough to understand sex and drugs and who thinks not bathing is perfectly reasonable.
    *The concept of hippies. Donuts are something he gets just fine, probably because of the Montessori preschool.

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  23. But that’s ’cause you’re not getting the hippie concept. I’m guessing that LisaV’s “Hippie dippie school” has very little to do with sex and drugs (well, at least I guess I hope so).
    I’m presuming that hippie in this concept means a live and let live, do what feels right to you, pursue your passions, find your own way, be creative, learning along the way attitude.
    (Hippie dippie schools are not for me, because although I believe in a lot of the concepts, I also believe in duty and accomplishment and that kids don’t always know what’s right for them)

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  24. I knew that this No Parents Allowed policy was fishy and complained to other parents. They didn’t care.
    The second sentence here seems like it’s the decisive one. In Town A, the parents didn’t care enough to push to be allowed in the school. In Town B, they were willing to live in an attic so their kids can attend a good school district.
    Hard to see how any sort of policy can do much to mitigate the impact those views will have on kids in the respective towns.

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  25. For a year or two, my relative and her family did something very similar to the attic thing in order to qualify for the hotsy-totsy suburban school. They rented a room (or not much more than that) from a divorced guy in a big house.

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  26. Actually, the ‘no parents allowed’ thing is more common than you might think. In Virginia, right now, they’re considering legislation which would give parents a right to sit in on a child’s class from time to time. (Our school which was run by Crazy Old White Suit Lady Principal, had a no parents allowed policy. We were being told our child was a behavior problem and I simply wanted to observe for a few minutes in kindergarten and was told absolutely no, under no circumstances — which probably explains why it took so long to diagnose his Asperger’s. No one ever thought to evaluate him, instead choosing to brand him as a troublemaker.)
    Unfortunately, in VA, the teacher’s union is fighting the legislation, because they’re convinced (in their usual paranoid suspicious way) that this is all a “cover” so that so-called “right wing parents” can sit in the back of the room and demand that the books read to the kindergarteners be censored. Personally, I think parents should be allowed to sit in the back of the classroom and observe from time to time if they’re not too disruptive, and am DEEPLY suspicious of any school that says you can’t.

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  27. Actually, Hippie Dippie School in our case means project based curriculum. It’s hands-on learning, but it’s still pretty structured. Kids are given respect and a voice, but they aren’t given the reins. Parents have a lot of influence.
    We’re the only school in the US (my guess) where Nader won for president in the mock school election- over Gore and Bush.
    When the kids study Africa in 8th grade social studies they build drums, learn to play and dance to them. They do a 6 week Apartheid simulation. In 4th grade the become characters on the Oregon Trail for the year. It’s all cool, fun, interesting stuff, but they still have to learn their math facts, their spelling and pass all the standardized tests (they actually blow it out of the water there).

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  28. It really is amazing what differences you find, isn’t it? It’s hard to convey them in statistics.
    We’ve experienced one B-like district with four schools (a K-2, a 3-5, a middle school and a high school). While I’m sure the parental involvement played a role, there were still ***enormous*** differences year by year based on school leadership and individual teachers. Our years in the grade 3-5 school were as bad as yours in district A, due to a critical mass of mediocre and well-entrenched teachers and a well-meaning but weak principal. Even the great teachers were hamstrung by leadership stupidity. No amount of parental involvement made an impact. If I had it to do over again, we would have done private those years and returned for the amazing middle school.
    Although my kids benefit from the whole community-wide parental-involvement culture, it worries me that schools depend on parental pressure to teach well. It’s important that kids from poverty and dysfunction get great educations, too.
    Like you, I got nothing, policy-wise. I suspect raising the entry bar (and pay) for teachers and administrators would help, as would developing sophisticated and meaningful measures for teacher and administrator performance, but how to do that in the current educational culture?

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  29. “Like you, I got nothing, policy-wise. I suspect raising the entry bar (and pay) for teachers and administrators would help, as would developing sophisticated and meaningful measures for teacher and administrator performance, but how to do that in the current educational culture?”
    Administration shouldn’t be an escape hatch from the classroom for those who like the salary and the benefits but can’t hack teaching. (Note how unheard of it is for administrators to go back into teaching.) Among other things, it demoralizes the teachers under them, and it means that these principals’ ideas for improving the school will be almost certainly be counterproductive time sucks. Also, more teachers from academic subjects should go into administration, not just PE teachers.
    As we’ve discussed before, it is possible for administration to be more permeable. When I worked at a Russian school, my principal taught at least a class or two of Russian literature, and her vice principals taught a lot. (In Russia, 20 hours of instruction is regarded as a full-time job (especially for a younger teacher), although many older teachers would teach twice as many hours, thanks to the two-shift system at many schools.) The same is true in some other countries, I believe, as well as at some private schools in the US. There is no reason for teaching and administration to be tightly sealed off from each other, and making sure that principals have ongoing teaching experience will keep them more realistic about what ideas just don’t work.

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