Only Bad People Send Their Kids to Private School

At Slate, Allison Benedikt writes a sure-fire, click-athon article. She writes that people who send their kids to private school are bad people. If everyone sent their kids to public school, they would improve. Also, it doesn’t matter that schools are bad, because learning is over rated. Really.

My kids go to a public school, but it isn’t anything like the public schools that Benedikt describes. It’s ethnically diverse, but not economically diverse. The upper middle-class are a large enough contingent that they set the culture for the town, so the few poor kids behave like rich kids. Test scores are high. Competition is fierce. Almost everyone goes to college. A few families send their kids to private schools, but most don’t.

Great, right? Well, not really. You have to buy a house or rent an apartment to go to a school in this town. The cheapest house in the town (2 bedroom, 1 bath, busy road) costs $350,000. The median home price is $630,000.

To achieve the public school utopia that Benedikt envisioned, not only would everyone attend public school, but public schools would not be determined by geographic area.

UPDATE: More from Megan.

The one place in the United States where Benedikt’s argument (private school exiters decrease the quality of public school) holds is New York City. New York City is probably the only place that I’ve lived where multi-millionaires live within one mile of people on welfare. Theoretically, they would all be in the same public school district. That’s pretty amazing. If the rich went to public schools and the middle class stayed in the city, the public school system WOULD be better.

I got sucked into a thread on Urban Baby over the weekend with wealthy city types discussing whether they would send their kids to private school or move to the suburbs. They talked about which suburbs were the right ones and whether they could stand to live anywhere but Manhattan. Oh, the culture-less rubes in the Jersey suburbs. The only reasons that they would consider dirtying themselves with non-Manhattan people was because of the schools.

I’m not really blaming them. We left the city when Jonah hit Kindergarten.

 

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76 thoughts on “Only Bad People Send Their Kids to Private School

  1. What I noticed about the article is that having mentioned religious reasons for choosing something other than public school, she then fails utterly to address that issue. It’s pretty clear that she doesn’t understand it. It’s also pretty clear that someone who has vague notions of civic betterment, and no understanding of religious beliefs, is not exactly leading the examined life.

  2. “You know who else wants those things? Everyone.”

    This is not true. Everybody seems to want something different from the schools. Some people want rocket-science math. Some people want Lion King-caliber musicals. Some people want state-championship sports teams. Some people want more poetry. Some people want less poetry. Some people want ability-grouping. Some districts do a better job than others of accommodating the different visions but, at the end of the day, if someone has a particular vision for what they want in a school and the means to pay for it, going private makes sense. (This is also why I am against so-called national standards, something that this blog at times has supported: I continue to doubt that a national concensus on such things can be reached.)

    The article also fails to address some of the economic issues of having kids attend private schools. Opting out of the system leaves more public-school resources for those in the system. Is there an implicit argument in the article that maximizing participation in the public schools outweighs the cost of placing someone there whose family will lobby for a particularized education? Maybe that’s the article’s thesis.

    We have homeschooled for years, and so have been exposed to these arguments for a long time. Homeschoolers are sometimes told that they are neglecting the community by not participating in the public schools; our typical response is that, if this is true, people whose children who attend private school are equally neglectful. I do not think the Slate article was particularly incisive, but perhaps that is the point of Slate articles.

  3. I would have said — I didn’t learn much in school or college and haven’t read anything would have been my first sign of an unexamined life.

    I agree that it was an article written for clicks. She should have thrown in letting her kids ride bicycles without helmets and a few more let the children be arguments in there (blaming the parents for making their kids wear helmets, decreasing biking, increasing obesity, and causing rising health care costs.

  4. It’s like Slate got a Martian to write on school issues. There are probably literally dozens of commentors in that thread that know more about US public school issues (private, suburban, rural, urban) than she does.

    A few points:

    1. As Laura mentions and we’ve often discussed, in the nicer suburbs, US public schools resemble the amenities in a gated neighborhood or a nice apartment complex. You buy in (or pay the high rent) and you’re in. Don’t be showing up with your towel and swimsuit if you’re not a resident. You can literally wind up in jail for theft if you try to sneak your kid into the wrong school.

    2. Y81 said, “What I noticed about the article is that having mentioned religious reasons for choosing something other than public school, she then fails utterly to address that issue.” Or behavior or learning disabilities–none of those are “compelling” reasons to not do public school according to Benedikt.

    3. Mostly Lurking is quite right that we all do want different things from our schools (or even more importantly, we DON’T want certain things from our schools), and that we do prioritize things differently. At our kids’ private school, I put up with a ridiculously complicated uniform system, trying to fake my way through Latin, inadequate outdoor play facilities, mandatory team sports, no vocational or home ec type classes, and LOTS of homework in exchange for a relatively wholesome and academically engaged environment, small classes, my husband being able to walk to work, only needing one car, having the kids in the same school from K-12, having the 6th graders grouped with the elementary kids, and not having to deal with the well-known horrors of public school middle school. At this point, I’ve started adding up exactly how much in tuition this is going to cost us for three kids, and it’s quite horrifying, even at about $6k a year per kid. If I had it to do over again, I might not do it. However, our oldest child has some special needs, she’s finally put down roots at the school, has real friends, is on good terms with nearly everybody, and the staff is mostly quite familiar with her peculiarities at this point. it’s kind of like joining the mafia–there’s no leaving now. She still might get kicked out someday (who knows?), but I think it would be very unwise to pull her out now.

    4. bj said, “I didn’t learn much in school or college and haven’t read anything would have been my first sign of an unexamined life.” Yeah, we can skip new computers and just fund beer for the kids for before basketball games. Think how much they’ll learn!

    1. Someday I will reclaim the part of my brain that currently stores the fact that clean PE clothes need to be sent in for C on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and for D on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Tuesday is chapel dress, Friday is jeans and school spirit shirt and concert dress is like chapel dress, but with nicer shoes and black socks for D. Oh, and the little kids, the medium sized kids, the big kids and the really big kids all have different uniform regulations.

      It’s all theoretically a good idea, it’s just that it would be nice if somebody else were in charge of it.

      1. To be honest, we put my son in charge of it. Sometimes he messes up (and this morning he had to dig through the dirty laundry for uniform pants because he let his clothing pile up too long before putting it in the laundry hamper, so nothing got washed in the last load). Oh well.

  5. The one place in the United States where Benedikt’s argument (private school exiters decrease the quality of public school) holds is New York City. New York City is probably the only place that I’ve lived where multi-millionaires live within one mile of people on welfare. Theoretically, they would all be in the same public school district. That’s pretty amazing. If the rich went to public schools and the middle class stayed in the city, the public school system WOULD be better.

    I got sucked into a thread on Urban Baby over the weekend with wealthy city types discussing whether they would send their kids to private school or move to the suburbs. They talked about which suburbs were the right ones and whether they could stand to live anywhere but Manhattan. Oh, the culture-less rubes in the Jersey suburbs. The only reasons that they would consider dirtying themselves with non-Manhattan people was because of the schools.

    I’m not really blaming them. We left the city when Jonah hit Kindergarten.

  6. I think there are other places where private school exiters decrease the quality of the public schools, potentially any other school district in which significant disparities of wealth exist within the districtt. I think that might mean functioning cities (functioning loosely defined, but I think it boils down to people wanting to live in them by choice) including NY, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland (don’t know enough about the South to make any guesses).

    And, if one believed that there was social good to come of having the rich NY go to school with the poor one’s, it seems that bringing the poor NYorkers to the suburbs and having them go to school with the rich kids there might also be a reasonable an option (and, I’m suggesting bringing entire families, rather than just the kids).

    But, I think what really decreases the quality of public schools is an unwillingness to fully fund whatever we do find to be a consensus of what private schools should offer (with the caveat that I do see that we seem to have issues with finding consensus, though I think that’s a problem that’s widespread across all the problems that are facing the country). And, of course the fact that one doesn’t use a government services decreases one’s ability to make sensible choices about it. Given that caveat, my current (naive and uneducated) thought is that the mixing of poor and rich is good, but only if full wrap-around services are offered for the poor.

    1. “I think there are other places where private school exiters decrease the quality of the public schools, potentially any other school district in which significant disparities of wealth exist within the districtt. I think that might mean functioning cities (functioning loosely defined, but I think it boils down to people wanting to live in them by choice) including NY, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland (don’t know enough about the South to make any guesses).”

      But the presence of viable private school options keeps affluent families in cities with poor public schools. If there were no good private schools, affluent families would nearly all leave those cities. Bear in mind that not so very long ago, there was a huge exodus of families from the cities to the suburbs. It’s only relatively recently that staying in the city has been a choice.

      (We’re a city family with children in downtown private school, but of course it’s a much smaller city than the ones on the list. If our kids weren’t in private school or in a magnet, we’d be gone to the fancy suburb with the nice housing stock.)

  7. Benedikt wrote: “if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good…”

    Like hell “it will be worth it.” Calling folks “bad” for making school choices that prioritize the specific needs of their own actual living children over those of some future great-grandchildren of somebody else? Oh please – we live in the here and now.

    Where I’m from competition still brings about quality, and the very last thing we want to give our horrible rural public schools is a monopoly they do not even begin to deserve.

    So yes, I’m a baddie – sending my eldest to a lovely private Montessori elementary school. Our local public school will still have the benefit of my property tax dollars, and will see their first grade student-teacher ratio improve by one. I’m pretty sure my neighbor’s future great-great-grandchild will not give a damn about my choice.

  8. We took our kids out of public school because the only other option seemed to be medicating them so they could stay. The kid with inattentive ADD just zoned out for most of sixth grade when there were over 35 kids in her class. Theoretically we could have given her kiddie speed so that she would pay attention and make her way through — but I chose not to sacrifice my child’s neurological development for the sake of some hypothetical future generation. Oh, and she has a heart condition, so we would also have been gambling that the kiddie speed didn’t kill her. If I’m a bad mother, so be it.

  9. In our area there are no (sensible) private school options, other than religious schools (they are sensible options, just to be clear, but they are chosen for religious, not academic, reasons, and most well-off people with academically-inclined kids would not choose them except for religious reasons). This despite the fact that the public schools have gone from about 5% FRL to about 40% FRL in the space of 20 years. BUT — what is happening is people moving out to the suburbs which are close enough to enjoy all the amenities of the city, a large supply of low skilled (hence cheap) workers, but which are zoned to ensure that there is no low-income housing available. So, they send their kids to public schools which have almost no FRL kids, can outbid the city’s school district for high quality teaching labor, and have lower taxes.

    Private schools without the guilt, and funded by the government.

    But — its easy to deceive yourself into thinking your choices do not contribute to harming other people’s children. If you are getting your kid a better education, she is more likely to be able to outcompete equally capable kids who weren’t as lucky for various goodies that our society awards unequally. The author is very naive, but she is right that each person who exits the system, once they have exited, instead of devoting time and energy to their kid’s public school (which is more likely than the new private school to contain high-need kids, unless it is a Catholic Diocesean school, in which case you’re in luck!), devote it to their own kids’s school or to leisure activities. Maybe, just maybe, the competition improves the quality of the public schools where you’re from, but if so, where you’re from is an unusual part of America.

    This is, of course, also true of well-off parents whose kids attend schools like those my kids attend (with 40% FRL) who demand extra resources for their own kid (the TAG parents in our district are shameless, and I’m certain their efforts do more harm to needy kids, by commanding resources for their, already much more advantaged, kids, than they would do by going private)

    1. “If you are getting your kid a better education, she is more likely to be able to outcompete equally capable kids who weren’t as lucky for various goodies that our society awards unequally. The author is very naive, but she is right that each person who exits the system, once they have exited, instead of devoting time and energy to their kid’s public school… devote it to their own kids’s school or to leisure activities.”

      … Or to working for pay like most American parents do these days. Or to myriad other non-school-based forms of community improvement. Nice set of false choices there, however plenty of families do manage to make time for all of the above, but I digress.

      Why reserve your ire for just the system-exiters? How about people who have never entered the system – never taken so much as a dime from the public schools for any number of reasons? What about childless by choice people? The growing masses of senior citizens? I mean what have they done for the public schools lately? If paying property taxes and voting yes for local school bond measures is not “doing enough,” then what on earth is the definition of “doing enough”? (And, by the way, the correct answer to my last question is not kvetching endlessly, a la Benedikt, about other people’s unexamined privilege.)

      “A better education” is not some finite, rare, unattainable resource that only brick and mortar schools can provide. There are free public libraries, free internet classes like Khan Academy and the like, free days at museums, art galleries – any of which can contribute (albeit in a small way) to bettering one’s education. So am I honestly “taking” from someone else’s kid by using the same free resources they could also avail themselves of had they the time, information, and preferences I do?

      I suppose the real thorny question no one wants to ask is who “owns” the problem of improving the outcomes for – to borrow from @harry b’s parlance – other people’s so-called under-competing kids?

      Implicit in Benedikt’s piece was a troubling proposition – that what the kids being raised by “the parents at the nearby public housing complex” (Benedikt’s words) need most is to rub elbows at school with kids who are being raised by a higher class of parents (like Benedikt’s “morally bankrupt” Slate coworkers?). Apparently, Benedikt really thinks “public housing complex” families are just incapable of getting their collective act together to try hard enough to imitate those “aggressive PTA” folks and “willful parents” who get in administrator’s faces (nevermind we know those tactics don’t actually work), so they need a higher class of people to swoop in and do it for them. That’s offensive and inaccurate.

      1. Very nice.

        “Benedikt really thinks “public housing complex” families are just incapable of getting their collective act together to try hard enough to imitate those “aggressive PTA” folks and “willful parents” who get in administrator’s faces (nevermind we know those tactics don’t actually work), so they need a higher class of people to swoop in and do it for them. That’s offensive and inaccurate.”

        It is possible to combine the aggressive manner and non-elite culture. One of my close friends is 1) a college faculty wife and 2) from a South American immigrant family. When she goes toe-to-toe with the powers to be to get what she needs, she calls it “Going Hispanic.” You do not want her to “go Hispanic” on you.

  10. From one of the Ace of Spades commentors (this is riffing off the fact that Benedikt said she read only one book during high school and that she’s never read the classics):

    “I love how this woman complains about the fact that she’s never read the classics. If only there were some place that you could go to find books. Some large building where you could find shelves upon shelves of books, including many of the classics. Even better, this mystical place would allow you, after registering and paying a small fee, to take these books home for a specified period of time. I know it’s crazy, right?

    “You know what’s even crazier? If there were stores where you could buy books, including many that have been used previously, at inexpensive prices. You could take books home and place them on horizontal boards within reach of you children. Perhaps you could even read to them at night when they’re young, and encourage them to read for entertainment as they grow up.”

    The Ace of Spades blog post on Benedikt’s piece is a near classic:

    http://minx.cc/?post=342926

  11. ” The upper middle-class are a large enough contingent that they set the culture for the town, so the few poor kids behave like rich kids.”

    Schelling had some useful remarks about tipping. His view was that if there were enough people of a certain type, as our Gracious Hostess puts it, they will ‘set the culture’. If your family is the one which tips a dysfunctional school culture towards function, well, congrats you have done great good. If your family doesn’t tip the school, well, you are out of luck, your kid is in a place where others tell them how to make methamphetamine and when he graduates he has a diploma which Dartmouth has no idea how to assess, AND you have done nothing to make things better, because things didn’t tip. Not a very attractive deal.

    I bought in a town where the schools are well thought of, where if my kid gets an A- average, colleges will have some notion what they can expect of him. I would do it again.

  12. “Schelling had some useful remarks about tipping. His view was that if there were enough people of a certain type, as our Gracious Hostess puts it, they will ‘set the culture’. If your family is the one which tips a dysfunctional school culture towards function, well, congrats you have done great good. If your family doesn’t tip the school, well, you are out of luck, your kid is in a place where others tell them how to make methamphetamine and when he graduates he has a diploma which Dartmouth has no idea how to assess, AND you have done nothing to make things better, because things didn’t tip. Not a very attractive deal.”

    That’s very insightful, dave s.

    Here’s a problem, though, that arises from that insight: there literally aren’t enough upper middle class families in the US to achieve that effect for every single school in the US. Hence, the project is a theoretical impossibility, not just a practical impossibility.

  13. Bleh. As a teacher in a private school with a kid in said private school, I call BS. Yes, we get kids from the city where they’re escaping crappy public schools. But you know what? They’re on a scholarship. We’re helping them. Most of our full paying customers live in school districts similar to Laura’s I’m guessing. Our school is in fact located in such a school district. Most of the family are Upper Middle class. The academics are excellent. The only thing really to complain about is slightly larger class sizes, especially in Middle and High school. My own school district (next door) is fine. I don’t think they did too well by my older son, but he probably learned a lot from the experience. If I had to do it over again, I would have sent him to a hippy dippy private school.

    One of our friends who lives in the city was lamenting the failing school system there. He called it a failure of Sesame Street. He argued that Sesame Street was supposed to make living in the city look acceptable for families. It didn’t accomplish that.

    1. He argued that Sesame Street was supposed to make living in the city look acceptable for families. It didn’t accomplish that.

      Bert and Ernie did legitimize gay marriage. You can’t have everything.

  14. Plus the historical fact that the exodus of white families from public schools in a large swathe of the south (and possibly/probably elsewhere) was designed to gut the public school systems, which otherwise would have had to be shared with black people. Look also at the closure of public facilities such as swimming pools, and the decline of public transportation systems, and see how closely that tracks actual integration. The degradation of the public as a result of the retreat into the private is, in that view, a feature, not a bug.

  15. The funny thing is that this whole discussion ignores the fact that private school enrollment has been down over the last 15+ years. (You’ll notice that the Allison Benedikt piece is not exactly weighted down with facts, figures, quotes, or other obvious signs of research.)

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jack-jennings/proportion-of-us-students_b_2950948.html

    That’s Huffington Post, but he has charts and everything. Presumably, the slight resurgence in public school enrollment has something to do with the availability of charters, magnets and so forth. The list of possible explanations may well include better special education (Temple Grandin went to private schools back in the day and was very well served by her small private elementary and high school but would presumably have really suffered in public school) and residential segregation. Presumably, the more segregated neighborhoods and public schools are, the less effort families need to put into achieving the same effect.

    1. That whole decline in private school enrollment appears to be because of the drop in Catholic school enrollment. They keep closing or merging the elementary schools here. No more free labor from nuns and the parishioners are gone. North Catholic is trying to keep operating by following the grandchildren of the people who built it the deep suburbs of Cranberry. It’s current enrollment is about a fifth of what it was in the 80s.

      1. Yes, the Catholic schools have taken a hit. In this area, the clergy abuse scandal accelerated the trend.

      2. We had Archbishop Wuerl (since made a Cardinal) and he had no tolerance for evasion or cover-ups. He even argued with the Vatican to get changes to make easier to remove priests after abuse accusations. Some people around here weren’t happy with him as he closed a lot of parishes, but it had to be done when you have a city with 50% of its peak population,

  16. Benedikt wrote: “And parents have a lot of power. In many underresourced schools, it’s the aggressive PTAs that raise the money for enrichment programs and willful parents who get in the administration’s face when a teacher is falling down on the job.”

    Wrong. To the parents in his face the principal responds: “I hear you, but this teacher has worked here for 18 years and has tenure, so my hands are completely tied — unless of course they’ve committed a crime.” Also, as we’ve discussed on this blog before, working for free on the PTA does not give anyone real “power” to create institutional change, it merely gives them access to information with which they may or may not find useful to advocate on the very small scale for their own child (i.e. knowing which teacher to request). Then again, volunteering too much can also backfire if the administration sees a PTA mom as “the help.”

    “Use your connections to power and money and innovation to make your local school… better.”

    Golly gee, it all sounds so simple, so why isn’t everyone getting right on that? We already know the likes of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Suzy Buffett can’t get the job done in the public schools of Seattle or Omaha. But Benedikt’s absolutely sure some random mom’s “connections” and “power” are going to be oh-so helpful to her as she navigates the maze of a government bureaucracy.

    Middle class parents want power and connections? Get elected to the local school board. It’s still no guarantee.

    1. Local school board members are also limited by laws and contracts. They hire/fire the superintendent, and set the budget. That’s about it. Setting policy does not mean they oversee how their policies are implemented. A school board member in our state had to FOIA records from her own school.

      1. That’s exactly right. Both my dad and my uncle were on our town school board when I was in school, and that was precisely their experience as well. After he’d done his time, my dad said that what he’d learned from it was that the only kid you can save is yours.

        I think this is a major structural weakness of the public school system, that everybody within it feels powerless, and whoever you are, it feels like everybody else has more power than you do (the teachers, the parents, the kids, the principals, the superintendent, the school board, the voters who turned down the last levy, etc). Moving a school system can feel like pushing a shopping cart with a couple of broken wheels. The nice thing about a private school is that the administration can figure out where they want to go, and then everybody who wants the same thing can hop aboard.

      2. “They hire/fire the superintendent, and set the budget. That’s about it.”

        And thank God for that, considering some of the people who served on the school board in the parish where my mom taught for 30 years.

      3. “it feels like everybody else has more power than you do” – so true, @AmyP.

        But, then again, sometimes that feeling is 100% correct. As I said upthread, being elected to a school board is no guarantee of power/connections, and the context of my comment was that more mothers would have more power if they stopped toiling away in low-profile ways on the PTA and instead ran for the school board.

        At the very least a board member’s phone calls will be immediately returned and a principal will meet with her because he knows she can go over his head and get a meeting with the superintendent, and he doesn’t want the trouble. Then again, we all know nothing will come of that if the issue involves her kid vs. a bad teacher with tenure – but for a smaller, non-teachers’ union-related issue the odds are he’ll acquiesce.

        My own anecdata: my best friend’s mom was on the school board for years, and she did a lot of good – managed to pull quite a few little strings here and there for her own kids (such as: she got every teacher to comply with her request to call her immediately the moment her daughters’ grades slipped below an A, switched teachers well past the point it was technically allowed), but I also know she got several at-risk students into magnet schools they otherwise would never have gotten into. In an event, she had a lot more power and connections than my parents, who to this day say their PTA involvement was a waste of time and really did nothing for me.

  17. In another essay, Benedikt declared her family was spending $5,000 per month on childcare, which sum could now return to the family coffers due to the youngest entering public school. That money could be used to pay a mortgage, or for tuition, should they so desire.

    The whole piece is illogical click bait. I am unclear on the mechanism whereby creating a monopoly on schooling will improve all schools a generation hence. The more likely outcome would be the unchecked growth of cram schools, to educate the students to their parents’ standards. Such schools exist in Asia, and in certain Asian communities in the US.

    A gifted kid will not be “fine.” This was pretty close to our experience:

    http://notesandqueries.ca/school-is-no-place-for-a-reader/

    It’s pretty sad when you have to debate with teachers whether or not your children will be allowed to read books at the same level they read at home. It might make the other children feel bad, you know? As if the other children can’t tell who’s reading fluently. Reading 10 easy readers in the free reading time is a dead giveaway. And the debate as to whether they understand what they’re reading! Oh sure, they spend hours absolutely absorbed in something they don’t understand. Riiiight.

    We put our time in, advocating for the things we thought were important. Grammar. Challenge for kids who were bored–other than tutoring peers. (By the way, being teacher’s pet, and default peer tutor sets a kid up for bullying in middle school. Who knew? /sarc) Some of our suggestions were adopted, but only after about a 3 year delay. At one point, they adopted a suggestion, because about 20% of one grade opted out at the same time. At other times, we were lied to.

    Even if all the children in private schools were returned to public schools, they and their parents would only be 10% of the school population. 10% is not a large group. It’s not enough to influence school culture. Do you think schools will orient themselves to offer instruction to all which would be fitting for the top 10%? Or will they orient themselves to the 25th – 75th percentile? Hmm. Having a bunch of nerds to push around won’t do much for the quality of the school. It might improve the school’s average SAT scores.

      1. The gifted kids will also be every bit as disruptive, though the disruption may be more interesting and amusing, and not necessarily pinnable on said gifted kid.

    1. That essay is almost precisely our experience. Sigh. We are saving for private school after my youngest is out of daycare.

      The Slate article was terrible. And I personally believe it works the other way, you have to create schools people want to send their kids to. Although that is really hard.

    2. Plus, that 10% is not all easy-to-educate kids. Some of those kids are in private school because they had issues that the public school could not handle–they got into trouble, they need to be gotten away from a bad peer group, they needed more structure, they have special needs, they space out in larger classes, etc. There’s a whole subcategory of private schools that cater to special needs children.

      http://www.morningsideacademy.org/

  18. cranberry wrote: “A gifted kid will not be “fine.” This was pretty close to our experience:”

    I’m not saying my gifted kid/s (only one has an official “label” of gifted, though the other is pretty spectacular) are fine, but I read that blog entry and just have to say our experience (and we live in the same state, no?) has been different. One of my kids is a reader and the other isn’t, but neither has ben discouraged. Our elementary school librarian was a huge advocate for challenging both my kids. The elder (the reader) wanted to read all the Mass Book Awards books in 4th and 5th grades (and did). The younger (non-reader–he says he likes to read numbers, not words) was often offered more challenging books on topics he could get into, plus a bunch of fiction involving smart kids doing smart things (in hopes of getting him to relate to the books). Both kids brought home the Ziploc books; we ignored them. No one bothered us about it.

    1. I hope that continues for your kids, Wendy. I think we’re in the same state–but this sort of thing varies by school and district. In hindsight, we should have chosen to settle in a different school district–either the more middle class district to our west, or the very expensive district to our east. However, school culture is very hard to decipher from outside the district. Our district always scores very well on statewide ranking tables, but the parents with pull in the system are heavily invested in the Sport Team Culture. There’s an assumption that the academic kids will do very well in college placement, so they shouldn’t complain about curriculum.

      I did have to write a letter to the school librarian, giving my oldest permission to read any book in their library.

      I found out years later that our district had a secret policy to support the gifted, under the previous superintendent. Apparently, had we had our kid tested at an early age, we could have marched into the school and demanded appropriate instruction. As the policy was secret, though, we had no way of knowing. It was something they did for some kids, on the sly. I don’t find that appropriate.

      Kids who find academics easy in the early years need to learn how to study. Sooner or later, they will hit the wall. Every student needs good study habits. If the top 5% (10%, 20%, 25%?) are allowed to coast through middle school, they miss the best period to learn those skills. High school is often too late–the kids who coasted in elementary and middle school are sometimes left behind by the kids just behind them–the kids who had to learn how to manage their time wisely.

      If you only read one book in high school, you won’t have the skills necessary for college. I got fed up, debating with parents who claimed writing one five page paper in high school would prepare a student for college. Maybe a five page paper every week…

      1. “I found out years later that our district had a secret policy to support the gifted, under the previous superintendent. Apparently, had we had our kid tested at an early age, we could have marched into the school and demanded appropriate instruction.”

        Huh. I don’t think we have that. Because of E’s IEP, everyone knows his IQ, and when they meet him in class, they get a good idea of what he’s capable of, plus I generally make my wishes known. And yet he hasn’t gotten any Double Super Sekrit Support. So your district has one over mine on that count. I have a meeting next week with the 6th grade guidance counselor to go over some things, and on my list is to ask for DSSS. My kid needs harder math, and they don’t start tracking in math till 7th grade, and he’s not malleable enough personality-wise (nor am I or my husband mathy enough) for us to enhance his teachings outside of school. And yet all the social stuff is so difficult to deal with, too, that it’s sometimes exhausting to ask for DSSS as well. What drives me crazy is that E’s social maturity level is low due to the AS, and his intellectual maturity is higher, but in school he hangs out with the less socially mature, who are generally not his intellectual equals. Plus his study skills are lousy, because he’s never really had to study.

      2. Hi Wendy, I’m replying to myself because this branch ran out of replies.

        Have you heard of the Russian School of Mathematics? (You can find it through an online search.) Depending on your location in state, that might be an option for out-of-school enrichment. There’s also an online component.

        Some districts allow students to accelerate by subject, rather than grade. If the high school’s near by, taking math with high school students might be better than taking it with middle schoolers, if he’s ahead of his grade level. Those couple of years can make such a difference in maturity for teenagers.

        DSSS died when that superintendent left. As teachers have also retired, I suppose no one left in the system remembers those days. IF a superintendent or principal supports a program, it can thrive; the down side is, those programs die when people leave, or a new priority is set from the top.

      3. C, yes, I’ve heard of RSM, but motivation is an issue for E. If his teachers in school ask him to do it, he will do it and not complain. But if I ask him to do it outside of school hours, he will rebel.
        Hm, maybe I will try taking him to the open house. Thanks for the reminder.

      4. I would not force a kid who doesn’t want to do “extra math” to do extra math. There isn’t a huge payoff to math acceleration. Sometimes you’ll see people bragging online about how advanced their kids are in math. Some children are naturally adept at math, but others just have parents who’ve worked hard at getting them ahead.

        This would be easier to explain with body language. Some kids will love studying math outside of school, because they just love it. Others have the capacity to do more, but will suffer if their peers find out. One of my friends has a son who refused to do more advanced math because, “It just gets me into trouble.” He meant, it made him stand out in the middle school classroom, but not in a good way. It’s hard to break the class into groups to work together on a problem, when there’s a kid who has no trouble solving the problem.

        I would work back from what the most advanced kids are doing in senior year in your district. Anything past that point (calculus, linear algebra, whatever) should not be a goal (in my opinion), because it just makes the kid hard to place in classes. Unless the district has acceleration by subject, being a year ahead in math may mean he doesn’t fit into the standard schedule for his grade. So, he might have to choose between math and foreign language.

        There is also a whole math competition culture. Some students devote themselves to math competitions. The school’s math team can be a way into this culture, if it exists.

      5. Wendy and Cranberry,

        Sorry if I’m not doing the threading correctly.

        We have a county math bee at the county fair, just like there’s a county fair spelling bee. I don’t know if that exists elsewhere, but it’s a fun environment to do a contest at, and the kids get t-shirts and piles of swag and free entry and parking for the fair and we just spend about $3 a head per contest. We also have a Texas thing called UIL (University Interscholastic League), which is a fun tradition. There’s one day a year where the kids can skip normal school and just do contests and mill around and visit the snack bar and playground and watch movies all day, and they just love it.

        http://www.uiltexas.org/academics

        My husband has bought a couple of books of math contest problems over the years. I think we have this one or something similar:

        http://www.amazon.com/Contests-Grades-2006-2007-Through-2010-2011/dp/0940805189/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377892588&sr=8-1&keywords=math+contest

        (We’ve been known to pay a certain fee per solved problem.)

        I also really like the Kumon Geometry and Measurement workbook series, although E may be growing out of it at this point, since it stops at 6th grade.

      6. I hope this reply ends up at the end of this comment branch.

        Amy P, there are a number of math contests for middle and high school students in the northeast. Some are based on teams. Public and private schools send one or more teams to competitions held at member schools over the course of the school year. Schools vary in their degree of commitment to these competitions. Some are lucky to have math teachers willing to devote time to shepharding the math team to competitions; others have intense advisors, paid stipends equal to sports coaches, who run mandatory intense practice sessions before meets.

        The most prestigious program prepares students for the US team which competes for the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). If you search for USAMO or AIME, you should find the Mathematical Association of America, which sponsors the US effort, and other resources and competitions. Full description of the exams are posted on the site. The problems are all solvable by precalculus methods. If you’re interested, the two documentaries, “Hard Problems” and “Beautiful Young Minds,” follow the American and British teams, respectively, from training camp to competition.

  19. If there was such a thing as gifted in the 1960s, I would have probably been given that label, because I was a very good reader. That said, I find 99% of the articles written about “giftedness” to be unscientific, offensive, faddish, and silly. They take advantage of the natural belief that our children are somehow better than other children.

    1. I didn’t have problems in school, because we benefited from the tail end of the Sputnik era panic over school standards. I did not expect to find the public schools had changed so drastically in the interim.

      I think the militant gifted lobby is driven in part by schools gatekeeping access to certain academic curriculum. Our state doesn’t have gifted programs in the schools. The state gifted organization seems to be on its last legs. Even the website is fairly bare bones. I have the strong impression that there’s lots of game-playing in districts which do have gifted programs. From online reading, I suspect families often find compliant psychologists to get the “right” score to get into the “right” program. I feel any family should be free to opt in to a challenging curriculum. There is a limit to how well parents can supplement a school’s curriculum.

      As a nod to current events, an 11 year old should not be heading to university.

      People opt in to private schools because something in the public schools doesn’t work for them. Many of the kids in private schools are not gifted. A large share of the private schools in our state are parochial schools. Many students change schools due to bullying in previous schools. Others change because they fall in the vast middle, which is passed along but not really noticed.

      “They take advantage of the natural belief that our children are somehow better than other children.”

      Americans believe in inborn intelligence. Other cultures don’t. I suppose we are more Asian in philosophy than our neighbors. It’s not enough to be smart. “You’ll be fine” isn’t true. School is not a purely academic institution. There’s an enormous social component, as well. I take a child saying, “I hate school,” as a warning of a true problem. It doesn’t matter how smart a kid is, if she hates the place she spends most of her day.

      1. There was an 11 year old in my college French conversation class. His mother attended class with him and would take notes and write down the HW assignments for him. One day she brought in a newspaper article from the local paper about how he was a genius and he and his mother were going to college next year. The kid was bright, but not really on the level of bright college students. His French was good, but since young kids are naturally suited to learning languages, it wasn’t all that impressive that an 11 year old could hold his own linguistically in an intermediate French class.

    2. Yes, there’s a lot of chaff in articles on “giftedness”, mostly theory based on nothing, but there is also a strong research base. There is good actual research on giftedness by social scientists who understand how to do research. Said research is scientific and seems to have stood the test of time in that the core findings and recommendations haven’t changed that much, at least not in the books that I checked out from the ed school here. And that strong research base finds that gifted kids are at a higher risk of dropping out of school than normal kids. Often they won’t do just fine, and we’ll never know because they’re not achieving so we don’t realize they’re gifted.

      Here’s some of the books that we found helpful when we were desperately trying to figure out what to do with our then-preschooler:
      http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/reading-books-on-giftedness/

      1. I’m sorry, but none of those studies would stand up to analysis by any serious social scientist. You know the number one group who is endanger of dropping out school? Poor black kids! Not upper middle class white kids who do well on standardized tests. Utter hogwash.

      2. I am a serious social scientist. Top flight credentials, in a field that takes research quality very seriously. The first book I mention isn’t research based, but it was incredibly comforting to know I wasn’t alone. Qualitative work has its place even if it doesn’t have the same “rigor” as quantitative studies. And quantitative studies have been done, mostly by psychologists. Such studies are cited in the other books.

        Yes, poor black kids are most likely to drop out of school. And you know what? Gifted poor black kids are also very likely to drop out of school. There’s a small literature on that as well. Gifted black kids are far less likely to be identified as gifted. Poor kids are far less likely to be identified as gifted. You don’t have to be upper middle class or white to be gifted, just to have a better chance of being identified as such.

        And gifted kids DO have special learning needs. Maybe not the ones who are only a little ahead of the curve, but the outliers do. And yes, gifted kids are more likely to drop out of school than regular kids.

        So I’m not sure what you’re arguing against, because I never said that upper middle class white kids who do well on standardized tests are the same as gifted kids. I’m not sure what you’re arguing against at all. Do you really believe that there has been no good research done in the field of gifted education at all? None?

      3. “Do you really believe that there has been no good research done in the field of gifted education at all? None?”

        Great question. Why is nobody answering it? Hmm…

    3. And gifted kids DO have special learning needs. Maybe not the ones who are only a little ahead of the curve, but the outliers do.

      This claim always rubs me the wrong way, since even if it isn’t the intent, it seems to imply that kids who are socially adjusted can’t also be very gifted. It also, I know it’s not the intent, but it also seems to have problematic gender implications, since generally we allow boys to be socially maladjusted in a way we don’t accept as much from girls.

      Also, and this might just be my opinion, the one of the main reasons for collective schooling ought to be to teach social skills. I think most schools sadly neglect this in the focus on academics, and do a poor job of both. This doesn’t mean everyone has to conform to some arbitrary social standard, but if I were dictator of public schools, the main point of elementary school would be teaching basic respect for others who are different from you, politeness, kindness, empathy, responsibility, and good communication skills. Some kids would be naturally better at it, some kids would need more help, just like some kids “naturally” learn to read more easily or learn to manipulate numbers better. Reading and math are important, but there’s no real advantage, either to later schooling or general intelligence, to being garden-variety precocious, and the push to get all children reading by 5 or 6 seems misguided.

  20. I was reading a bit of Taranto’s response to the Benedikt piece and liked this paragraph:

    “The assumption behind treating education as a public good is that in general, educating children makes them more successful adults, and successful people are more valuable to society than unsuccessful ones. If that is true, then consigning your child to a mediocre education is harmful to the common good, because it reduces his likelihood of success–which can mean everything from becoming a gainfully employed taxpayer to discovering a cure for cancer.”

    He passes over this very quickly, but I think it’s really crucial. Benedikt’s piece rests on the assumption that the academic side of school doesn’t matter at all (at least for parents of the class that she is addressing). That’s a heck of an assumption. I know we (or I) sometimes talk about schools as if it were a zero sum game and a primarily private benefit, a question just of getting ahead. We understand that that’s not true on the low end–we all suffer from the presence in our midst of illiterates, innumerates, unemployables and felons. But it is just as true on the high end–we suffer from the cures that aren’t identified, the energy storage method that’s not invented, the lifesaving hybrid crop that’s not bred, the music that’s not composed, the app that’s not coded, the book that’s never written, etc. This loss is invisible to us.

    1. I think he passes over it very quickly because the obvious extension is that more resources put into public education might benefit everybody.

  21. “But it is just as true on the high end–we suffer from the cures that aren’t identified . . . .” Except for those who have a truly deprived environment (that is, they are going to school at a school that’s no more than a holding pen, and doesn’t have teachers or books, or not going to school at all, or are living in their car, or also have disabilities . . .), I do not believe that depriving the higher end of the tail deprives us of cures for cancer. The kind of people who develop cures for cancers are, almost by definition, people who try to find answers. The ones I know found ways to train their brains as children.

    The one thing they did have, and that I think is less accessible now, is to be left alone to pursue that training without being weighted down with tons of feathers. Those accommodations seem harder to come by, student specific ones, and I suspect that’s at least in part because everyone clamors for fairness (which is a good thing, too, even if fair shouldn’t also = the same).

    Mind you, I don’t have a lot of experience with non-motivated smart kids — at least in this current generation, they haven’t ended up in the ranks of those with the tools and money to cure cancer — based on the back stories I hear from people. The back stories involve lots of time spent thinking about problems that were important to them, working on their own projects, doing well in school in the topics that interested them, mentors, in the real sense of the word, and people who accommodated their need to avoid the truly boring.

  22. My kids are gifted by all the standard criteria (and, yes, I do think they are amazing and extraordinary), but I also agree with Laura’s summing up of most of what I read on gifted education (even though my kids do attend a private school for the gifted).

    The principal at our local elementary school (which does contain an over-distributed number of educated parents) said that 50% of her population was classified as gifted or had special needs by the schools’ criterion (25% of each) as her explanation of why the school didn’t have self contained classrooms for gifted education. When tails are defined so broadly (and when they are tails, rather than categorical — almost nothing is categorical, which is often true for both ends of the distribution) they are not meaningful.

    So, having said my kids go to private schools, I do believe that the flight of kids, our individual decisions, like mine from the public schools contributes to the fragmentation of our educational system. But, I’m not willing to give up the benefits I see to my own children of the perks they get with their private school in order to contribute to the diffuse benefit (that, in turn, wouldn’t be contributed by the presence of just my children, just as our government’s funding problem wouldn’t be solved by my donating some tax money to the government). I’m willing to be called bad for that. I try, to the extent I can, to not allow my lack of personal interest contribute to making bad decisions about the public schools (to the extent that’s possible).

  23. “And yes, gifted kids are more likely to drop out of school than regular kids.”

    I’ve never found a believable cite for this sometimes repeated quote.

    http://giftedexchange.blogspot.com/2008/09/are-20-of-high-school-drop-outs-gifted.html argues the data shows that gifted children (broadly defined) drop out at approximately the same rate as other kids.

    Duke TIP estimates drop rates for gifted children at between 0.5-2%, which would be lower than the average drop out rate.

    http://www.tip.duke.edu/node/872

    I care partially ’cause I care about the data, but also because I don’t believe there are strong arguments in favor of testing-selective based selective access benefiting society (i.e. curing cancer, or students dropping out or other societal damage).

    I am ambivalent on whether there’s an individual benefit. Our kids school does select based on testing, but though I think the small class sizes, teachers, and educational philosophy are nice perks that my children enjoy, I am unsure that there are net benefits from the testing based selection, which introduces a variety of issues of its own.

    1. We might also have to look at the variables of autism spectrum disorders and the drop-out rate. Asperger’s, for example, is linked with characteristics of giftedness, but the social struggles the kids face and the difficulty in doing work that they deem boring could lead to more dropping out of school. As we do a better job of diagnosing and remediating kids on the spectrum, we may find that more stay in school.

  24. It partly turns on what you classify as gifted. Kids with IQs in the top 0.05% are, in fact, more likely to drop out of school — and more likely, just generally, to have low incomes, commit suicide, have bad mental health, etc. Having a super-high IQ is a curse. But that is not who gets served by Talented and Gifted programs: those are for children whose parents are well-educated and affluent, and are designed to keep them from defecting from the public schools (keep them quiet). Children like mine, in other words who, without the programming, would have to put up with a bit more boredom, and irritation, and whose parents would see them alright anyway, just with a bit more irritation and effort.

    Unlike Laura, I actually was diagnosed — but as “educationally sub-normal” (which was a bona-fide designation in those days) — I think because I was shy, a late reader, clumsy, had a really hard time changing my clothes (I still have nightmares in which I am unable to remove my sweater and unbutton my shirt) and couldn’t tie my shoelaces or stay within the lines when I coloured things in. Mercifully, what they did with ESN kids in my (rural) elementary school was sit them at the back of the room and ignore them. A good friend is an expert on these things and has retrospectively diagnosed me as dyspraxic, and described to me what would, now, be done to me on that diagnosis, which sounds like ritual torture and humiliation, and would have scarred me for life.

    In the end I did ok academically. And I can tie my shoelaces now, and take the fastest showers of anyone I know.

    1. We have a friend who’s a literacy specialist, and she says the hardest thing to know is which 8 year olds are just late bloomers and which 8 year olds need intensive early intervention to prevent life-long literacy problems. Targeting the late bloomers can be scarring and turn them off reading, and ignoring the kids who really need help compounds the problem and makes it harder to deal with in later grades. In this respect, I can see some of the benefit of the Waldorf method, at least in the early grades.

    2. “A good friend is an expert on these things and has retrospectively diagnosed me as dyspraxic, and described to me what would, now, be done to me on that diagnosis, which sounds like ritual torture and humiliation, and would have scarred me for life.”

      Really? Is it really that bad?

      We realized belatedly that our oldest child had a lot of similar fine motor issues when she was around 7 or so, and my husband and I were able to remediate her with some homemade exercises and a stopwatch and a little judicious bribery. We could have gone looking for professional therapy, but she had already done physical therapy, she was doing social skills and riding therapy, so we didn’t want to add yet one more thing to the schedule. Also, we’d read an article that said that you should teach and practice the desired fine motor skills, not global skills or some sort of special exercises. It truly wasn’t that bad and didn’t take that long.

      1. This [the retrospective diagnosis] was in England ten years ago, and she described the standard interventions in schools at the time and I could see why they might work ok for some kids but they would have been hell on earth for me. What you describe sounds perfectly benign. Turns out I was a [very] late bloomer–by 15 I had exceptional hand-eye coordination, eg, and could stand for long periods of time without falling over. I have no sense of rhythm though — I was recently at a wedding of a student of mine and watching the young people dance filled me with amazement.

  25. I was diagnosed as a “gifted” student in a rural public school system in the late 1980s, and I was the child of a single-mom public school teacher who didn’t intervene at all to get me placed in G&T classes. My G&T classes were some of the only times I wasn’t bored to the point of tears in school, which is part of what people mean by “special learning needs” too–I didn’t need social skills training, I just needed the kind of rigor and challenge that my kids’ current (private) school provides to all their students, not just ones who have been pulled out of their larger classroom for whatever reason. Like some of the above commenters, I don’t care about being called a bad person by someone on the internet (or my Facebook friend who posted this article and vehemently agreed with it).

  26. The “gifted” tag carries a lot of baggage. I would gladly dispose of it. I turned to the internet to research children, school, and possible interventions for my kids. In discussions of giftedness, I found one sure way to shut down discussion. It’s a simple proposal. Here goes.

    Decouple course placement in high school and placement in gifted programs. Do not weight grades received in gifted programs before high school. Allow parents and students to determine whether the students belong in a gifted program. In other words, remove the college rat race rewards for gifted students. In my opinion, for many such students, the best intervention is the freedom to do their own thing. If he can find the area of any geometric figure, allow him to read a book on combinatorics while the rest of the class asks questions about formulas for area. Allow students to volunteer to tutor others, rather than requiring it. Don’t get mad at them when they aren’t able to control their peers.

    Early reading is not a reliable sign of giftedness. (All this is in my opinion.) Yes, some kids figure it out early. Others pick it up. A certain percentage of children are dyslexic. Some of the children who have trouble learning to read need intensive phonics; the earlier they start phonics, the better the outcome.

    I am not convinced the researchers know all that much about the general population. No one tests all students in a grade for signs of giftedness. Thus, I do believe certain populations are under-identified. Also, many students are “twice-exceptional.” Talent search programs tilt the data toward children whose parents are invested enough to find such programs.

    I would want all students to have access to an intellectually stimulating curriculum. I do not think it’s fair to limit participation in such a curriculum. It’s like sports. I strongly prefer a “no-cut” approach to school teams.

    I disagree with Benedikt’s assertion that “everyone wants” Mandarin, creativity, not teaching to the test, an arts program. Perhaps her fellow Slate employees want those things. I know many parents who want high test scores, more technology, and homework. They regard the arts as frivolous. There isn’t one right model to create an educated adult.

    1. “In other words, remove the college rat race rewards for gifted students.”

      I agree with a lot of your post, but especially this. As my kids get older, I get more angry about this all. What am I supposed to do to get my kids to the right colleges for them? My goals for my children are so different than those of others for whom a college degree is a status symbol or a simple piece of paper they pick up on their way to their McMansion lifestyle.

      Argh. This is pushing so many of my buttons right now. 😦 (Work issues and family issues.)

    2. “I disagree with Benedikt’s assertion that “everyone wants” Mandarin, creativity, not teaching to the test, an arts program. Perhaps her fellow Slate employees want those things. I know many parents who want high test scores, more technology, and homework. They regard the arts as frivolous. There isn’t one right model to create an educated adult.”

      Amen. I sure as heck don’t want Mandarin. For one thing, I’d have no way of judging if the program were successful, whereas if it was a language either my husband or I had some exposure to (French or Russian or Polish), we would be much more capable of evaluating and supporting the program. Even with Spanish (which I have never studied), I would be in a much better position to judge my kids’ progress. As bj has mentioned before, US foreign language programs for young elementary students can be VERY disappointing. I wish my kids’ school had been more serious with the Spanish that the kids take from K-3. It’s truly startling to see how much more serious the Latin program is. A huge chunk of the Spanish learning time gets taken up with (and I’m not making this up) Mexican folk dance practice for a dance show in the spring. It’s cute, it’s fun, but it’s a horrific misuse of time and resources. Obviously, some of the people at school like that. I don’t.

      If the test is AP calculus or AP physics, I have absolutely no qualms about teaching to the test.

      The degree of interest in team sports is going to vary a lot from school culture to school culture, as Cranberry has mentioned before. I personally find watching my oldest’s attempt to serve a volleyball an adequate punishment for all of my previous sins, but obviously, other parents are different.

  27. Interesting post and comments.

    We stayed in our public school, even though we have the ability to go private, if we would like. (most of our neighbors go private.) Our school’s demographics are stark: 76% free & reduced lunch population. We live in a small Midwestern city where millionaires do, in fact, live a mile away from welfare recipients.

    Our kids are considered “gifted” (but I really hate that label….all that means, in our case, is that they score in the 99th percentile of every standardized test they have ever taken, and I’m not sure that means anything more than they excel at taking standardized tests.)

    I just want to pipe up with one tiny voice that it CAN work – in our case, anyway, we have an incredibly diverse school (languages, races, incomes) and it works. Not for everyone. And it’s not perfect. But it can work. Poverty does not always equal “failing school.” The assumption that it automatically does really irks me. (People take one look at our demographics and won’t even visit the school….)

    In our case, the benefits of a richly diverse population have greatly outweighed the challenges.

    One thing I have noticed is that many middle class families tend to NOT want their kids to interact with kids who are living in poverty. I think that drives much of the school-choice movement. (at least in my neck of the woods)

    It is interesting how education experiences are so vastly different in each city and state. (and family???)

    1. Laura said:

      “The upper middle-class are a large enough contingent that they set the culture for the town, so the few poor kids behave like rich kids.”

      It occurs to me that the causality may run a bit differently, at least in some cases. Is it purely random happenstance that they find themselves in your district, as opposed to living in an area with cheaper housing? I wouldn’t bet the farm on that. I seem to recall that in places like California, low-income Asian families are famous for figuring out which school districts are desirable and then doing whatever it takes to achieve residency there. There must be some poor kids who are “tipped” by their upper-middleclass classmates, but there are probably also a number whose parents chose very consciously to put them where they are, just as consciously as you did.

    2. I agree that many could make public schools work for them while not sacrificing their children and grandchildren. We could, I think, and our options aren’t schools with high needs. And, yes, in our case, the decision not to make it work means we don’t have to worry about the portables at our neighborhood school, but it also means our kids miss out on all kinds of diversity.

  28. Yes, offering children challenges as appropriate to them without the tie in to markers of success would unpackage some of the baggage around gifted education. One of the issues I’ve seen with gifted education is the focus on predictive testing to limit access. In my mind it’s a bit like using weight to pick the soccer players. Yes, may be a relevant variable, and a way of identifying project players, but also potentially an arbitrary limit on access.

    Regarding gifted research — there is some decent research out there. Duke TIP, Johns Hopkins CTY, UW Robinson center are some good academic sources.

    David Lohman’s site on the cogAT is a good discussion of testing (on testing for access, specifically). There are a couple of generally accessible books on the WISC.

    The NAGC has useful info, too, more directly as parents, in addition to thinking about policy.

    About the outliers — 0.05% means 1/2000, which means about 2000 9th graders nationwide.And, many of those kids are unique in their own way not captured by whatever measure we are using to define the 0.05%. I don’t think there’s a lot of policy that can be made around that mythically identified population.

  29. I just realized that there’s a dog that hasn’t barked.

    Back in 2008, Sandra Tsing Loh published “Mother on Fire,” which is a crazed (but very funny) take on the school dilemma. The book is about looking for the perfect school for her kids, and discovering that what she needs to do is send them to a public school and be involved and start a music program for all the deserving little minority children, etc., etc. (A couple years back, I kept catching my oldest daughter reading it. No, I can’t explain it, either.) On reflection, I wonder if Loh might have been having some sort of manic episode–there’s a certain bipolar grandiosity to her chosen project.

    That was five years ago. I wonder whether she’s stuck it out? She hasn’t written much about school since then.

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