New school, same old mom

Even if you have to register, read a great Chicago Tribune series on a black third grader who transferred to a better school under No Child Left Behind. At first, Victoria was working hard and catching up to classmates at her new school.

But frequent absences erased her progress. Her mother, a high school drop-out with a habit of not finishing what she starts, lets her children stay up late at night watching TV, fails to wake them up when they sleep in and can’t get organized to get them to school every day. Despite help from a social worker, the mother fails to follow through on a better job that might enable her to live near the new school. (Victoria flunked second grade at her old school because of absences, even though her mother faced no transportation hassles.)

About Joanne


  1. Mike Kopriva says:

    Bill Cosby anyone?

  2. Right. No matter how much money we throw at schools, education starts in the home. It seems like such a basic point.

  3. Steve LaBonne says:

    Is it reasonable to expect that child protective services should be doing a better job of making sure this girl gets to school? (That’s a real question, not a rhetorical one.)

  4. This part bothers me a little.

    By law, children transferring schools under No Child Left Behind are the neediest in the system. Most live in poverty and post some of the lowest scores on state achievement exams. But in what many educators call a monumental shortcoming, the law does not require schools do anything extra to help these children or their families once they arrive at new higher-performing campuses.

    “I think we can all agree that every child should have access to the best schools,” Esparza says. “But it is short-sighted not to provide extra money to help these students once they get here.”

    Exactly how much are we expecting the schools to do? At some point, the parents have to take responsibility. In this case, the school administration has gone out of its way to help this women and her kids, and she’s still failing them. There’s only so much the school can do – the rest is up to the parents and the kids.

  5. dhanson says:

    I can’t see how this can be considered the school’s problem. There are plenty of situations schools can be held accountable for. This isn’t one of them.

    This is a question of parental responsibility.

  6. Tim from Texas says:

    I tend to be somewhat forgiving and understanding of parent’s in her situation. She is poor, uneducated, and probably depressed most of the time, which is all she knows. How much she and her child should be helped is a difficult question to answer.

    However, there are more than just a host of parents with a decent to excellent education who have good to excellent jobs and businesses who don’t do relatively much better.

    They should do much better and take on their community responsiblities and lead by example.

    It’s a problem we don’t like to look at, much less discuss.

  7. Steve, that’s a good question. Truancy is taken seriously around here, and parents get into trouble if kids aren’t in school.

    May I point out that if it weren’t for public school, Victoria’s chances for any kind of future would go from their current slim to none at all. This is the kind of thing I think about when people who want the government to get out of the education business say that parents can do a better job of educating their kids with vouchers and so forth. Some parents, like Victoria’s mom, apparently don’t give a rat’s tail about their kids’ schooling and only see the public school as a free babysitting service. Victoria’s education isn’t a blip on her mom’s radar screen. Without public schools, I’ll bet Victoria would grow up unable to count to 10 or spell “cat”.

  8. Without public schools, I’ll bet Victoria would grow up unable to count to 10 or spell “cat”.

    I would change that phrasing slightly… Without public financing of schooling and mandatory attendance, Victoria would grow up unable to count to 10 or spell “cat”.

    The fact that the school is a public one is, at best, irrelevant… At worst, it’s detrimental…

  9. “She is poor, uneducated, and probably depressed most of the time, which is all she knows.”

    “…Victoria’s mom, apparently don’t give a rat’s tail about their kids’ schooling and only see the public school as a free babysitting service. Victoria’s education isn’t a blip on her mom’s radar screen. Without public schools, I’ll bet Victoria would grow up unable to count to 10 or spell ‘cat’.”

    Does anyone else think Victoria’s mother should lose custody of her!?!?! I mean c’mon, this child is going to grow up to be a societal problem, courtesy of having been raised by one.

    I was raised by a mother who came from horrible conditions. She got her act together, so can Victoria’s mom. I reject her excuses for being a terrible mother.

  10. Whether Victoria’s mother is a good mother or not is beside the point. Can society/government offer a better alternative for Victoria’s care and upbringing? I doubt it–does anyone really think she’d be better off in foster care or any of the other alternatives for children removed from their parents? How much can we really do to improve Victoria’s mother’s parenting skills? In the end, it’s her choice.

    The surest bet and strongest lever that people outside Victoria’s immediate family have to improve her life is the system of public education (however one wants to configure that, in deference to Zach). We can’t guarantee all children good parents, and we can’t keep potentially bad parents from bearing children, so while we should do what we can on this front (particularly in terms of supports for working mothers, preventing teen pregnancy, and removing children from seriously abusive situations) we have to stop complaining about bad parents. It’s spilled milk, out of our hands. Focus energy where it can be productive, and the best place I see there is the schools.

  11. dhanson says:

    I’ve been thinking about this story and have come to realize that No Child Left Behind makes this little girl the school’s problem. Because No Child Left Behind doesn’t factor in non-involved parents like this girl’s mother. Schools are expected to provide a certain level of education to all students, without regard to home life or other factors that the school has no control over. If the school doesn’t overcome these outside factors, funding can be cut and schools even closed.

    So the mother can ignore her child’s educational needs all she wants and the school and other students will suffer.

  12. It’s hard to see how the school can educate Victoria when she’s not there.

    Zach, I think you’re a little too subtle for me. Public financing of education and mandatory attendence pretty well spells “public school” in my book.

  13. lindenen says:

    Someone other than her mother is going to have to be responsible for making sure she’s up in the morning and ready for school. Someone who isn’t her mother. Little Victoria if she wants a future is clearly going to have to grow up fast.

  14. lindenen says:

    It’s a shame they can’t get her into the SEED school they have in DC where the kids live on campus during the week.

  15. Right now, Laura, in most communities “public school” is synonymous with the government/union school monopoly.

  16. In communities where there are private schools, there is no monopoly. You can only have something if the government gives it to you? I don’t think so. The private schools around here offer need-based scholarships, and many poor families make real sacrifices to afford private schools for their kids. The only monopoly public schools have is in small towns where there’s not enough population to support private schools, and even there people can homeschool.

    Besides, all these distinctions between what does or does not constitute “public school” may be philosophically interesting, but they make NO difference in Victoria’s case and in the cases of thousands of kids like her. She will only be educated if being educated occurs in the path of least resistance. That’s going to mean publicly-funded schools with mandatory attendance. I don’t see any way around it.

  17. Which brings us full circle… just how much more money do we throw at it when it is clearly the bad parent’s doing? Is this something society at large can even address? Or is Victoria just going to become another non-contributing member of society (or worse yet, a detriment to society) who blames her childhood for her woes and raises her children exactly the same way as she was raised?

  18. Courtney says:

    Joanne, just so you know: provides registration info for thousands of websites so you don’t have to fill out all that info. Here’s the registration info for the Tribune:
    username: readthesun
    password: readthesun