September 10, 2012

Avenues: The World School Is Open For Business

Sometimes I just look at the Corian counter in the kids' preschool kitchen, and I wonder how it all went so wrong so fast, and whether they'll ever forgive me for ruining their lives so completely and so young?

How Do You Say "Early Admission" in Mandarin? [nymag]


My kids are in private school in Manhattan. The school just opened a brand new beautiful state-of-the art building. Back to School Night was last week and, while it was tempting to focus on the building and its features, it was clear within 5 minutes that here, just like at every other school, the experience was going to be about the quality of the interaction between students, teachers and parents...everything else is just a counter top.

Wow, the Chicago Teachers Union went on strike today for a better school day for kids in every school in Chicago. While my daughter attends one of the great public schools elementary schools in the city, hers is only one of 24% of CPS schools to have art/music classes, largely through parent fundraising. To think that marble countertops are even part of the deal in any school while 76% of kids in CPS don't have access to art/music kind of makes my stomach churn.

two real and seemingly related problems, I think. Whittle is making a premium product for cost-little-object customers; it's a very different situation from a public school. Or even a charter. Avenues does address a real, if rareified, shortage of high-ticket, high-performance education in NYC.

That seat shortage also leads to high-expectation independent school-minded families being pushed into public schools, and demanding/bringing more for them. In certain schools and neighborhoods.

I'm not close enough to really know (in NYC), but I don't get the sense that there is any real political momentum from such parents to improve the school system as a whole, and to reinstate crucial [I think] programs like art & music. These aspects of learning are almost entirely absent from the current education reform debates going around these days.

Art, music, physical education, foreign language, etc. are largely luxuries in the NYC public school system, funded mostly by grants and PTA donations on a school by school basis, and limited in many cases by the lack of facilities.

There's not a lot of political momentum from high-expectations parents to change the system as a whole because it's so massive (over a million students and 1700 schools) and so bureaucratic (a chancellor and his leadership team, the citywide Panel for Educational Policy, and 30+ separate school districts, each with its own administration and Community Education Council).

Unless you're a full time activist, it would be extremely difficult to make a difference at a citywide level, whereas it's very possible for a high-expectations parent to make a real difference at the school level. And not all high-expectations parents send their kids to the handful of best known schools in rich neighborhoods (like PS 234 in Tribeca or PS 6 on the Upper East Side). Over half the students at my son's school are eligible for free lunch and the high-expectations parents running the PTA are working for the whole school's benefit.

Been thinking about this since this morning; I think you zero in on it, that highly motivated, high expectation parents see their local school as the site where they can make the most immediate and effective improvements.

And that is the most natural and common motivation: doing the best and most for their own kid's situation. It's also why some people sacrifice to live or stay in a good school boundary, or move to a better school, or put their kid in a charter, or in a parochial or private school. Thousands of parents making individual decisions to maximize their own kid's opportunities.

That that decision often comes at the expense of involvement in efforts to improve a system at large,or for the longer term, is an unfortunate political reality. it's also why Whittle called the entering ninth graders at Avenue the bravest, because it is literally their college admissions on the line.

My kid's school doesn't even have a building. He just started grade one, and this morning, for the first time, lamented that his school lacks hallways, etc. In kindergarten he didn't realise schools are supposed to have buildings.

Ah, but Greg, unfortunate political realities can also become the stepping stones for significant political change (or so the optimist in me hopes!). I agree that most of us high-expectation parents in public schools can most easily help our kids and the kids in our children's immediate halo. But if we even donate a fraction of our time, energy, and skillsets to the system as a whole I have this (perhaps naively) optimistic sense that we can start to move the system forward. In Chicago that means advocating for an Elected Representative School Board (the current one is appointed by the mayor) and advocating for better apportionment of taxpayer funds for education (we currently lose a lot of TIF funds that should go to education but instead end up in "community development projects," some of which are condo developments for the upper middle income). Get back to me in about 10 years and hundreds of grey hairs later. ;-)

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