SL 763

Busy, busy week. Last week, I lost a lot of time kinda mourning my kids’ departure for school. I got used to having the beasties around the house, and it was really quiet when they left. This week, I got over it and had to deal with a work backlog. (Article coming out on Monday at one venue. A big one in the works at another venue.)

That’s why I’m just getting to the blog now. It’s 8:30 on a Friday night, and I’m two glasses of wine into the weekend. Just links for you punks tonight.

Everyone keeps telling me that this running bra is fantastic and cheap. I bought a four pack.

I’m completely addicted to Nicole Cliffe’s tweets. She does a lot of pop culture with an occasional tweet about autism. And, like me, she also reads the blog, Crazy Days and Nights. It was talking about dirtbags like Weinstein and Epstein LONG before everyone else. If you read regularly, it also refers to other people who haven’t gone down yet. I don’t want to get sued, so you’ll have to read to figure it out. She links to a recent post there, which is probably about Don Henley.

I was being a little pouty about having to pay for a subscription to The Atlantic given my history, but whatever. Finally paid, but did it in Ian’s name, so I could get a student rate. Take that! Anyway, I still have to read the George Packer article. I think my article on Monday is sorta the anti-Packer article, but I’m not sure, since I haven’t read Packer yet.

There are quite a few apps and services that were developed for younger people, but are surprising great for old people and disabled people. I’m going to order my mom a month supply of Hello Fresh. She still wants to cook for my dad, but is getting tired of doing the whole thing. They take Ubers into the city now to see their concerts at Lincoln Center. My dad was seriously driving up the West Side Highway going 40 MPH and people were beeping at him. It was time for a change. What else?

21 thoughts on “SL 763

  1. I read the Packer article and have all kinds of thoughts and feelings to share later – but my first reaction was that I live in an entirely different education universe. We didn’t visit ANY elementary schools – our kids weren’t tested for any placements. We didn’t do any research. We simply went to the neighborhood school we were zoned for. I don’t think we even toured it until the week before school started (at the Kindergarten orientation day)

    We’re in the midwest, but our schools are 60-80% non-white/free&reduced lunch populations. (and most of our neighbors go to private schools, so perhaps I am just blissfully unaware of that education universe…) We love our schools, and our kids have thrived in an integrated environment.

    I guess it just hit home how very different our local public education systems/solutions are (…yet the problems seem universal).

    Also, I didn’t get the feeling that the author and I would ever be friends. You can’t simultaneously have a “holier-than-thou-because-we-go-to-public-schools” attitude AND send one of your kids to private schools.


  2. kristennel said, “You can’t simultaneously have a “holier-than-thou-because-we-go-to-public-schools” attitude AND send one of your kids to private schools.”

    My reading was that he started with the holier-than-thou attitude and then had to eat humble pie, because it wasn’t working for them anymore.

    I have to say, I much prefer that to people who emotionally overinvest in particular solutions (public school, private school, homeschool, whatever), and then aren’t willing to change course when things aren’t working.


    1. Amy – I completely agree and if his article was “how NYC education affected my individual family and what we did”, I’d be fine with it.

      But public education affects ALL kids and something in his tone just annoyed me. I keep running into parents in the public education sphere who only see how a specific policy/program affects their own brilliant, special child….and think their kid is somehow “better” than all the rest. I still think that most every single child has amazing potential, in some way. And framing policy decisions under the “what’s in it for MY kid” framework just gets on my nerves…I think he made some very good points, I just think he has two articles in there: One about his own kids, and one about how he thinks NYC education policy should go to provide opportunities for all kids.

      That’s the trouble with education though, isn’t it? It affects our kids – and separating our own experiences from the policy issues is probably somewhat impossible. (I’ve had people accuse me of ‘child abuse’ for sending our kids to a high poverty school…)


      1. kristennel said, “But public education affects ALL kids and something in his tone just annoyed me.”

        It probably could have used a bit more editing to tighten it up and also flesh out some of the material. For example, how did they make the decision to jump back to private for their younger child? That choice comes out of the blue, especially since the younger child is barely featured.

        I thought that the segment about Marcus (Packer’s kid’s BFF) who had a good elementary school placement with Packer’s kid and then got placed in a NYC hell middle school was illuminating. My take on that was that their elementary school (while initially very pleasant!) didn’t actually offer a very good education to the kids from poorer/less advantaged families, and so that by the time middle school placement time rolled around, they didn’t place well.

        “And framing policy decisions under the “what’s in it for MY kid” framework just gets on my nerves…”

        As Packer describes it, a lot of the decisions that were made (like skimping on spelling, math facts, pressuring families to skip standardized testing, and making the girls use the same bathroom as the boys) did not serve anybody.

        “I just think he has two articles in there: One about his own kids, and one about how he thinks NYC education policy should go to provide opportunities for all kids.”

        That’s an interesting point. I think it could have been tighter, but I actually appreciated having both threads in the same place. For one thing, Packer represents the parents who can bail if they want to, so if NYC does not keep them happy, NYC public schools will lose out on their resources. For another, the issues that affected his kids did affect a lot of other kids, including poorer children.

        A big issue that I think is illuminated by the piece (but which Packer doesn’t necessarily understand himself) is that the NYC schools seem to struggle with establishing a partnership with families. It’s a million kid system, so I understand why that is a problem (at that scale, it’s probably all too easy to think of the individual kids and families in the system as being like ants in an ant farm–tiny and insignificant), but I think that it’s a problem that needs to be named. And yes, there has to be something in it for “MY” kid, or average people with choices aren’t going to stick around. They could go private, they could go to charters, they could go to the suburbs…There has to be a carrot for them somewhere–it can’t be all stick.

        “I’ve had people accuse me of ‘child abuse’ for sending our kids to a high poverty school…”

        Is there any set of circumstances that would lead you to pull your kids out of that school?

        Matt Welch has a good piece here from the front lines as he is a Brooklyn parent who has been attending a lot of meetings with other parents:

        He says that the district has been really heavy-handed toward (the mostly VERY liberal) parents who express discomfort with their plans.

        I really recommend reading that piece.


      2. I forgot that there’s also homeschool.

        So, as alternatives to a bad public school assignment, middle class city parents have:

        1. charters (although I believe NYC has–surprise!–reached a charter cap)
        2. private school
        3. move to the suburbs/move to a different city
        4. homeschool

        That’s a lot of choices. None of them are easy choices, but middle class families are not a captive audience.


  3. A lot of people wind up having to do the climb-down from homeschooling.

    My personal advice to anybody embarking on a new path is to say something like, “We’re excited about this, and we think it’s going to be very good for Kid, but if it doesn’t work, we will look for something else.”

    People get too committed to means, rather than being focused on ends.

    Public school/charter school/private school/homeschool is a means, not an end in itself. It’s there to serve the children–children do not exist to serve the system.

    In other climb-down news–Jordan Peterson is in rehab.


  4. That poor man, Packer. But at least he can now identify better with Rubashov (Darkness at Noon), so something’s gained.


  5. Not just Uber or Hello Fresh, but instacart. A friend of mine was seriously ill. The fee from instacart was less than taking a cab or uber to and from the store, plus he didn’t have to walk around the store (it was an issue, he could stand long enough to fix simple dinners). He also finds Alexa a great help and I know other disabled people who say the same. TaskRabbit also helps. He couldn’t take the stairs to change furnace filters, was worried about climbing a step ladder to change light bulbs,so here’s a service he could call.

    Many friends did pitch in, but he preferred being able to call and get it done when he wanted it done. It’s an hour drive with traffic for me, so, even when he would call, I’d have to ask if it could wait until the weekend. If the bulb had burned out in the windowless bathroom, well, not really.

    GrubHub greatly expanded his choices when he wasn’t up to cooking.

    And, of course, though not new, cleaning services. We finally convinced my mom to let us pay for a cleaner

    A lot of products people decry (sliced apples, peeled and sectioned oranges) are e relief to the disabled. I fear that the push to get rid of plastics will probably happen when my arthritis becomes truly disabling. Right now, I keep my knives razor sharp and and am still able to easily cut up a butternut squash, but I want those precut products available for when I can’t.


    1. Tulip wrote, “He also finds Alexa a great help and I know other disabled people who say the same.”

      Yes. Since my grandma (whose sight is very limited) was widowed, Alexa has been a great help while my auntie is at work. Grandma can ask Alexa what time it is and Alexa plays her audiobooks. When I last visited, grandma was enjoying Code Girls.


  6. Amy asked – Is there any set of circumstances that would lead you to pull your kids out of that school?

    Of course. We wouldn’t stay in a horrid situation – like all parents, we want what is best for our kids. (We just seem to have a different definition of “best” from many of our neighbors.) My eldest moved to the “alternative” high school when she was looking for a different learning environment (no grades, mostly project/service work).

    But I just find most (white, middle-class) parents won’t even visit our elementary/middle schools to even begin to consider them as an option. They label it a “failing” school and that’s that. For us, the school has been fine – more than fine – it’s been great. So, I try to share that sometimes the “failing” schools label is not always accurate.

    Again, I’m not in NYC – I don’t know that school system at all. But we hear the same arguments against our schools. A lot. (And I find them to mostly come from people who have never attended a class in the school.)

    I’ve been following Nikole Hannah-Jones’ insight too: – my fav. education piece of all time is hers:


  7. I haven’t read the Packer article (both because I find those discussions get old and because I think New York is a unique PS system that doesn’t offer much interest to the policy decisions I actually have to make).

    “And framing policy decisions under the “what’s in it for MY kid” framework just gets on my nerves…”

    is, however, a sentiment I completely agree with. Parents are prone to that conflation, and, often, have little enough knowledge of other children that they do it without even thinking about it. Private schools are not immune. As described by Caitlin Flanagan and the Trinity email by the HoS, even after choosing a private school, parents still aggressively work to shape the environment for their own individual child’s success. A school is a community and decisions have to be made in a way that benefits the entire community.

    On the other hand, I do think that it is a parental responsibility to make sure your kids are OK. So there can be a tug of war — maybe sometimes about needs (and not just wants, as it has been in my own experiences).


    1. bj said, “I think New York is a unique PS system that doesn’t offer much interest to the policy decisions I actually have to make”

      I agree that it is quite unique, but that makes it interesting as a test case. Also, NYC is a HUGE system (literally a million kids!) and there are a lot of journalist/elite parents and teachers talking about their experiences within the same system, so it’s very well-documented compared to other school districts. You won’t find the same sort of 3D/multi-perspective coverage for really any other city school system in the US.

      “On the other hand, I do think that it is a parental responsibility to make sure your kids are OK.”

      Right. If our kids aren’t OK, that’s not a plus for the larger community.

      “So there can be a tug of war — maybe sometimes about needs (and not just wants, as it has been in my own experiences).”

      I wonder how effective attempting to bulldoze your school really is, especially as the default strategy. Maybe I’m being naive (and maybe things are different if a family is willing and able to fund a new library or wing), but my personal philosophy has been to keep my powder dry, because there’s always going to be a time when our family needs more understanding/forbearance, and I don’t want to “use up” our family’s chips on trivia. I try not to be a pain in the neck more than once or twice a year at most, being very selective about what to use it on. I visualize it as being like a piggy bank, and I try to have more in the good will piggy bank than we are taking out. But that works the other way around too–the school also has a good will piggy bank with me, and they need to stay in the black.


  8. I really appreciate the fact that by the time Packer wrote his piece, he had a significant amount of personal experience, as his older child was in middle school. It wasn’t the usual my-kid-is-in-kindergarten-and-it’s-amazing! piece.

    This was a nice follow up:

    Packer said, “Second, some readers on both the left and the right, including some school parents, claim I’ve written a terrible indictment of our son’s school. In fact, there are dozens of lines in the piece about what our family liked about the school — the diverse mix of students, the sense of community, the volunteer spirit, the attention to the individual child, the classroom work. It’s a sign of bad faith that so much of the criticism ignored the warm comments about the school.”

    The interviewer asks, “So much of the outraged response to the piece seems to focus on your standing as a white, male, privileged parent and an interloper in the world of education whose conclusions differ from conventional wisdom. Would it have been better to give another parent the time and space to write about their own experiences choosing a good school for their kids?”

    Packer answers, “I think some critics would have been fine with a long piece by a privileged, white, male writer who said exactly what they wanted to hear.”



  9. Packer doesn’t say this, but there’s a conflict between saying/thinking:

    1. White people/Asian people/UMC people are EVIL!



    The more public schools need middle class families, the nicer public schools need to be to middle class families. You can’t simultaneously insult and denigrate a group of people AND ask them to do heavy lifting for you and expect that to go well.

    Related: there are barely enough middle class children available to achieve the kind of integration numbers that people seem to want. I may have posted this before, but before they went to free lunch for all, NYC had about 75% free/reduced lunch figures.

    If only 25% of NYC public school kids didn’t qualify, how on earth do you go about “fixing” NYC schools by spreading that 25% around?

    I can’t find the stat right now, but I’ve seen it said that the tipping point for schools is between 40-60% free/reduced lunch. If true, that’s really unfortunate, because about half of US school kids currently qualify.

    Numerically, there comes a point where you can’t save schools by throwing middle class children at them–because there aren’t enough middle class children available.


    1. “.. you can’t save schools by throwing middle class children at them–because there aren’t enough middle class children available..” Some parents have fled to the burbs so their children won’t be cannon fodder in the schools wars, some to private schools. Schelling talked first about tipping, I think, and it’s a good description of what goes on.


      1. NYC’s long-term plan (creating identical demographics in every school in the system) is insanely over-ambitious. From the Matt Welch piece that Joanne Jacobs also quotes:

        “At the end of August 2019, de Blasio’s hand-picked School Diversity Advisory Group came out with a radical set of system-wide changes that basically mimicked our local plan—remove all screens (hell, remove the very words “gifted and talented”), get rid of single-test admissions criteria, and push every school in a given district to have the exact same demographics as the district as a whole within three years, as the borough within five years, and as the whole city within 10.”

        That’s just not feasible.

        It’s also worth asking–how well did Carranza’s schemes work in San Francisco? There is a track record available for examination.

        There’s a really bad trend of big city/high minority/high poverty district superintendents coming in for a few years, shake everything up, and then get a new job in a new city and shake everything up there…

        “Tenure was half as long for superintendents serving districts with the highest percentages of students of color. In districts where 76 percent to 100 percent of the student enrollment was students of color, superintendents stayed on the job for less than five years. In districts where 25 percent or fewer of the students were students of color, the average completed tenure was nearly 12 years.”

        “Tenure was nearly 3.5 years shorter for superintendents in districts with the highest poverty levels. As the percentage of students in poverty increased, so did superintendent turnover. The average tenure in districts where 76 percent to 100 percent of students was low-income was 5.13 years. In districts with 25 percent or fewer low-income students, the average superintendent tenure was 8.59 years.”

        “Tenure was also shorter in larger districts. In districts with more than 100,000 students, superintendents stayed on the job for 5 years on average, compared to 6.62 years in districts with fewer than 100,000 students.”

        Richard Carranza was superintendent in San Francisco for about 4 years (but had been there longer before becoming superintendent), spent about a year and a half as superintendent in Houston, and started as NYC Department of Education chancellor in spring 2018.

        It reminds me a lot of Scott Adams’ classic “bungee boss” cartoon:


  10. Matt Welch is still on the job:

    He quotes a George Mason University professor who wrote, “A review of controlled-choice plans in six large districts in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida shows considerable and ongoing higher-income and white losses in these districts. While other demographic forces cannot be ruled out (e.g., urban to suburban movement for reasons unrelated to schools), neither can the unpopularity of controlled choice. More important, none of these districts has demonstrated significant closing of achievement gaps between higher- and lower-income students, one of the main justifications for these plans.”

    “For larger school districts…it is clear from the cases reviewed here that controlled choice for economic integration is not working as intended. It is still controversial, and it may be contributing to growing racial and economic isolation among some larger school districts.”

    …presumably, as middle class families try to move far enough out to escape the dragnet.

    Welch quotes an email he got: “For schools to become integrated and, more importantly, equalized, it means that some kids will suffer. Those kids are likely to be those who already have an enormous amount of social capital, if not downright wealth. They will survive. If their parents choose to send them to private school instead, let it be on their conscience about how they are supporting a racist and classist system and how they are, indeed, racists.”

    Basically, why are you leaving, racist?

    I know liberals can be amazingly masochistic, but I wonder how well this is going to play.

    I don’t know about you all, but I would not trust my children to somebody who thinks of them as eggs that need to be broken to make the diversity omelette.

    Also, it’s a bit nutty, because the letter writer offers the choice between a) having your kids “suffer” or b) being a racist and a classist.

    Meanwhile, the kid of one of the architects of the controlled choice algorithm got into her 10th choice middle school and will be going to a closer charter school instead, one where some of her friends will be there, too.


    1. I have children, albeit younger in the NYC public school system. If the plan is to bus my kids to some random school 40 minutes away they might as well not bother. I’m leaving for the suburbs and so are my neighbors. The net result would be a reduction in both NYC school enrollment and especially UMC enrollment. If some DOE people want to talk shit about me for that, so be it.


      1. I should add this isn’t a hypothetical. In my neighborhood the school is especially overcrowded at the K level. The DOE decided to setup an incubator school and bus the kids 30-40 minutes away. When they made this plan, based on Pre-k enrollment they expected to be close to filling the 75 seats in the incubator school. In the end so many people moved away that they had less than 15 students. And this wasn’t a bad school, just a far away blank slate school, that would still be filled with UMC neighborhood kids.


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