As schools gentrify, PTA politics get tricky

When schools gentrify, educated, affluent, white parents often take over parent groups, writes Casey Quinlan in The Atlantic. Less-educated, lower-income parents feel their voices aren’t heard and their children’s needs aren’t the top priority.

Lower-income parents may want more access to computers, while affluent parents worry their kids get too much screen time.

Powell Elementary School in Washington, D.C. has separate parent meetings in English and Spanish. Photo: Cliff Owens/AP

Powell Bilingual Elementary School in Washington, D.C. has separate parent meetings in English and Spanish. Photo: Cliff Owens/AP

Double-immersion bilingual programs are proving popular with educated, English-speaking parents, which creates more integrated schools.

Advantaged parents are great at fund-raising, which gives them clout with the principal, said Alexandra Freidus, a New York University graduate student who analyzed a changing Brooklyn school. As the school population became whiter and more affluent, resources shifted to improving the playground “rather than efforts to get classroom computers and support for the student prom.”

Think Progress looks at a bilingual Spanish-English school in Washington, D.C. that’s drawing more students with educated, English-speaking “high-powered” parents.

The parent community used to feel like a “family,” said Percia Williams, an active parent for eight years. Now, some Spanish-speaking parents feel excluded.

Teen suicide in Silicon Valley: Why?

I raised my daughter in Palo Alto. The public schools educated the children of high-tech engineers, entrepreneurs and Stanford professors. It was competitive — but also fun to put out the newspaper or compete in Mock Trial with so many smart kids.

In The Suicide Clusters at Palo Alto High Schools, Hanna Rosin tries to understand a series of suicides in 2009-10 and again in 2014-15.

Most of the kids who killed themselves stepped in front of a train.

For the most part, these students were doing well in school, had plenty of friends, seemed to be normal teens with normal parents. One girl had just gotten into the college of her dreams. A boy had just tried out for varsity basketball.

Adolescent dysfunction has a U-shaped curve, writes Rosin. Wealthy teens are doing as badly as poor teens, researchers say.

The rich middle- and high-school kids (Suniya) Luthar and her collaborators have studied show higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse on average than poor kids, and much higher rates than the national norm. They report clinically significant depression or anxiety or delinquent behaviors at a rate two to three times the national average.

Successful parents set high expectations for their children. High school students believe there’s one path to success — get into a “good” college — and little room for mistakes.

Many of the Palo Alto suicides were Chinese-American or had some Asian ancestry, writes Rosin. Was it Tiger Moms and Dads?

In addition to pressure to excel, “affluent kids felt remarkably isolated from their parents,” Luthar found. They got lots of parental attention — all that helicoptering — but didn’t feel close.

In the end, nothing really seems to explain why these adolescents ended their lives, concludes Rosin.

Nationwide, the adolescent suicide rate has “dropped dramatically since the 1990s,” perhaps because of better anti-depressants and suicide-prevention campaigns, she writes. But, in the past few years, teen suicide is on the rise again.

NYC will subsidize preschool loans

Should Upper Middle Class Tots Get Subsidized Student Loans for Pre-School? asks the New York Observer.

I thought it was a joke, but no.

City Council speaker Christine Quinn, who’s running for mayor, announced a council initiative to offer middle and upper-middle class parents subsidized loans for daycare and preschool.

“Early childhood education is one of the most important investments a parent can make,” said Ms. Quinn in a statement about the program. “But too often, quality child care is out of reach for middle class families. The Middle Class Child Care Loan Initiative is a smart program that will help parents pay for child care and give New York City’s next generation a jump start on their education.”

Families earning $80,000 to $120,000 a year will be able to borrow up to $11,000 a year at 6 percent interest for kids between the ages of two and four. In theory, less affluent parents can access subsidized child care, but the cutoff is $53,707 for a family of three and $64,762 for a family of four,  according to the Observer.

There’s also the question of whether giving a family earning $190,000 a year a pre-school subsidy will level the playing field, or make it even more unequal. Ostensibly, rather than making the difference between sending a child to preschool or keeping him at home, such loans might be used more to help the middle class’s upper crust pay for elite preschools, putting more distance between very young children in a city that is already plagued by income inequality and where competition for gifted and talented slots is incredibly fierce and many would argue, unfair, given the intense coaching and drilling engaged in by families who can afford it.

Preschool doesn’t teach children from educated families anything they’re not already learning at home. It’s fun for most kids to play with others. But it’s not the difference between academic success and failure — or even between the Ivy League and State U.

In San Jose, Harker, a high-achieving private school, is opening a preschool that will charge $22,000 a year. The Mercury News story gushes:

A mural-and-mosaic entrance, multicolored floor tiles and light-filled rooms welcome families. And of course, this tiny-tot heaven features a sandbox, play kitchen and lawns wide enough to do, perhaps, 75 somersaults in a row.

. . . preschoolers will choose from an array of activities based on their interest at the moment. As kids explore, teachers facilitate social skills and encourage curiosity, discovery and problem-solving.

I’ve never seen nor heard of a preschool that didn’t encourage play, exploration, creativity  and learning how to get along with others. This one will have lovely facilities, teachers with advanced degrees — and the children of highly educated, well-to-do Silicon Valley parents, who hope preschool admission will help their kids get into Harker.

Same schools for all?

Upper-middle-class parents aren’t rallying to reform the schools, writes Lewis Andrews in The American Spectator.  Affluent parents are getting the schools they want, responds Mike Petrilli.  The question is whether they’ll support reforms to help other peoples’ children. If those reforms — think test-based accountability — hurt their own children’s schools, they’ll resist, he argues.

Some high-spending districts get mediocre results, Andrews writes.

Affluent parents, confident their own children will do well academically, may not care about rigor, writes Petrilli.

 . . . I bet that many upper-middle class parents want to reach for something more: Emotional, spiritual, and physical growth, especially. And thus the frills that Lewis derides (like all manner of extra-curricular activities and “specials”) become quite important. And as for the test scores–well, who cares if they are really, really high or just really high?

Low-income and working-class parents have different priorities, Petrilli writes. Their children need a different sort of school.

So am I saying that we should provide one kind of education for the rich and another kind for the poor? That affluent kids get to develop their bodies, minds, and spirits, while low-income children suffer through endless weeks of test-prep?

Not exactly. The best schools for children of poverty focus on all aspects of their students’ development. At the same time, they look a lot different than the schools affluent families send their kids to. They are more focused on making sure their charges have have mastered the basics; they spend a lot of effort inculturating their kids in middle-class mores; they give regular assessments to diagnose progress. These elements would be overkill in many affluent schools. One size does not fit all.

It’s useless to debate whether students have too much homework, he writes. Which students? The ones who go to “hothouse schools in upper-middle-class enclaves” may be working too hard, while low-income and working-class students may not be challenged at all.

The No Child Left Behind backlash in the suburbs isn’t due to concerns that the law isn’t working to fix urban education. Plenty of evidence shows that it’s helped. The anger comes from a feeling that the federal law is starting to make affluent public schools worse–or at least worse in the eyes of their customers. If a principal asks a beloved teacher to scrap her favorite unit on dinosaurs or poetry or jazz or whatever in order to make room for test-prep, you better believe the affluent parents are going to be mad. As well they should be. Mandating statewide, test-based teacher evaluations will only make the situation worse.

Smart policy would focus on troubled schools and offer “benign neglect” to those that are meeting students’ needs, Petrilli writes.