Blaming Parents For Inequality in Schools

In education circles, pundits are currently making two arguments simultaneously that don’t sync up.

First, school choice advocates have pointed towards Democratic political candidates who send their own kids to private schools, while publicly opposing charter schools, and accused them of hypocrisy. Elizabeth Warren, for example, sent her son to a private school in Texas.

You can’t have both – private schools for your own kids and public schools for everyone else — conservatives say. The left says, let’s ignore the choices of these political candidates, because these people are parents first, politicians second. It is possible to do the right thing at that moment for your kid, while advocating for better schools for everybody else.

Second, several articles lately have said that parents who use rating systems, like the Great Schools website, to help choose their homes, are… well… let’s just say it… basically racist. Great Schools evaluates schools based on state standardized test scores, number of kids taking AP classes, SAT scores, teacher-student ratios, and some other publicly available data. Then it assigns the school a grade from 1-10. The 10 schools tend to be in more affluent, white neighborhoods. The lower scoring schools tend to be in low income, urban areas.

In the old days, real estate agents used to steer white parents towards white neighborhoods and black parents towards black neighborhoods in a practice known as redlining. I’m not sure if I’ve written about this on the blog, but when we were little, and my parents moved from an apartment in the Bronx to our first home, my dad forced his real estate agent to show us a home in a neighborhood that had been redlined for black families. He bought the house, and we moved into a home next a lovely African-American family. The dad was a hotshot at IBM. But mostly stories like that didn’t happen.

Redlining was vilified, and the practice ended. Well, sort of. Now, parents self-segregate into towns that have people with similar incomes and use websites like Great Schools as a shortcut, when making those decisions. It’s de facto segregation, rather than de jure segregation. Still, not wonderful, but de facto segregation always been tolerated in our society, because of argument #1 above, which states that parents have to do what parents have to do. Also, it’s a matter of freedom, a value that is highly prized by Americans.

We moved to our current town about nine years ago, primarily because we were seeking better schools for our kids. We didn’t need a website to tell us that our town had a good school system, because anybody who lives in Northern New Jersey can tell you exactly which schools get their kids into college and which ones don’t.

Of course, there are limitations to those ranking systems and reputation. We’re in a town with very large schools, so that meant that oddballs like Ian are lost in the shuffle. Our school now ships him off to a smaller public school about 30 minutes away, where he is thriving. I think Jonah might have done better in a smaller school with less stress, too, but he survived.

Schools aren’t the only reason that we moved to this town. We like it well enough that we will probably stay here, after Ian finishes school. But schools were a major factor in our original decision to move to this town.

By moving here, it meant that we’re not in a school that could benefit from me — I’m a big mouth at school board meetings, and I volunteer a lot, too — and that my good test taking kids aren’t boosting test scores for that hypothetical town either. But, like Elizabeth Warren, I had to do what was right for my kids.

Now, I would just like greater consistency in edu-punditry. If we give Democratic politicians a hall pass for choosing private schools for their kids, then we can’t vilify middle class parents from making those same choices. Rather, I think we should look at ways to make schools in poorer neighborhoods more desirable, to offer parents positive reasons — better school facilities, higher quality teachers, unique school offerings — to move to low income, urban areas.

But we’re entering a dark time for schools. It’s clear that no more money is coming. Reforms aren’t working. Reformers are walking away. When that happens, parents who make rational choices for their kids become the bad guys. That’s just not cool.

Apt. 11D Gift Guides 2019: Camping and Travel

We love camping. We have a large shelving unit in the basement filled with equipment, so we can take off for a weekend trip on a moment’s notice.

Here’s a blog post of one of our trips this summer and another post with products that we use and love.

REI is having a big sale right now. I like their men’s base layer crew top, sleeping pads, women’s jacket, and pullover.

At Amazon, check out the headlamp, tent, sleeping bag, lantern flashlight, stove, and a rooftop car carrier for all the crap.

This year, we traveled to North Carolina, England, Scotland, Toronto, and Chicago. Next year, we’ll do more, because travel is something that binds my family together.

Our current suitcases are ten-year old Samsonites, which I purchased at Kohl’s using Kohl Bucks. I’ll probably upgrade next year. I do love Tumi, but they might be a notch too high of a price point for me. Maybe we’ll do a TravelPro.

As I’ve said before, I love packing for travel. This year, I used a universal adaptor, a travel pillow, travel backpack, packing cubes. I’m looking around for the best travel jewelry case, but haven’t decided which one I love the most.

Happy Leftover Day

Hope y’all are sitting on the sofa with a good novel today. I am. With the smell of turkey bones being slowly turned into soup broth. The boys are quietly doing their own things. Steve’s at work, but hopes to cut out early.

I really could be doing some work, but I’m wiped out. Between a morning 5K race, which I was not really in shape for, and then dinner for 14, I’m not capable of much today. My legs ache.

I remain confused by Black Friday, since those sales are available all the time, but whatever.

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.

Who Would You Have Been?

On Sunday, we checked out a couple of exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at courtly life in Europe during the Renaissance and the end of the Middle Ages. One exhibit was on the armor and stuff from the era of Maxmillian I. The other was on all the gadgets and fancy stuff that were in the courts between 1550-1750.

We played a game. Who would you have been back then?

Looking at all the gears and intricate mechanisms in the automatons, we decided that were made by someone like Ian — someone with an instinctive knowledge of machinery, attention to detail, and zero interest in social life. In other words, they were made with someone with an autistic spectrum disorder. He would have thrived in an old workshop. Or in a monastery somewhere, rewriting old manuscripts before the invention of the printing press. There’s no question that half those old monks were someone like Ian.

Depending on my birth, I would have either been in the kitchens of a castle or deeply involved in castle intrigue, poisoning my husband’s enemies. Steve would have been managing the ledgers and documents for a lord. Jonah, too wiry and thin to wear the pounds of armor, would still have been involved in the military in some way. Maybe as a scout or part of the cavalry.

Work and Life In Chi-Town

Last Tuesday at around 4:30, I was sitting at my desk studying google maps trying to figure out how to get from O’Hare airport to a hotel in the Loop in the cheapest way possible. I won a scholarship from a journalism group to attend a writers conference in Chicago, which paid for the hotel, airfare, and the conference, but ground transportation was my own responsibility. A cab ride wasn’t going to break our budget, but I like my side of the Quicken budget to be in the black, not the red, so I studied the subways lines.

I happened to look over at Steve’s desk behind me in time to see Ian sloop out of his chair and hit the floor. His eyes were open, but his body was stiff for about five seconds. When he came back to consciousness, he asked why he was on the floor and said that he had image flash through his head before he passed out. He said he thought he was at a New Year’s Eve party. He said that this image had flashed through his head a few times in the past month.

I’ve seen seizures before. When I was a special ed teacher in the Bronx many years ago, I had a student, Shawnee, who would have grand Mal seizures every day in the class. She would shake and tremble for about ten minutes. Ian’s episode wasn’t anything like that, but it still did scream “seizure” to me, so I texted his reading tutor not to come and immediately called his pediatrician and neurologist.

Afterwards he was fine. Went back to his video games and his homework like nothing happened. I was a wreck. I scheduled doctor’s appointments for the following day. I told Steve. I arranged with my sister to help out with one the appointments, because I had my own appointment to get my usual pre-conference haircut and blowout. The cab was going to pick me up to take me to Newark airport on Thursday at 5:30am. If my hair was good, I could just wake up and go. Dinner plans were scrapped, so Steve got a pizza on the way home from the train station.

At the second appointment at the neurologist at 5:00, she said that she didn’t think that Ian should be left alone until we figured out what was going on. So, I arranged coverage of Ian between the end of school, before Steve got home. Again, my sister was enlisted to help. Steve left work early, but couldn’t skip out of work entirely.

The conference itself was good. The topic was the transition from high school to college. Various experts, who hoped to be sources for news articles, gave presentations for two days. We crammed into a stuffy little room at Northwestern and asked questions that were general enough to not show our hands to other journalists in the room.

As I walked through a deserted Newark airport at midnight on Friday, I relaxed for a minute. The adrenaline that had kept me going through those few days was ebbing. My overnight bag dug into my shoulder, because I always overpack when I’m nervous. Next time, I’ll pack less, I promised myself.

But will there be a next time? I’m already long in the tooth for this career. My most recent plan was to do something completely different for a couple of months, and write some long form essays and book proposals that have been percolating for months. I even filled out a job application before Ian’s slump. My sister texted me to say there was a message on the answering machine from a manager of a bookstore.

Plans to work outside the home were shelved, because I need to be available for more doctor’s appointments. I can’t take advantage of family to mind the kid, while I work a minimum wage job for kicks. Hopefully, we can figure out what happened quickly, and then I’ll try again after the holidays.

Over the weekend, I just processed information and recovered from the days of stress. I cancelled plans with friends and nested with family. Jonah came home for the day. I cooked. I boiled down some chicken bones from the freezer and other scraps to make a witch’s brew of soup broth.

I did a couple of chores in the morning yesterday, and then left to pick up Ian at 2:00 for an EEG test. The technician measured Ian’s head and marked up his forehead with a red marker. We assured Ian that those marks were for the suction cups sensors, and there were no plans for brain removal. We sat in a dark room for an hour, as the technician looked for misfires in his brain. We’ll get results today. If the test is inconclusive, he’ll have to wear an electrode cap for two days for better results.

Hopefully, the tests will show that he was just tired or dehydrated. Maybe it was a weird kind of migraine headache. But 30 percent of people with an autistic spectrum disorder also get epilepsy, so we do have to seriously prepare ourselves for a worse case scenario. The worse case scenario isn’t terrible — medication is great these days — but it will be just one more burden on the kid, who already has his share of burdens.

With fingers crossed for a good phone call from the neurologist at 9, I’m making adjustments in work plans. I’ve been writing an essay in my head for the past day, using the scraps and bones of information from the conference, previous articles, and recent experiences. Like my chicken broth, it’s going to take some time for all this to cook and for the flavors to marry. Hopefully, in the next few weeks, Ian will have a clean bill of health and I’ll have an essay or two sealed up in tidy little jars that can be sent to editors.