For Things You Don’t Need

On Saturday night, my buddies and I rewarded ourselves for a long walk – my Fitbit was already way past 20,000 steps – with a beer and a burger at Fraunces Tavern, which is one of the oldest pubs in Manhattan and worth a visit if you’re in town.

After several hours of talking, which included such lovely topics as the new studies that found a connection between menopause and Alzheimer’s Disease and flaky college students, we started talking about politics.

I asked, “So, what do you think about the proposals that Democrats are starting to float about student loan forgiveness and free childcare?” Two of us have kids who are nearly done with high school, and the other never had kids. “Would you vote for someone who was putting forward proposals that wouldn’t benefit you at all?”

Our town pool has a special section that is just for older people. Nobody under 18 is allowed to be there. Every couple of hours, the life guards blow a whistle and everyone under 18 has to get out of the pool for 15 minutes, so the older people can do the side stroke in peace. The public library has senior reading clubs, introductory classes on email, and daytime movies. Without the buy-in from older citizens in the community, there’s a fear among local politicians that old folks will vote for people to defund those services. I’m sure those fears are justified.

People care about schools for a relatively short period of time. There care from the time that their oldest kid is five to when they’re about a sophomore in high school. Typically, parents are much more involved in schools for their oldest; subsequent kids are on auto-pilot. And then they stop caring about the local schools when they start thinking about SAT scores and colleges for their oldest and after their oldest fails to become the class president or the football captain.

Schools make a lot of enemies. For every kids that becomes the class president and the football captain, there are the parents of the hundred other kids who sit at the unpopular table in the cafeteria who want to throw a pitchfork into the school principal. Parents who aren’t in the audience for High School Awards Nights will never, ever vote for a school bond issue ever again. Screw ’em.

So, there’s only about ten to twelve years, when a person has a real stake in making better schools. And that’s why there are places in the country where teachers are paid around $30,000 per year and students have few chances to make it to college.

Childcare affects a family for three or four years, if you have multiple kids.

Student loans can haunt a person for ages, but for every person that defaults, there are nine others who paid off their loans working boring jobs and doing overtime.

And let’s be honest. Our grandparents didn’t have the material comforts that we have today. I mean we put in more hours at an office and have invested more in education, but that generation cut coupons and never bought prepared meals at Whole Foods. So, when they look at younger folks complaining about childcare costs, they’re thinking about how they survived on one income and never ever went on a vacation that involved an airplane.

So, really the question isn’t “”Would you vote for someone who was putting forward proposals that wouldn’t benefit you at all?” Instead, the real question is “would you vote for something that you worked really, really, really hard to pay for on your own, making lots of personal sacrifices, and destroying your own health in the process. And then the benefits went to people who you perceive to be privileged, entitled, smug, and unwilling to help you?”

My generation is in the middle. Gen-Xers have a foot in both worlds. We can remember the difficulties of juggling childcare and work, but we’re also done with it. It wasn’t easy, but we did it.

Self-interest is a basic component of human nature. The founders knew that and created a democratic system based on that notion. With a system of checks and balances, ambition would counterbalance ambition. A large nation, divided up with federalism, would create a large state with a multitude of interests, all checking each other, so no one group would dominate and abuse others.

So, lecturing people that they should vote for schools, student loans, and childcare because virtuous people do that, is pointless. I think we should look to the model of the local town pool and figure out ways to make sure that everyone benefits from childcare centers, schools, and colleges. I’ve always thought that childcare centers and senior citizen centers should be housed in the same buildings. Invite people from the community to give lectures in the high school on their expertises and careers. Colleges could provide job training to people with autism or provide free tickets to concerts to people in the community.

Free childcare and student loan forgiveness might get headlines and tweets from the 30-something crowd, but it’s a tough sell to those who are freaking out about menopausal plaque on the brains and are counting their steps on a Fitbit.

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78 thoughts on “For Things You Don’t Need

  1. “new studies that found a connection between menopause and Alzheimer’s Disease and flaky college students”

    I thought that meant that menopause and flaky college students contribute to Alzheimer’s, so I clicked and read that article immediately. Then I found a link in that article about a 3D model of a clitoris, so then I had to look that up, and then I sent the link I found about the 3D model of a clitoris to my flaky college student and now she won’t talk to me ever again. So there *is* a connection.

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  2. Wendy,

    Funny!

    (More seriously, that’s probably a Title IX violation.)

    Laura said,

    “So, there’s only about ten to twelve years, when a person has a real stake in making better schools. And that’s why there are places in the country where teachers are paid around $30,000 per year and students have few chances to make it to college.”

    ….or alternately, local people there don’t make huge salaries, so the teachers don’t make huge salaries, either. In that kind of area, a school job (even just as a teacher’s aide) may be one of the better available options, especially for women.

    (I should mention that the pay scale for our city district is $46k-$58k with the median home costing $120k-ish. Out in the nice suburb, the pay scale is roughly identical while the median home costs around $230k, so it would be hard to live in-district without a solid double income.)

    “Student loans can haunt a person for ages, but for every person that defaults, there are nine others who paid off their loans working boring jobs and doing overtime.”

    …and who didn’t commit the $100k BA mistake.

    “So, really the question isn’t “”Would you vote for someone who was putting forward proposals that wouldn’t benefit you at all?” Instead, the real question is “would you vote for something that you worked really, really, really hard to pay for on your own, making lots of personal sacrifices, and destroying your own health in the process. And then the benefits went to people who you perceive to be privileged, entitled, smug, and unwilling to help you?”

    …and that will cut into your current quality of life and perhaps make it impossible to hold onto your house and stay near your family and see your grandchildren grow up?

    Or alternately, the benefits will cost so much that your adult children will move away because they can’t afford all the freebies?

    “Gen-Xers have a foot in both worlds. We can remember the difficulties of juggling childcare and work, but we’re also done with it. It wasn’t easy, but we did it.”

    Young/er Gen-Xers still have little kids/kids in school. My sis, for example, is 40 and has a 4-year-old. I’m almost 44 and have a rising 1st grader, so I’m going to be caring about school for some time.

    “So, lecturing people that they should vote for schools, student loans, and childcare because virtuous people do that, is pointless.”

    Presumably, all inequities that exist in the K-12 system would exist equally in any sort of free childcare scheme.

    Hopefully older people do care about their grown kids and grandchildren…but that cuts both ways. If, for example, they wanted to support a SAHM daughter or DIL, they might see that taxing that couple heavily to pay for childcare is not fair to their grandchildren.

    Unlike Laura’s people, I may be a lot more open to the common good once our kids are further along in the process and our kid costs are lower and discretionary income is higher (we pay $700 a month in property taxes, 8% sales tax, and will be paying $27k tuition for the 2019-2020 school year, our last year with 3 children in private school). At the moment, I reflect on the current bonanza in local tax revenue every time I hit a pothole and I wonder where it’s all going. Husband has mentioned in the past that we should aim for 20% charitable donations. One thing I’ve wanted to do for a while is to fund a scholarship at our kids’ school.

    But at the moment, I mostly have tunnel vision thinking about, how do I do the best for MY family.

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  3. What you describe, the attitude of older, wealthier people willing and able to fuck over younger, financially struggling people, is the fruit of Reaganomics. Deindustrialization created a two-class society, which decimated the tax base that used to fund “the commons”.

    The UMC doesn’t believe in the Commons. They think of themselves as the landed gentry, and the rest of us as fit to be nothing but serfs. They are willing to spend large sums of money not just on themselves and their own families, but others *from their own social class* as well. Just….not the rest of us. We are just cannon fodder, literally or figuratively.

    This is not a sustainable situation. Take a look around the rest of the world to see what happens next.

    This is not a generational divide. It’s a class divide. Most seniors are not wealthy. Most communities do not have any amenities such as the ones described here, for seniors or for anyone else.

    And this class divide feeds political apathy, extremism of various sorts, and some very real fucked-up insane conspiracy theories and beliefs (not just the anti-vax crowd, but things like flat-earthers and such). That’ll bring some really bad mojo to not only the political front, but *public health* too. Some weird stuff is becoming mainstream, and if you don’t think that has anything to do with the destruction of the Commons, and especially the public education system, you are hiding your head in the sand.

    The argument that the previous generations worked hard, and are therefore entitled to not fund the Commons is garbage. The cost of college skyrocketed since their day, at the same time living-wage job opportunities plummeted. In my mother’s day, she was able to fund her nursing school education by working summers at the glass factory where her parents worked (where my grandma was a union steward). My daughter would have to work for years at the Casey’s gas station, or McDonald’s, or whateverthefuck, to pay for one year at Directional State University. But that’s the fruit of supply-side economics, and the extolling of greed as a virtue for ya.

    Nothin’ but bad times ahead. Perhaps our neo-landed-gentry will regret some of their choices. Or not; they’ll escape to civilized parts of the world, that *do* fund the Commons. Some of them, anyway.

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    1. The fact is that the previous generations went to college cheaply because of taxes that were higher than what we have now. Not just on individuals but on corporations.
      Also just because there is a stay at home parent in a home does not mean child care would never be needed. I’ve known parents who’ve used daycare a few days a week to give themselves a break, especially during times when they were dealing with a parent’s long term illness or their own mental illness or chronic health issues. They were lucky enough to have money for this but I’m sure there are plenty of parents who could use this who have not the money. The lower taxes we now “enjoy” also mean that elder care is terribly underpaid if it is paid for by Medicare. If you live in an area where the cost of living is high it can be difficult to find a good caregiver. One of my coworkers relocated with her elderly mom for this reason- their Southern California hometown was too expensive for good caregivers to live in. The ones the agencies sent were mostly people who couldn’t get any other jobs.

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      1. “Tax revenues are a lower percent of our total economy than in any other rich economy.”

        True, and just as soon as the other rich economies have universities as prestigious as ours, or per capita GDP to compare to ours, or geopolitical power like ours, or Mick Jagger coming to them for heart surgery, I would consider emulating them.

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      2. Really? ’cause it’s going to happen. Are you going to emulate China? The American exceptionalism based on wealth and power is based on a limited view of the world.

        We built the comparative excellence you describe in a time that the world broken by war and colonialism (to the extent that it was in the 40’s-70’s). To believe we can maintain it forever on that backbone is a false hope.

        I’m not seeing we’re there (i.e. the end of the American Century) nor that I desire it or that some solutions (higher taxes) would allow us to better adjust to the new world order I see coming, but I do see a change in the world order, potentially in our lifetimes.

        I do not want a world in which an autocratic China is dominant but presuming they cannot win some of the battles they are fighting would foolish geopolitical thinking.

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      3. “If you live in an area where the cost of living is high it can be difficult to find a good caregiver.”

        …and it’s hard in other areas (like my home town) because too many potential caregivers are shady.

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      4. “Are you going to emulate China? The American exceptionalism based on wealth and power is based on a limited view of the world.”

        I’m kind of a historical materialist, so if the Chinese system outperforms ours in production of wealth and power, that would recommend it to me. I’ll wait until it happens, though. Remember, I grew up with Samuelson and Keynes, who thought that the Soviets would outperform us. Now I don’t believe anyone.

        None of this would be an argument for European educational or healthcare systems. Lester Thurow claimed that the Europeans would outperform us, but history has not vindicated him.

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    2. And just as an FYI, these types of posts are just a brain-dump explaining how things are, for good or for bad. At some point, I’ll write something about how things should be.

      I’m working on a special ed parent article right now. Whenever I interview parents in that boat, my politics always takes three steps to the left.

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      1. Yeah, I get that–that it’s a brain dump. That’s why I wanted to resppnd. Because you listen.

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      2. Thanks for doing that. Yes, I read all comments and appreciate all points of view. Can’t always reply with a comment, but everything is read and digested.

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  4. In 1950, there were more than 8 workers per social security recipient. There are now 2.8 (and falling). Many more students attend college, especially public colleges, than in previous generations.

    We have fewer practicing doctors per capita than similar countries, which helps to keep health care costs high: https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart/u-s-fewer-practicing-doctors-per-1000-people-comparably-wealthy-countries/#item-start.

    As women have elected to outsource child care and elder care, the demand for such services has increased, which has driven up the cost.

    Our affluent town has an interesting pattern developing. A friend in the Council on Aging says that their statistics show retired people are moving in to town. A neighbor recently sold his house; he says the new owners are a couple moving to be closer to their child and grandchildren, who live in town. If it’s not an exception, it will lead to new conflicts down the road.

    There are already senior citizens demanding more services in our town. As fewer voters have children in the school system, it will get contentious. There isn’t enough to go around. Taxes are already high enough that they depress the value of houses on the high end. The least expensive houses for sale in our town start at $500 K–and it goes up rapidly from there.

    The system works at present because people can choose to live in high tax towns (or not.) Until this year, I would have said that the town assumes any new house will send 2 children to the local schools. That has driven town interest in senior housing developments, which do not send children to the schools.

    What happens, though, when wealthy older couples move in to “good school districts,” thus driving real estate prices out of the reach of young couples?

    Our supply of entry level housing has not kept pace with the growth of our population. (The Yimby movement has a point, especially in expensive areas where everyone wants to live.)

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  5. I went to a big state university in the late 70’s, when the tuition was pretty close to “free”.

    I have had a similar conversations with my same-age-friends concerning making public college tuition free today and I’ve been completely astonished when the reaction is, “well, I paid for it myself, so that’s what kids today should have to do.” They MUST know that the amount of money they paid for tuition is a tiny fraction of what that same tuition, at the same institution, is today. So I can’t wrap my mind around that particular bit of rationalization.

    Taxes paid for our education, but it’s important to point out that those taxes were coming from the wealthy—not the average worker. The top income bracket in the 1970’s were paying a 70% tax rate.

    Luckily for my friends and I, we finished college just before Reagan’s huge tax cuts were put into effect, as he cut the top marginal tax rate down to 28%.

    So my solution to correct the destruction of the middle class, the lack of health care and crazy-high tuition rates is all the same: Do what we did from 1940-1980: tax the rich. And by rich, I don’t mean people making a couple hundred thousand—I mean the very wealthy.
    At this point I think it has to be some sort of wealth tax for the top 1% (the folks with at least $10 million in wealth). But I’d start with a Financial Transaction Tax.

    Also, I really want to know: How did your drinking buddies answer your questions about student loan forgiveness and free child care? Was there a consensus?

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    1. Someone brought up birth control legislation in Texas and we got off topic. They’re lefties, but lots of lefties think that support for college is a middle class supplement.

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      1. Oh well–and lots of lefties seem to be much more lefty about social issues than about economic issues.

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      2. ‘Support for college’ is a many splendored thing. It can be support for getting an knowledge which permits a reasonable to good occupation doing things the society needs. And it can be silly self indulgent crap with climbing walls.
        Where you get the money is important: if from taxing burger flippers to increase the income potential of the middle classies it is one thing. If from Kochs and Soros, another.

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      3. Exactly how the hell do these people expect kids from the working class (who aren’t geniuses or football or basketball stars) to attend college?!?!! I’m serious. A slight acquaintance of mine has five kids—a his, her, and ours situation. Their combined income was less than 90 grand. Still, the (in-state, public) university his eldest son was accepted to expected them to come up with 20 grand a year. He had to tell his son no—you can’t go. We can’t afford it. Because they couldn’t.

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      4. You know, can we stop complaining about climbing walls? They cost like 1000 dollars to install. I’ve thought about installing one myself. If one wants a short hand complaint, the lazy rivers/aquatic complexes, which cost >1M might be a better complaint — even though they still aren’t the cost driver. The cost driver is competing with schools with significant endowments, ‘causing everyone else to have to attract full pay students (including the full pay students who subsidize the other students you want at your campus).

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      5. No State U charges 20K for tuition for undergrad (VT is the highest at 16K). Presumably the 20K is the cost of attendance? At our State U, 20K is the cost of attendance for a student living at home (with 12K of that going to the school, and the rest attributed to housing, food, transportation, and personal costs).

        The people we know who make 90K make that work, but only for a couple of kids, with savings and loans.

        At our State U, the cost of attendance calculator indicates that the family you described, 5 kids, 90K income, 1 in college would get 16K in grant aid and be expected to take $7000 in loans (some subsidized, others not), if the child lived at home. If they didn’t, they’d have to come up with 7K more.

        Our state is in the middle for tuition, and makes grant aid available as the method of providing access to students who earn below income thresholds (of which 90K is too high for some grants, but not others). Analysis suggests this model fails at making the college work for low and middle income students, compared to models where tuition is kept low (like North Carolina or the CUNY system).

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      6. bj said,

        “No State U charges 20K for tuition for undergrad (VT is the highest at 16K). Presumably the 20K is the cost of attendance? At our State U, 20K is the cost of attendance for a student living at home (with 12K of that going to the school, and the rest attributed to housing, food, transportation, and personal costs). The people we know who make 90K make that work, but only for a couple of kids, with savings and loans.”

        Thank you for doing the research.

        Texas A & M is about $11k for tuition and fees ($12k including books and supplies). They estimate total cost of attendance at about $28k, but that is mostly living expenses.

        A nice climbing wall costs a lot more than that and has to be staffed and maintained, but that’s a tiny fraction of the money getting spent by any college.

        When my parents went to college, my dad could earn his entire year’s costs for Seattle Pacific College over the summer, but a) Seattle was a lot less expensive then and b) the students were fed pig slop.

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      7. Bj: most people I know with a combined family income of less than 90 grand cannot come.up with another 20 grand a year in loans, because they are already tapped out with a mortgage payment, a car payment or two (for a good used car, not a fancy one), child care costs, and (for previously married people) child support. For the couple in question, a previous bankrupcy (she divorced her previous husband because of his drug addiction) complicated any borrowing. I mean…when this guy explained to me what their financial picture looked like, it all sounded reasonable. But it was also obvious that they couldn’t afford a loan of 20 grand, especially *each year* for four years.

        And yes, you are right—that included room and board, not just tuition. But hiw can you attend college without room and board? Could you successfully hold down a job without a place to stay or meals? Staying at home wasn’t an option (too far a drive….almost six hours a day round trip. No traun route across the state, eitber).

        Just sayin’….it’s unreasonable to expect that kind of money from normal wage earners.

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      1. Recent data has the top 1% earning about 20% of the income and paying about 37% of the federal income tax. If the top 1% earned 50% of the income and the ratio remained the same, the total share of taxes paid would go up purely because the share of income went up. And, the share of income earned by the wealthy has been going up.

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      2. Nope, it’s not true “that public colleges were never financed by federal income taxes.”

        The University of Maryland, where I got my undergraduate degree in the 70s, has always gotten federal money—it’s a land grant university. And just in general, a Pew report says that the federal government spent more on higher eduction even in 2013 than the states—the feds provided $75.6 bill./year for higher education and states spent $72.7 bil.

        But it’s not even relevant to anything I wrote or to the solution I proposed, because I never said anything about where the tax money is coming from.

        Taxes —from whatever source—used to pay a much, much bigger chunk of college funding. That should change and I don’t care if the additional funding comes from taxes that states impose or from taxes the federal government imposes.

        However, I don’t think a tax on income is going to do the job. If you’re living on just your income, you’re not really that wealthy. This is why I am for a tax on accumulated wealth.

        The money should be coming from the folks that have it in abundance. That top 1% has more wealth the the bottom 90% combined. I don’t think it’s worth trying to get the money from the next top 9%—we need to go to where the biggest pile of cash is. Right now the top 1% has about 40% of the country’s wealth.

        That money needs be be spent on lots of things, including college funding. (And universal health care. etc. etc.)

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      3. cy said,

        “we need to go to where the biggest pile of cash is. Right now the top 1% has about 40% of the country’s wealth. That money needs be be spent on lots of things, including college funding. (And universal health care. etc. etc.)”

        Speaking of “where the biggest pile of cash is,” Harvard has a $38 billion endowment. Yale has $29 billion, and the top universities in the country are sitting on hundreds of billions dollars in endowments.

        https://thebestschools.org/features/richest-universities-endowments-generosity-research/

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      4. Note Texas A&M has the 8th largest endowment, at 13 billion+ And the UT system is 2nd at 30 billion+ (though of course, investment values fluctuate). I was once told that UT’s endowments were oil wells (like West Virginia’s catholic church, apparently).

        I do agree that schools should be required to spend their endowments, as foundations are (the 5% rule) (or alternatively that we should tax all endowments).

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    2. cy 6/3 at 5:47: “Luckily for my friends and [me], we finished college just before Reagan’s huge tax cuts were put into effect, as he cut the top marginal tax rate down to 28%.”

      cy 6/4 at 3:03: “I never said anything about where the tax money is coming from.”

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      1. ey81: Well, my point that I was trying to make about the tax money was that it doesn’t seem matter where the tax money comes from “for the solution I proposed” to this issue. Perhaps I wasn’t clear.

        What I was trying to say was that in order to have public college be affordable, I don’t see that there is any reason to care if the funding comes from state or federal taxes. Or any combination of those. (My caveat, again, is to tax those with $10 million or more in assets-the top 1%, the people with 40% of the wealth.)

        I’m not sure why you are focused on federal money vs. state money, but now that I think about it, if you really believe that: “public colleges were never financed by federal income taxes,” it’s going to limit your solutions to funding them. But federal financing most certainly did (and does) exist. The National Science Foundation says that federal research spending is $26 bil./year
        ( https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/trump-threatens-to-cut-federal-research-funding-over-free-speech-65558 )

        Another way to look at the money flow is from the University of Maryland: “Maryland also received among the highest amount of federal research grant money — $458 per capita.” ( https://www.baltimoresun.com/education/bs-md-pew-higher-education-funding-20150611-story.html )

        A big chunk of federal money that funds colleges is federal grant money given directly to college students.

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      2. cy said,

        “What I was trying to say was that in order to have public college be affordable, I don’t see that there is any reason to care if the funding comes from state or federal taxes.”

        In practice it does make a big difference whether it’s federal or state taxes.

        The problem is that at the federal level, we’ve gotten out of the habit of actually paying for things out of revenue, so pushing it to the federal level is equivalent to deciding not to pay for it at all.

        https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Public_debt_percent_of_GDP.pdf

        The states are still operating with some sort of connection to reality (except with regard to pension obligations).

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  6. So, there’s only about ten to twelve years, when a person has a real stake in making better schools.

    Except for the fact that if the schools crater then the value of your house drops by about 50%. That is something that even the childless have a vested interest in, even if they don’t always remember.

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    1. Jay said,

      “Except for the fact that if the schools crater then the value of your house drops by about 50%. That is something that even the childless have a vested interest in, even if they don’t always remember.”

      Isn’t that mostly demographics, though?

      “Good” public school = school with “good” demographics.

      But not a bad argument for scaring the olds!

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  7. Isn’t that mostly demographics, though?

    “Good” public school = school with “good” demographics.

    Well, they are unfortunately correlated. But no. When people look at what school district to buy into they don’t look at the demographics. They look at the GoodSchools ratings.

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  8. This is what’s behind it:

    https://www.cleveland.com/datacentral/2017/04/baby_boomers_slip_to_741_milli.html

    Millennials, those defined by the Census Bureau as being born from 1982 to 2000, have a growing edge over the baby boomers.

    Millennials number 84 million, or 26 percent of the U.S. population, according to the new estimates.

    The baby boomer group lost 3.2 million from 2010, when an estimated 77.3 million baby boomers accounted for 25 percent of the population.

    I’ve been thinking of this map: https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2018/comm/population-change-2017-2018.html

    The trend away from high-tax states will only intensify. I’ve met people who’ve recently moved to Florida (who aren’t 65.)

    These two maps, from 2011, are interesting:

    http://archive.boston.com/yourtown/specials/snapshot/snapshot_massachusetts_median_age_2011/

    Compare it to:

    https://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=d085bb2adfcd42ada861ee5cfb61df38

    People living on a fixed income choose to move to towns (and states) with lower tax rates. People vote with their feet. Towns with young parents tend to have higher tax rates, but those young parents turn into senior citizens, and usually move out.

    I suppose the “winners” will be the towns that manage to be appealing to, er, vibrant older people who don’t mind paying higher property tax rates. Maybe 40% higher tax rates. I don’t think there are enough of those affable people to go around. In our group of friends, I’ve noticed that the more numerate empty nesters are downsizing and moving to regions with lower taxes.

    The long term answer cannot be increasing spending on all age groups. If I had to guess what would make things sustainable, I would look to computer technology making local government more efficient. Also, people working longer, so that towns aren’t supporting multiple retirees for each active employee. However, the people who make those decisions tend to not be in elected office long enough to make it worth their while.

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  9. My twitter feed yielded an article on Laura’s question: “Preferences for redistribution are sensitive to perceived luck, social homogeneity, war and scarcity” by Nettle & Saxe (2019, preprint: https://psyarxiv.com/kupqv/). It’s a experimental simulation study, so one’s belief on its extension to real life might vary, but the study’s bottom line conclusions are the following:

    “Support for redistribution is better predicted by the social features of the village than by individual differences in participants’ political orientations. Higher levels of redistribution are systematically favoured when luck is more important in the initial distribution of resources; when social groups are more homogeneous; when the group is at war; and when resources are abundant rather than scarce.”

    I think luck might play out in whether people believe they earned their success on their own (without attributing luck or the help of others or the societal systems). Certainly our society is becoming less homogeneous, but, I don’t think we can do much about that, because even if we were to work towards a more homogenous local society, the world at large is seeing power shift so that power is shared in the world less homogeneously (i.e. the rise of China).

    Don’t have much to say about war, but I think that there is the trend towards wanting more that Laura describes — eating out, vacations, bigger houses, which yields a feeling of scarce resources (even, if, say, we have more). And then, there is the scarcity born of winner-take-all societies in which one cannot scale work to match desired income because there is a big non-linearity. Either you are an on-call all the time lawyer charging $1K an hour, or you are something much less well compensated.

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  10. We should talk about examples of government systems that have improved through efficiency (i.e. actually provided more of the service desired by the people at lower cost, without exploitation of labor). They must exist in some form, but they are proposed as the no-cost win win solution much more often than I believe they succeed.

    (teaching being a prime example — since efficiency in teaching is usually pretty much on par with producing efficiency in parenting: fundamentally flawed since the creation of a relationship is often a prerequisite to learning)

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  11. So, here’s a secret. Schools in “good” towns aren’t all that fabulous on their own. One parent estimated that half the kids in my town are getting math tutoring, because the math curriculum (used in most schools in the state) doesn’t do enough drilling. There are major differences in the education for the average kids v. kids on the face track. And the main way that kids get on the face track? Pushy parents.

    In one town, in one school, there are major inequities.

    There’s a real danger that the middle class is checking out of public education, not just the wealthy who have long sent their kids to private schools (hello, Obamas!). The middle class is creating its own hybrid system of mediocre public education bolstered by private tutoring, specialized camps, and parental influence.

    This system is impossible to scale up for all children in the country, because nobody will admit that it’s happening and because it would bankrupt the system. There is zero political will to provide those privileges to all children.

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    1. Well, let us note that a high percentage, maybe a majority, of the children at fancy NYC private schools (e.g., Horace Mann, Brearley) have private tutors. (Our daughter had two.) So it’s not like those schools have a system that works for very many people. The one place where tutoring might not be extensive is at the boarding schools, like Exeter, but of course they are much more selective than urban private schools, which admit their classes in kindergarten. I don’t know how to prevent tech and banking billionaires from hiring tutors, or how to prevent the UMC slaves to capital, like us, from following suit. We’re not going to be beaten.

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      1. My oldest knows Ivy League graduates who support themselves as tutors in NYC. I find it rather bizarre to think of a life spent writing term papers, but there it is. It apparently pays better than classroom teaching, with more flexibility.

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    2. Yes, also my understanding of tutors — they are in wide use among affluent students in high schools, public or private.

      Folks often seem to think that the challenges that they see in their public schools are not faced in private schools. Some aren’t (or are less). For example, most elite private schools don’t have students with significant educational or health support needs. Since they aren’t delivering services to those students at all, they don’t do poorly. But private schools have poor teachers (good teachers are hard to attract, train, and retain). Private schools haven’t figured out a magic curriculum that teaches even the students they have selected for their academic excellence in all the subjects they teach (even with small class sizes, selected students, and teacher management without unions).

      So, I’d agree with Jay that a reason people turn to tutors is that they believe every student can perform better with them (I don’t know how, since we have never hired tutors for our children). And, they are not willing to accept average performance from their children.

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      1. But private schools have poor teachers (good teachers are hard to attract, train, and retain).

        That has not been our experience. (Please note that “private school” covers a wide range of funding and expectations.) Our local public school had some good teachers, and some abysmal teachers. A big reason to become involved in the PTA was that, somehow, the super involved mothers’ children did not get placed with the abysmal teachers, nor with the teachers going out on maternity leave. Funny how that happens…

        There are quite a few significant health and educational needs in students in private schools. Those needs are frequently hidden when applying to private schools. In my opinion, it is brutal to send a kid with ADHD to Exeter, but people do it. https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp2/46/72/2488008/

        I do think the best high school curriculum is not the most demanding. Some schools’ curriculum is so demanding (especially for students who want their recommenders to be able to check the box, “took most demanding course load”), some graduates need to take gap years to recover.

        One advantage of sending children to boarding schools was that the parents aren’t as able to supplement with tutors or by doing the work themselves. The students are housed with roommates, so Skype tutoring would be witnessed, and having someone else do your work would be a violation of the honor code, which does lead to expulsion (frequently.) Teachers are available to give students help, but of course if a student does that, the teacher develops a really good idea of a student’s strengths and weaknesses.

        Don’t get me wrong; my idea of a good high school curriculum is an advanced one. On the other hand, if the academic work, even for the most able students, is being done by tutors, something has gone wrong.

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      2. Oops, I meant to say private schools have poor teachers, too (I can’t say in what proportion compared to a public school, but so far, in my experience with 3 schools, 2 private, 1 public, it has been similar, that is, we encounter the occasional poor teacher in both places, but most are good).

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      3. I’ve heard the same point about boarding schools — that parents can interfere less and that might have beneficial effects on the school environment. As you say, I think that the students themselves and the teachers might have a pretty good idea of a students strengths and weaknesses. Parents sometimes have the myth that their kid can do anything if they tried hard enough (including being a math olympiad winner or a state champion swimmer).

        http://time.com/5593706/hard-work-achievement-mindset/

        It would be interesting to see a well-being study centered on boarding schools. I cite this one, about NY private schools, which I find pretty horrifying a lot.

        https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2015/august/nyu-study-examines-top-high-school-students-stress-and-coping-mechanisms.html

        Do elite boarding schools do better?

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      4. Do they do better? Well, I haven’t read the study you linked yet, so I don’t know. I know that schools do study this, but every 4 years is a generation in high school, so by the time studies are ready, they’re kind of out of date. It’s such an unusual choice in the American setting, that I’m not sure how you could fairly compare it to other schools.

        Where do you draw the line for “elite?” As this is also a marketing issue for the schools, I’d set that question to the side. There are boarding schools that specialize in sports, or arts, or outdoors experiences, too.

        The most valuable power the schools have is the ability to decide who attends. At one private school, as our child began the school had to expel a number of children for misbehavior. Parental behavior improved remarkably once they witnessed that. (Yes, good kids can make mistakes, and kids test boundaries, but children often model their behavior on their parents.)

        There’s also the magic of self-selection. If you want to micro-manage your child’s life, you won’t send him or her away from home.

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      5. bj said,

        “So, I’d agree with Jay that a reason people turn to tutors is that they believe every student can perform better with them (I don’t know how, since we have never hired tutors for our children).”

        Our kids are also in private school, I have a rising 12th grader, rising 9th grader and a rising 1st grader, and I’ve never hired a tutor. I can imagine situations where I can imagine doing so, but it has not happened yet.

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  12. . One parent estimated that half the kids in my town are getting math tutoring, because the math curriculum (used in most schools in the state) doesn’t do enough drilling.

    Is it that, or is it that half the parents have pushed their average or slightly above average kids one or two years ahead in math because they can’t face up to the fact that their precious darlings aren’t supra-geniuses? In my younger son’s upscale suburban middle school there are twice as many sections of G/T (two years ahead, supposedly) math as there are at-grade. No way are that many kids actually gifted and talented.

    My older son probably legitimately placed halfway between G/T and one year ahead. Since I have a PhD in math I was able to supplement the school instruction so that he could make it through the higher level courses. Absent that, it would either be the one grade up course (no crime, that) or spending money on tutors that he didn’t really *need* because it wasn’t the school failing him. I wager that many of those kids getting math tutoring are in that situation. If they dropped a year back to on-grade classes they would be doing just fine.

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    1. I can’t teach my son algebra because he won’t put the variable he’s solving for on the left side. I know there’s no reason for that besides everybody does it, but that’s still a good reason.

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      1. know there’s no reason for that besides everybody does it,

        The reason is that Arabic or Hebrew isn’t our native tongue so we don’t read right to left. It’s as simple and as complicated as that…

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      2. Obviously, if we started over from scratch, we’d read back and forth, one line right to left and the next left to right, so that your eye never needs to track back across the page and find the next line.

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    2. I agree that one of the reason for the expansion of tutors is no one is willing to accept average (or even above average) any more. UMC (and rich) parents (in general) want their kids to perform at the highest levels they are capable of and will provide any support they think will improve that performance.

      According to the New Trier (Public school similar demographic to Laura’s, I think), 20% students have disability accommodations there, compared to a national average closer to 5%. They do not have a higher rate of special needs students than average (17% v 15%).

      https://newtriernews.org/destinations-2019/

      The article is written by a teen (unlike the wall street journal’s coverage) so it can be funny, but it is also interesting.

      I do find the amounts tutors can make shocking. My kiddo tells me that she has peers who are charging $80/hour for SAT tutoring (on the strength of their elite pedigree, high SAT scores, and, potentially a successful reference).

      Like

      1. Oops, I garbled my numbers 24% of the juniors in 2018 had time accommodations at New Trier, according to the cub reporter. 15% have IEPs compared to a national average of 13%.

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    3. Laura wrote: “One parent estimated that half the kids in my town are getting math tutoring, because the math curriculum (used in most schools in the state) doesn’t do enough drilling.”

      Jay replied, “Is it that, or is it that half the parents have pushed their average or slightly above average kids one or two years ahead in math because they can’t face up to the fact that their precious darlings aren’t supra-geniuses? In my younger son’s upscale suburban middle school there are twice as many sections of G/T (two years ahead, supposedly) math as there are at-grade. No way are that many kids actually gifted and talented.”

      There are some huge disparities between different school districts and schools generally.

      For example, in some areas, all of the kids would be in the same math through 8th grade. Take, for example San Francisco, which has bumped Algebra 1 forward into 9th grade for all students, whereas in the past I believe all students took Algebra 1 in 8th grade:

      https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/changes-in-math-curriculum-paying-off-in-increased-participation-but-access-to-calculus-remains-an-issue/

      Laura’s district is not necessarily as full of math-crazy Tiger Moms and Tiger Dads as yours. In fact, I’m pretty sure that they are far more sports-crazy than math-crazy.

      As Laura was suggesting, the issue may really be curriculum. I followed the reform math wars 10 years ago, and that was/is a big issue in “good” suburban schools. You’d have arithmetic (!) methods and vocabulary that confuse parents, math curriculum that doesn’t build organically on prior knowledge and moves on too fast to the next thing without adequate practice (hence Laura’s complaint about lack of drilling), chaotically ordered units, material that isn’t taught in the elementary or middle school class before it appears in the homework, etc. I might be that your kids are bright enough to soar above all of these obstacles, but a lot of kids (even normal bright kids) are going to stumble. And again, it’s not even a question of grade level in these cases–it’s just bad pedagogy.

      We have mainly avoided math pain (good private school and mathy kids) but we had a brush with it when our middle kid was a 1st grader and there was a change of curriculum. The 1st grade teacher (not quite realizing that this was happening) was assigning homework that had not been explained in class and that used an idiosyncratic vocabulary. And this was conceptually super easy stuff (very early addition). It should have been easy, but my 1st grader was literally crying his eyes out over it from frustration. The teacher finally got things under control, but it was a bad patch.

      But, yeah, have enough of that kind of experience, and a tutor starts looking like a good idea.

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  13. A few further thoughts.

    That boy had more problems than ADHD. Plenty of feckless or happy-go-lucky kids go on to do well in life–though many do not–but Andover is not the place for them. I don’t know what the parents were thinking. Those schools are strict, but not in a micromanaging way, so if you don’t have enough self-discipline to get to class, thinks will not work out for you. And, incidentally, an absymal record at Andover does not make a candidate desirable to most college admissions offices.

    It’s not just the parents who want the kids to succeed at a high academic level. The children’s peer culture at places like Chapin and Exeter accords high status to academic success and prestigious college admission. You might say that comes from the parents, but it also comes from observation: the children are capable of noticing for themselves that the parents with the nicest houses and cars are the ones who went to Harvard and work for Morgan Stanley.

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  14. One further note:
    Regarding prestigious colleges, my niece had a funny observation once. She was working as a camp counselor in Maine, and she talked about meeting campers’ parents, who of course regard the counselors with the polite inattention with which most adults regard 20-year-olds. To make conversation, the parents say, “So are you in college?” “Yes.” Inevitable next question, with a complete lack of actual interest: “O, where are you in college?” (The usual answer is St. Lawrence or University of Southern Maine.) She says, “Brown.” Suddenly, for the first time, the adult looks at her with actual interest: “O! You go to Brown?” You have become a real person.

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  15. nd, incidentally, an absymal record at Andover does not make a candidate desirable to most college admissions offices.

    I heard an interesting piece about this on NPR several years ago. They interviewed a woman who had gone to one of those schools (I believe actually Andover) who basically graduated there at the bottom of her class. She wasn’t an Andover legacy or anything, but rather a middle class striver who applied and got in with some financial aid. (But not an up from nothing poverty story either.) She ended up going to Florida State and graduating from there with a B-/C+ average or so. For a normal (non Exeter-Andover-etc) person this would be like flunking out of your state school after a semester, being turned down by the military when you tried to enlist, and then moving back into your parents’ basement.

    She moved to New York convinced that Andover had been her big chance and she blew it. She dropped out of touch with her classmates and basically tried to start her life over as a perceived mediocrity. But she put Andover on her resume.

    What she found was that she could not fail. She kept getting callbacks for job applications that she felt were way over her status. In the interviews she met (older) Andover graduates who had flagged her resume and offered her jobs and, more importantly, networking opportunities. Just graduating Andover, regardless of how she did there or what she did afterward, was enough to set her up for life.

    I had a friend/colleague in academia who went to Exeter who told me almost the same story. She dropped out of existence for several years due to depression and eating disorders and it affected her almost not at all because Exonians took care of her.

    The point of the story was that we view Harvard-Princeton-Yale-Stanford as the cliqueish elite that takes care of its own and wields all the power, but the *true* shadow class of elite power wielders are the people who went to all these schools, who still fly mostly under the radar.

    So when you say “an abysmal record at Andover does not make a candidate desirable to most college admissions offices” that is narrowly true in that most college admissions offices probably don’t have an Andover graduate working there. In the event that they do, I would wager at least a moderate sum of money that they would make sure that any Andover applicant would make it onto either the “admit” pile or at least the “we need to consider” pile.

    Like

    1. Jay said,

      “I had a friend/colleague in academia who went to Exeter who told me almost the same story. She dropped out of existence for several years due to depression and eating disorders and it affected her almost not at all because Exonians took care of her.”

      You gotta stay in the part of the country where people know what Andover and Exeter are or there are enough alumni or it doesn’t work.

      (I’m a bit hazy myself, being from the West Coast.)

      Like

      1. Also, many of us are scratching our heads at the idea of putting HIGH SCHOOL on an adult resume.

        That’s because you didn’t go to Andover.

        And neither did I. But I read a lot of resumes and people who went to those schools let people know.

        Just because something is outside your lived experience doesn’t make it a not a thing.

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  16. You gotta stay in the part of the country where people know what Andover and Exeter are or there are enough alumni or it doesn’t work.

    (I’m a bit hazy myself, being from the West Coast.)

    The west coast has its own versions. It’s just that people who don’t move in those circles never hear about them.

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    1. Jay said,

      “The west coast has its own versions. It’s just that people who don’t move in those circles never hear about them.”

      Yeah, it’s such a big secret I have no idea what or where it might be. Obviously not Portland. Seattle? San Francisco? Los Angeles? I fully believe that that’s true of Los Angeles, but I’m struggling to believe that it is the case with Seattle. Also, I suspect that even if there is some sort of hotsy totsy opens-all-doors LA high school, the Portland and Seattle elite might be all “huh?” when they hear the name–because LA elite and Seattle elite have very little in common.

      Don’t leave me hanging, Jay!

      Like

      1. Lick is one. I had friends in college who went to Lick. There are other schools like that in the Bay Area and LA. A couple in San Diego. None that I know of in Portland and Seattle, since up until the 1990s they were blue collar industrial cities without much of an upper class.

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      2. So, have you guys not heard of Harvard-Westlake? Lakeside? College Prep? Punahou? I ask sincerely, not rhetorically.

        I do think schools like Andover with their connected elite (connected to each other and to power) are different in their ability to influence outcomes from any upstart school (in the West), especially upstarts that then underwent the expansion of admissions soon after their start.

        College admissions are a special place where schools are trying to balance the deck while still maintaining the connection to the elite high schools, but I can imagine that those connected networks play a role in decision making where there is less conscious examination of preferences.

        But, even in college admissions — Phillips Academy (Andover) publishes its list of college acceptances. in 2019, 29%, 93/321 of the students went to Ivy+ schools (Ivy + MIT, U Chicago, Duke, and Stanford, used by Chetty in his analysis of college mobility). At New Trier (Evanston, Il, public school), 6% (35/588, self-reported) went to Ivy+ schools.

        Like

  17. Getting 29% of your students into the Ivies, when your students were selectively admitted at the 9th and 10th grade levels, doesn’t suggest huge unearned privilege. Most of the New Trier students couldn’t get into Andover, so there’s no reason they would expect to get into Ivy+.

    It has been suggested that Exeter and Andover, which have race-blind admissions, hurt their college admissions statistics by admitting large numbers of Asians, if someone wants to explore that minefield.

    Like

    1. But, that’s true for the Andover student being judged at the job level, too, that they met the selective admissions at the 9th grade level. The Andover effect *could* be the result of off-sourcing to selectivity of 13 year olds, even when hiring a 30 year old for a marketing position.

      Cites for Andover & Exeter being race blind? They have a lower non-white population than Harvard (which is not race-blind in admissions).

      Like

      1. Race blind admissions is my understanding from my Exonian friends. As for percentages, you have to back out the foreign students at Harvard. If you do that, you find that Harvard is about 58% white and about 18% Asian. Exeter is about 58% white and about 23% Asian. The Asian quotas at Harvard probably hurt Exeter’s college admissions statistics. Cites for the numbers are: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phillips_Exeter_Academy and https://datausa.io/profile/university/harvard-university/

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  18. bj said:

    “So, have you guys not heard of Harvard-Westlake? Lakeside? College Prep? Punahou? I ask sincerely, not rhetorically.”

    Sincerely, not rhetorically!

    –Harvard-Westlake sounds vaguely familiar, but it may be mostly the Harvard doing the work. Sounds kind of stupid as a name (ditto Lick-Wilmerding). Westlake is super generic as a name. It sounds like a mall.
    –Lakeside–vaguely familiar, but pretty generic. When I googled just “Lakeside” I got a full page of things that were not a fancy school. It sounds like a retirement community.
    –College Prep–pretty generic. Must be dozens of them.
    –Punahou–more familiar. I was thinking–was that the fancy high school Obama went to in Hawaii? And it was so!

    In all sincerity, Andover and Exeter sound much more familiar to me, and I don’t even know anything about them except that they’re fancy NE schools.

    My main exposure to other private schools is via the big kids’ attendance at Texas State Junior Classical League events, where they come back licking their wounds after a shellacking from St. Mark’s Episcopal (Houston?) or Ft. Worth Country Day.

    “I do think schools like Andover with their connected elite (connected to each other and to power) are different in their ability to influence outcomes from any upstart school (in the West)”

    Yes.

    “College admissions are a special place where schools are trying to balance the deck while still maintaining the connection to the elite high schools, but I can imagine that those connected networks play a role in decision making where there is less conscious examination of preferences.”

    Yeah.

    Like

  19. 🙂 to Amy.

    Folks in my neck of the woods haven’t heard of many of the east coast schools (though Andover & Exeter, like Harvard & Yale, may be in a category of their own). But, they haven’t heard of schools like Trinity, Collegiate, Brierly, Horace Mann, Dalton. Might show that the number of schools that give you the halo of effect of national privilege is very limited and most of the others radiate more local privilege.

    BTW, St. Marks, #6 in the Niche national private school ranking. I’d never heard of it, though (and would have confused it with the other “St.’s”)

    Like

    1. bj said,

      “Folks in my neck of the woods haven’t heard of many of the east coast schools (though Andover & Exeter,”

      In all sincerity, if it weren’t for hanging out here, I would have thought that Andover and Exeter were fancy private colleges, not fancy prep schools.

      “But, they haven’t heard of schools like Trinity, Collegiate, Brierly, Horace Mann, Dalton. Might show that the number of schools that give you the halo of effect of national privilege is very limited and most of the others radiate more local privilege.”

      Yep. We’ve had this conversation a few times about how regionally important colleges may not be such a big deal nationally.

      “BTW, St. Marks, #6 in the Niche national private school ranking. I’d never heard of it, though (and would have confused it with the other “St.’s”)”

      Interesting! I also would not have known that.

      Like

  20. We’ve been chuckling about this over breakfast:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2019/06/sidwell-friends-college-admissions-varsity-blues/591124/

    Same story, in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/on-parenting/when-parents-are-so-desperate-to-get-their-kids-into-college-that-they-sabotage-other-students/2019/04/02/decc6b9e-5159-11e9-88a1-ed346f0ec94f_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9a5656f1a1c1

    What the heck? I was very interested, though, to read that it’s concentrated in a few schools:
    These worst offenders are outliers, Barnard said, typically concentrated in the most elite schools and the most affluent communities. But there are subtler methods of sabotage that are more pervasive, such as what he refers to as “opportunity-hoarding.”

    “Instead of embracing the opportunity to share resources with students who might not have as many resources, some parents are guiding their students to not reveal where they’re applying, to not talk about college visits, or not share information about summer programs or opportunities that might help other kids be stronger applicants,” he said. “I think that sends damaging messages to young people about individualism versus commitment to others.”

    I will say that when my kids were looking at colleges, it wasn’t any other parents’ business where they were applying. My kids also refused to share with me where their friends were applying, although they knew. There was a distinct effort on the part of the students to keep parents from prying.

    The worst “offenders” were wealthy, professional parents. It’s really uncomfortable when someone you don’t know well wants to know your child’s college list. I grew adept at praising the highly-ranked colleges my children had decided weren’t good fits for them.

    Like

  21. ““Instead of embracing the opportunity to share resources with students who might not have as many resources, some parents are guiding their students to not reveal where they’re applying, to not talk about college visits, or not share information about summer programs or opportunities that might help other kids be stronger applicants,” he said. “I think that sends damaging messages to young people about individualism versus commitment to others.””

    Wow, just when young people today were having a lot of trouble with friendship and feeling alienated.

    Way to go, elite parents!

    “I will say that when my kids were looking at colleges, it wasn’t any other parents’ business where they were applying. My kids also refused to share with me where their friends were applying, although they knew. There was a distinct effort on the part of the students to keep parents from prying.”

    That’s totally fair.

    “The worst “offenders” were wealthy, professional parents. It’s really uncomfortable when someone you don’t know well wants to know your child’s college list. I grew adept at praising the highly-ranked colleges my children had decided weren’t good fits for them.”

    Funny!

    I’m not very secretive about Hometown U. being our first pick, but Hometown U. has a pretty high admit rate.

    Like

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