Slate: Private school parents are bad people

“You are a bad person if you send your children to private school,” writes Allison Benedikt a trollish Slate piece. Parents who choose private school (and presumably home schooling) are putting their children’s welfare ahead of the common good, she argues.

. . .  if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.

. . . Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better.

If the local school is lousy, parents can raise money for enrichment programs and “get in the administration’s face when a teacher is falling down on the job,” she writes.

If you can afford private school (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy public school. She will have support at home (that’s you!) and all the advantages that go along with being a person whose family can pay for and cares about superior education—the exact kind of family that can help your crappy public school become less crappy. She may not learn as much or be as challenged, but take a deep breath and live with that. Oh, but she’s gifted? Well, then, she’ll really be fine.

Benedikt went to “terrible” schools that didn’t offer advanced classes or expect students to read. Unprepared for college, she didn’t learn much there either, she writes. She hasn’t read novels or poetry, knows little about art and is fuzzy on history. But she’s “done fine” in life without all that. “Where ignorance is bliss,” after all, “tis folly to be wise.” (Thomas Gray was not a cheerful man.)

While public school didn’t provide an academic education, it taught Benedikt other things.

Reading Walt Whitman in ninth grade changed the way you see the world? Well, getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house did the same for me.

I’m sold! Sign up the kids right away!

I was educated — quite well — in public schools in a suburb settled by educated and education-valuing parents, many of them Jewish. The “level 1 crowd” did not get drunk before basketball games.

I paid a premium for a house in Palo Alto so I could send my daughter to excellent public schools with the high-achieving children of highly educated parents.

The public schools were so good that the Catholic K-8 school in our neighborhood didn’t enroll a single Palo Alto child. Its students — all Latino or black — came from a nearby town with terrible schools. Their low-income and working-class parents scraped up the tuition money to give their kids a shot at a decent education. They were not bad people.

James Taranto outs himself as a very bad person: He doesn’t have children. Not only has he failed to invest his flesh-and-blood in the public schools, he’s “depriving the future United States of taxpayers . . .  hastening the insolvency of Social Security and Medicare and increasing their burden on other people’s children.”

School choice is (real estate) market based

“Private public schools” are “open to anyone who can afford expensive real estate,” writes Matt Yglesias in Slate.

Michael Petrilli estimates that 2,800 public schools “serve virtually no poor students.”  Yglesias thinks there are many more schools with a “smattering” of low-income students.

You often hear for good or for ill some proposal or set of proposals described as a “market-based” reform to the education system. But the fact is that a market-based school choice scheme is at the very core of American public education, it’s called the real estate market.

There isn’t enough room in “good” schools to take everyone who wants to come, responds Theodore Ross in The Atlantic.

In what he calls a “zoning-free Yglesiastopia,” no weight would be given to local residency in school enrollment. Yglesiastopia must be a place with infinite resources, one in which the good schools are large enough for all, and where no allocation process whatsoever—financial, racial, ethnic, linguistic, or residential—need be implemented. Let students flock to the quality schools and the problems in our educational system will disappear. Hail Yglesiastopia!

Ross lives in New York City and sends his son to first grade at the “zoned” public school a block away. “A forbidding grey-brick hulk . . . it is safe and clean and cheery enough inside.”

Happily, the school zone from which it draws most of its population is diverse, with a student body almost evenly split between white and Hispanic students, and sizable numbers of African- and Asian-American kids, too. . . . Sixty-nine percent of the student body is eligible for the free lunch program.

It is considered a good school, which means it’s hard for children outside the zone to get in.

Gallup: Private schools get top marks

Seventy-eight percent of Americans say private schools provide an excellent or good education, according to a new Gallup poll. At least 6 in 10 say parochial schools or charter schools provide a quality education, 46 percent endorse homeschooling and 37 percent say public schools are excellent or good.

Parents of school-aged children are more likely to praise public schools: 47 percent say public schools as excellent or good. Democrats also are more positive about public schools. But all groups said education quality is highest in private and parochial schools.

As in every survey, people were much more satisfied with their children’s public school than with public schooling in general.

Choosing public school

If her daughter doesn’t get into a top-choice public school in San Francisco, Rhiana Maidenberg plans to send her to a not-so-great public school, she writes on Babble.

. . . if every parent with the means and time to improve a school environment takes their children out of the public school system, how do these systems stand a chance at improving?

Maidenberg, a freelance writer, visited dozens of schools to develop a list of 14 favorites that are good or getting good and not too far away. Like all choice systems, public school choice favors savvy parents with time to research the options and develop a strategy.  It’s very unlikely her daughter will lose the entrance lottery at all 14 schools.

However, many San Francisco public elementary schools offer PE, music and art only once a week, she writes.

. . . with the $24,000 we’ll be saving by not enrolling our daughters in private school, I can chauffeur them to a plethora of extracurricular, afterschool activities. As an educated and involved parent, I can make sure that my children receive a fully rounded education.

Has it ever been common for elementary schools to teach music and art more than once a week?

The main thing private schools can’t provide that public schools can is diversity. The experiences my kids will receive in a classroom filled with children of varying backgrounds, native languages, and races will help them grow to be well-rounded world citizens. While I can make up for a lack of music class, if we chose private school, I couldn’t enroll them in diversity training.

Most California private schools enroll many students from immigrant families of varying backgrounds, native languages and races. There’s much less socioeconomic diversity, of course, and it’s less likely seriously disabled students will be mainstreamed. (San Francisco friends moved their child from an excellent public school to private school because the kindergarten teacher wasn’t able to control two violent boys diagnosed with behavioral disabilities.)

Educated, involved parents can do a lot to ensure that their children are well-educated even if their schools isn’t ideal. And they may be able to improve a school, if they can recruit similar parents. It’s much harder for poorly educated parents, especially if they’re working full-time or more.

Liberals, send your kids to school

Homeschooling and unschooling is the wrong choice for liberals and progressives, writes Dana Goldstein in Slate. She’s responding to Astra Taylor’s unschooling memoirin N+1, which urges parents to “empty the schools,” freeing children from “irrational authority six and a half hours a day, five days a week, in a series of cinder-block holding cells.”  Homeschooling is fundamentally illiberal, writes Goldstein.

It is rooted in distrust of the public sphere, in class privilege, and in the dated presumption that children hail from two-parent families, in which at least one parent can afford (and wants) to take significant time away from paid work in order to manage a process—education—that most parents entrust to the community at-large.

Liberal homeschoolers don’t want to let go of their children, Goldstein writes. She cites a Newsweek story on urban, educated, secular homeschoolers who’ve chosen do-it-yourself schooling. They believe “children are individuals, each deserving a uniquely curated upbringing,” writes Linda Perlstein. “That peer influence can be noxious. Many practice “attachment parenting,” which “involves round-the-clock physical contact with children and immediate responses to all their cues.”  One woman breast-fed her youngest till she was four.

OK, that sounds creepy. These kids are going to find the world very frustrating, if they ever get to live in it.

But Goldstein isn’t just trying to liberate overparented kids from Big Mommy. She argues that educated progressives should send their kids to racially and economically integrated public schools to pull up the achievement of their less-privileged classmates — and to learn to appreciate diversity.

If progressives want to improve schools, we shouldn’t empty them out. We ought to flood them with our kids, and then debate vociferously what they ought to be doing.

I doubt that progressive parents want to use their own children to improve public schools, if they can afford alternatives. However, homeschooling always will be a minority choice. Few parents have the time, energy, motivation and ability to teach their children at home.

All Your Children Are Belong to Us, responds William Jacobsen.

California private schools regain students

As California public schools raise class sizes and shorten the school year, more middle-class parents are turning to private schools, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The recession cut California’s private-school enrollment from 10 percent of school-age children to 8 percent in the last decade. Now several San Jose area private schools say inquiries and applications are up 25 percent to 40 percent. A Christian school that closed several years ago is reopening to meet the demand.

It’s the academic content, stupid

Some well-known education reformers attended private high schools, wrote Michael Winerip in the New York Times. His list includes Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Teddy Kennedy, Checker Finn, “Waiting for Superman” director Davis Guggenheim, Jeb Bush,  and others.

In response, ed reformer Whitney Tilson called Winerip “the worst education reporter in America” and a “gutless weasel.” Tilson also lists education reformers who attended public high schools.

In Private School Student, Public School Reformer, Core Knowledge blogger Robert Pondiscio takes a calmer look at the issue. He thinks that well-educated people may take a strong curriculum for granted.

Private and parochial schools tend to have fairly set curricula that describes grade-by-grade content with great specificity. Public schools tend to have “standards” that enumerate the skills kids should demonstrate, while leaving curriculum choices to the teachers.

The difference is significant, Pondiscio argues.

If you assume that what kids learn is basically the same from school to school, you will naturally assume the only thing you can change is teacher quality, accountability, pay structures and funding formulas.  Do students in public schools get poorer meals, fewer resources and lousy teachers compared to their privileged peers?  Some do, some don’t. But the one thing most low-SES children certainly do not get is a well-rounded, academic curriculum.  Tilson himself once told me that a good curriculum “is like mom and apple pie. Everyone is in favor of it.”

But then why are so many children saddled with content-free drivel?

Pondiscio sent his daughter to a Manhattan private school, while he taught at a public school in the South Bronx. Lots of public-schools teachers were stronger than some of the private-school teachers, he writes.

The magic of her school, at least at the elementary school level, was not in the teachers but in the curriculum and a first-rate, purposeful school tone.

I went to public schools in an upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago. We had a mix of excellent, average and lousy teachers. The curriculum was hit-and-miss, especially in elementary school. But we had a first-rate school tone. Our education-centric parents — mostly college educated and Jewish — had moved to the suburbs for good schools. They sent their smart, ambitious kids to public schools. And the schools were good.