Parent-Public School Partnerships

Over the weekend, three parents called to ask questions about the right way to educate their kids who were having various issues — anxiety, emotional issues, learning differences. I guess I’m getting a reputation for knowing a lot about special education, so they came to me for help when their kids weren’t fitting into the norm. The parents were looking for answers and alternatives, because they weren’t getting that information from the schools. Schools simply had no clue how to handle the oddballs.

I will probably set myself up as a consultant soon. Over the weekend, Steve and I talked about how I should set up an LLC. I will probably keep giving advice to parents for free, because special ed parents are my people, but I will charge private companies for my knowledge. Because they are also coming to me for advice. When opportunity knocks and all that.

Here’s a prediction about public education. Parents are going to start playing a bigger role in education. Sure, rich parents have been doing that for ages, but now middle class parents will be doing it, too.

Parents are getting more and more involved. I see it on twitter, as special ed parents are tagging me on their tweets. They are organizing in national groups and creating their own organizations. They’re getting more political. They are starting new after-school programs. They’re sharing information on the Internet.

At the same time, tax payers aren’t interested in paying for school buildings or for teachers, so those schools will soon just be doing the basics. Everything else — music, enrichment, arts, tutoring — will be happening after school and will be funded privately.

I have already started doing that for Ian. Public schools only meet about half his needs. We start the second part of his education every day at 3:30.

While I’m a hundred percent behind parental involvement in schools, I am worried equity issues. Kids with parents like me will have even bigger advantages than in the past. If more is going to be expected of parents, then information to them has to be distributed freely and equally.

14 thoughts on “Parent-Public School Partnerships

  1. At the same time, tax payers aren’t interested in paying for school buildings or for teachers,

    That’s glossing over a lot. Educational inequity in my state is driven by school funding tied to property taxes. The school districts most in need have a depleted tax base due to the disappearance of what used to be called the “middle class” (“middle class” as used in the media these days—as well as this blog—refers to what most of this country would call “the rich”). Now add in that wealthier districts might moan about paying for schools, but are willing to pony up for their exclusive communities, as long as they don’t have to contribute to those kids, over there. This is the fruit of trickle-down economics.

    As for parental involvement, that too is tied to class and classism. Information can’t be used if it relies on resources that individuals don’t have (ex.: all the well-meaning UMC parents that recommended I hire specialists and a good attorney as educational advocate because that’s what worked for them. Yeah, I’ll get right on that, right after I yank scads of dough outta my ass.)

    Nahh. What will get results are militant statewide and national organizations that will pursue educational equity on civil rights grounds. Collective action gets real results for average people. Individual action might (might) get results for a select few while leaving the majority to hang. Fuck that with a cactus.

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  2. The problem with revolution in education (and that’s what would be required for funding to shift from local districts to state or even national funding) – is that it’s a long-term campaign. Most parents have a relatively short window of opportunity to provide meaningful education for their child. Those that have the political (and financial) capability to drive change have a choice: spend that on their child (providing the after-school or home-schooling environment that will help their kid thrive and learn, or fighting for resources within the education system), or spend their time and energy on political action at a higher level (which will probably not provide a result in a time-frame useful for their child). You can’t do both. And, by the time their kid is out of the education system, they’re battle-weary.
    I come from a country (NZ) where we have state-funded education, and special-education is (in theory) also funded within the school. It works (sort of) for kids with physical disabilities not affecting how they learn. However, it’s difficult and expensive for schools to provide meaningful education for non-neurotypical kids. They do try, and have a success-rate with kids with minor learning disabilities. Accessing the additional funding is a nightmare (can take years for an assessment to be approved), and only the highest-needs kids qualify. And then the school gets to decide how the funding is used. Schools have many subtle ways to ‘encourage’ problem kids to leave and go somewhere else…. Many/most ‘middle-class’ parents give up, and supplement with tutors, after-school activities, etc., on the side. Or, if they have a kid who struggles in the whole school environment – sensory issues, etc., pull them out and home-school [I know 2 families who’ve done this]
    Kids from lower socio-economic areas don’t get those choices. And the political will isn’t there to provide the funding/resourcing needed from the education budget. I don’t think the social will is there, either. State schooling works, OK-ish, for most kids/families; and no-one wants to sign up for more taxes to (possibly) improve results for a small minority.

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    1. As a minor–and not particularly redistributive–example of how this works, a parent with a daughter a year or two ahead of ours in the NYC girls’ private school they attended launched a campaign to obtain public bus service for the 6 or 8 West Side girls in the school. (Most of the girls lived on the East Side.) In theory, the Board of Ed is obligated to supply bus service to all K-6 students who live more than a mile from their school, but they don’t exactly go out of their way to comply It took her years to get the service established, and by the time she did, her daughter was in seventh grade and no longer eligible. So we got two years of free bus service, courtesy of the taxpayers and the labors of another.

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      1. y81 said, “In theory, the Board of Ed is obligated to supply bus service to all K-6 students who live more than a mile from their school, but they don’t exactly go out of their way to comply It took her years to get the service established, and by the time she did, her daughter was in seventh grade and no longer eligible. So we got two years of free bus service, courtesy of the taxpayers and the labors of another.”

        That is a good example.

        And looking more globally, transportation is one of the biggest obstacles to school choice. The lack of a safe, reliable method to get the kid from point A to point B and back makes non-neighborhood schools less feasible for city residents.

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  3. I wholeheartedly support collective action. But, any system that relies on parents not working to make sure their own children are OK will fail on the alter of human nature. I see the conflicts. When we work to find a solution for our own child and have the means to do so, we have less incentive to work towards collective solutions. I try to draw my line at solutions that inherently mean less for others (for example, getting the “best” teacher assigned to my child). I am conflicted about solutions that raise the bar for everyone (tutoring, test prep) and have mostly been fortunate that those solutions haven’t been needed for my children.

    What’s my point? I think to have a bit of sympathy for all parents trying to do the best by their children. Certainly that shouldn’t mean that the behavior or choices can’t be questioned, but collective action won’t come about by pitting parents against each other.

    Parenting experts (Lahey, Lythcott-Haims, . . .) spend a fair amount of effort counseling parents to let their children be in charge (with less interference by parents). I fervently believe in that, and as a form of collective action. But there are limits to how far any of us will implement that advice. I might worry about the way that some other parents draws the lines (and, let’s face it, it’s usually others we worry about, not ourselves). But, to use 11D parenting as an common example, Laura is wholeheartedly involved in the collective action (journalism, advocacy to the school board, parenting networks, answering questions) as well as supporting her own child. We can aspire to collective action without sacrificing our children.

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    1. But, any system that relies on parents not working to make sure their own children are OK will fail on the alter of human nature.

      *blink* This statement deserves some unpacking. How about: any system designed without the needs and strictures of the *average* wage-earning parent in mind will fail the children whose parents have to operate within those confines? How many times has Laura repeated that regular employment was not an option for her because the system assumes a stay-at-home parent to run point?

      Pit parents against each other? Pfft. We all stare down the barrel of a system that repeatedly demonstrates that our children’s human worth is allocated according to our net worth. We’re not all on the same side of that barrel.

      I’d really like to see more honesty in the discourse. Honesty about the *policy choice* to embrace trickle-down economics and the concording artificial lack of resources from that choice. Honesty about the shift from education as a priority in this country to the current abandonment of education as an arena of opportunity. Honesty about the fact that along witb children being devalued, teachers are being devalued: it is becoming a low-wage job in much of the country.

      I’ve already seen glimmers of non-Swiftian discussion of how education isn’t for everybody. The USA is barreling towards a real ugly destination.

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  4. It’s not true that you can’t do both. Some can (though I won’t chose to judge anyone else — the balance depends on your own children’s needs and your own resources in time, energy, and money). Note that one basic requirement is that you accept giving your children “good enough” resources and not aim to optimize them towards perfect outcomes (which, I also believe is good for them).

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  5. I also believe it’s possible to fight for your own kids and others too. I’m elected to serve on our town school committee, and that’s kind of been my mantra – if I want something because it’s good for my kids, then I better be fighting for it for all kids. That having been said, the idea of their being a short window is so, so true. My kids are nearing the end of their high school career, and I am probably going to step down. Why? Because this is tiring and emotionally draining work. Fighting for more funding and higher pay for our teachers is met with resistance because people don’t want to pay taxes (we’re in the bottom 15% of our state for per pupil funding BTW and about at the same level for community tax rates, so I am not in one of those communities where we are already at the top). And far too many parents are not interested in helping other kids – it’s been shocking to me how many people want to pull the ladder up from under them as they climb up. Finally, lots of labor laws prevent me from speaking freely about the difficult decisions we often have to make, so rumor and innuendo make the rounds, and there’s nothing we can do about it. I am tired of being disliked for trying to do my best. IDK what the solution is, but I do agree that it’s getting hard to get people and parents to fight for the collective good.

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  6. That’s the California model. Each district gets the same amount per student, and then everything else is parent funded. So, you get districts with no nurses etc. and some that have PhDs teaching music.

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    1. Yes, centralized funding is not a panacea, because with centralized funds comes centralized decision making about what will be funded. In our state, the state is required to provided the funds for a “basic education”, so we can have endless debates about what that basic education should constitute.

      There have been court cases because Article IX of the state constitution starts with an amazing preamble: “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex. ” It lifts my hopes for humanity that the white men who wrote that constitution in 1889 wrote those words — and they did so in a context in which there were differences in race, color, and caste (and, of course, sex). They wrote the words “residing within its borders”, including, now, anyone who might be undocumented, or temporarily here.

      But, in practice, though we are guaranteed basic funding, the state decide what is an extra (music? art? class size? . . . .). Historically school districts could generate funds to pay for “extras” with local tax levies and individual schools with private fundraising, but there are laws are increasing limits on those “solutions”.

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  7. Apologies for a very late return to this thread! I read it and made some notes while on the road for Thanksgiving and didn’t have the time to get back until now.

    lubiddu wrote, “How about: any system designed without the needs and strictures of the *average* wage-earning parent in mind will fail the children whose parents have to operate within those confines?”

    –But it works REALLY well for the people who work there, and isn’t that what’s important? See also the many moms who are psychologists, therapists, pediatric dentists, etc., and who work only during school hours. On the one hand, yay them for living their best life now and achieving enviable work-life balance! On the other hand, it really stinks for parents who need to miss work or other obligations and for kids who need to miss class in order to get treatment and therapy.
    –Speaking personally, even as an SAHM, there have been times that I decided not to do some therapy stuff for kids because it would cause them to miss out on too much school. In an especially ironic example, one of the kids has been having trouble with anxiety–but I didn’t feel that I could take the kid out of school to do something about it because I feared that missing class and needing to make it up would give the kid more to be anxious about…
    –There’s also the issue that if there are more services available during non-school hours, that may create more childcare problems for the provider. For example, let’s say that you are a school aftercare worker and you have a small child in daycare that you have to pick up by 5:30 ten minutes away. If your school aftercare program runs until 5:30, that is a problem! And if the childcare worker has to stay later, then she is going to have more trouble picking up her kid from school! Or let’s say that you are a nurse providing Saturday morning walk-in clinic–if you have school age children, that may also create a childcare problem for you.
    –A lot of the scheduling issues that cause problems for one set of families represent solutions for a different set of families.
    –Furthermore, a lot of jobs are (often unavoidably) not 9-5 Mon-Fri. Non 9-5 Mon-Fri parents have different needs than 9-5 Mon-Fri parents.
    –In an ever more diverse US, is there in any meaningful sense an “average parent” or an average child?

    ” How many times has Laura repeated that regular employment was not an option for her because the system assumes a stay-at-home parent to run point?”

    How do you avoid that, though?

    There are probably some things that can be streamlined (like paperwork–keep info electronically on file and have parents correct auto-filled electronic forms rather than having to write their @#$%^&* address, social security numbers, and insurance info multiple times on paper forms or bring in therapists to school rather than wasting the kid’s and parent’s time on transportation), but unavoidably, one human being needs to be keeping track of the kid’s therapy, medical and academic stuff and managing the schedule.

    I’m sure we can point to some idyllic Scandi country with a 5-10 million population that does an amazing job with special needs kids, but when you look around at large, developed countries, the US is no worse than most and better than a number of them who should know better. (Show of hands, who would like to parent an autistic kid in Japan or France? France has historically been a nightmare for families with autistic children, due to the backwardness and intransigence of the psychiatric profession there.)

    “Honesty about the *policy choice* to embrace trickle-down economics and the concording artificial lack of resources from that choice.”

    ….or alternately, we are spending enormous amounts of money at all levels of government, but have an (expensively!) aging population, so that’s where the bulk of the money is going and more so every year, because having 2 workers per retiree is going to be a lot more burdensome than having 4 or 5 workers per retiree (as we did in the 1960s).

    https://www.ssa.gov/history/ratios.html.

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    1. More!

      Lubiddu wrote:

      “Honesty about the shift from education as a priority in this country to the current abandonment of education as an arena of opportunity.”

      And yet we spend SO much more on it than we used to and so much more than typical developed countries.

      https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/education_spending

      “Education Spending started out at the beginning of the 20th century at one percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It increased rapidly during the first three decades, reaching a peak of 4 percent of GDP in the depths of the Great Depression, but then steadying at 3 percent till the advent of World War II.

      “During World War II, education expenditures declined to 1.25 percent of GDP in 1944, and then recovered after the war to over 3 percent of GDP before declining in the early 1950s.

      “In the mid 1950s education spending began a rapid increase, from a low of 2.6 percent in 1953. Education spending peaked at 5.7 percent in 1976 before declining for the next decade to 4.7 percent of GDP in 1984.

      “In the mid 1980s education spending began to increase again. It flatlined at about 5.3 percent of GDP in the 1990s, but resumed its growth in the 2000s, reaching 6.1 percent in 2010 before declining to 5.6 percent GDP in 2015 and lower by 2020.”

      (There’s a chart if this is a bit hard to visualize.)

      Heck if I know how you can conceptualize this as “a shift from education as a priority” if we’re spending twice as much GDP on education as we did in the late 1950s, which was famously a time of booming social mobility.

      Furthermore, this chart has the US being the #2 global spender on K-12 education:

      https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cmd.asp

      Globally, Norway is #1 for education spending ($15k per student compared to roughly $13k for the US), but Norway–being oil rich with a small population–also has a gross domestic product per capita of about $16k more than the US.

      Here’s a list of some of the countries that we outspend on K-12 education: South Korea, UK, Sweden, Netherlands, Australia, Germany ($11k), Japan, Finland, France ($10k), Italy, Spain, etc. There are a lot of pretty swell countries in the $10k-$12k spending zone.

      Lubiddu said, “Honesty about the fact that along witb children being devalued, teachers are being devalued: it is becoming a low-wage job in much of the country.”

      Which is pretty weird, given our spending stats! Somebody should look into that!

      While we’re doing stats, let’s talk about per-student US college spending compared to other developed countries.

      https://www.forbes.com/sites/prestoncooper2/2019/09/22/america-spends-more-on-college-than-virtually-any-other-country/#48b72d453348

      “American universities spend $30,165 per full-time equivalent student, nearly twice the rich-world average of $15,556, according to the report. Among developed nations, only the tiny grand duchy of Luxembourg spends more.”

      “The OECD adjusts its spending figures for cost-of-living differences across nations. The United States retains its second-place ranking regardless of whether one looks at total higher education spending including research and development, or core educational spending only.”

      If we’re wondering why it’s hard to afford college in the US, the fact that US colleges are spending twice as much as in other developed countries is worth having a look at.

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      1. Some bonus data!

        I don’t know if this will show up, but the text says, “In the post-war era, the percentage of the population that graduated high school was substantially smaller than the percentage of the population who currently have a college degree”

        There’s a graph that shows highest US educational attainment between 1940 and the present.

        We were well into the 1970s before there were more adults 25 and over with just a high school diploma than there were non-high school graduates. We have more college graduates today than ever before. Roughly equivalent numbers of Americans have a high school diploma, some college or are college graduates.

        So, I for one want to know–when and where was this golden era when the US cared more about education and put more resources into education than today?

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