Thursday, November 1, 2007

Bye, bye, apples!

Recently, I've received some comments questioning my apple ratings. I've been thinking a lot about what the ratings mean and I haven't come up with solid justification for them. I like that they provoke comments because I think the visitors' postings are what's making this site especially informative. But I don't like that they're hurting the feelings of some people who actually attend the schools—or that they're distracting from the write-ups that offer up a much more thoughtful overview of my impressions of a school. So bye, bye, apples!

And please keep the comments coming. I appreciate the tremendous response to this site. It's the variety of opinions and thoughts that are making it an interesting place to visit.


  1. Hi Kate,
    thanks for the blog. As a PC user I think it's a good idea to do away with the apple system, yes, pun intended. I like the survey, and voted against doing away with the lottery to assure the families get their neighborhood schools soley based on the fact that there is already a huge disparity in the resources avaialble to specific schools and the zip code is definitly a factor. I am saddened that several of the schools that I visit have the better resources than others yet seem to be markedly less diverse. I wonder what that's about?

  2. Hi - I love the apples! I'm sorry that people are taking it personally but really - it's your blog, your opinion. The rating system is a great way to let people know how much you really like a school, and personally, I find it to be quite helpful.

  3. There IS an unavoidable element of rewarding the rich for merely being rich in the apple system. There isn't really a way to compensate. So dropping the ratings does seem fairer.

  4. I read the reviews in The New York Times. They're entertaining, informative, engaging, and often hilarious. I never read the reviews in The Chronicle. I just look at the little guy sitting in his movie seat.

  5. Kate, I'm neutral on the Apple thing, but I am wondering: are you going to upload your Live Oak review soon too?

    Thanks for this AMAZING blog! Your posts are extremely articulate (you are such a great writer, I'm sure your essays will be wonderful on your applications - lucky you!) and this blog has sparked such extremely interesting conversation. I have learned so much from my reading it. Thanks!

  6. The notion that kids are judged on their PARENTS' essays in the private-school world just makes me splutter with indignation. Why not just put a huge sign across the front of the school: MAKING THE RICH RICHER!

  7. You are in a particularly nasty mood today, Caroline. I know a lot of people who are not wealthy but who are outstanding writers. Additionally, there are quite a few wealthy people who can't write worth a dang. Assuming that rich means articulate is pretty presumptuous, and, dare I say, elitist as well.

    After all, it's not like professions associated with writing for a living are the highest paid professions out there: Poet? Writer? Teacher? Give me a break!

  8. I don't think Caroline was necessarily correlating wealth with lucidity. I think she is opposed to the idea that school admissions for private schools are very heavily based on the qualifications of the parents. If you are a parent that is well connected, it certainly adds a tremendous value to a child's application. As hard as they might deny it, getting into private schools is kind of like trying to join a country club.

  9. Maybe there's not a direct correlation with wealth, though a process that favors the empowered, assertive, persuasive, educated and literate IS going to rule out the disadvantaged. Not a lot of limited-English-speakers, or uneducated parents, are likely to get through that process.

  10. Kate,
    Thank you so much for your blog! Apples or not, I'm finding your reviews quite helpful.

    Having read your numerous posts on the GP listserv and now these ones here, I am really frustrated. I have tried to stay out of the mud-slinging, but I just cannot any longer. I am a product of private schooling. I am not rich. I have not been made richer. I do know that our public schools often provide an excellent education. I also know that I gained much from my private school education that I will value forever (no, not money). Having attended both public and private school, I know that each has its merits and shortcomings. So, now it is my turn to sputter with indignation. How dare you judge me, my parents, my classmates, and the numerous wonderful people associated with the private schools in our area? You act as though we are all rich monsters. Is the application process a pain? Yes. Are the parents being judged? Yes. A school wants parents to support its mission and approach to education. I'm not going to be naive and claim that connnections don't help. They can. But I can also tell you from first-hand experience that the percentage of children admitted because of such connections is not nearly as high as you imply. And schools do accept kids whose parents are non-native English speakers. Private schools need to do more outreach to find candidates from underserved communities, and some are actually doing so and not in a token "here is a poor person" kind of a way. You know what? I am going to stop defending myself and instead ask you to consider why you feel the need to belittle the private school community. If I were to make sweeping generalizations about public schools, my guess is that you would tell me not to stereotype. Can you not see that you, in fact, are stereotyping? People pick different schools for a large variety of reasons. My criteria and yours may look different, but that does not make one of us right and the other one wrong. It just makes us different. It also does not mean that I'm wealthy, elitist, wanting to avoid certain groups in our community, or whatever other cr*p you've been implying or outright saying in your various posts. Perhaps you should replace your indignation with introspection. Maybe you'll discover whatever chip you have on your shoulder that keeps prompting you to write meanspirited posts and emails. Then again, maybe you would prefer to use that time to hang a big banner in front of your house saying, "Making the Self-Righteous More Self-Righteous."

  11. I read a lot of the lists too, including ppssf and sf schools, and everywhere she posts Caroline can seem like a bulldog on these issues, and that can be a bit polarizing. Still, I admire her courage and persistence. The issues she raises are not feel-good, soft and fuzzy ones, but (occasional descriptive comments like "loathsome" aside), many of her points have merit in a larger sense. If it is possible for some of those who are associated with, or considering, private school to depersonalize her and others' comments for a moment, can we consider them as commentary on systems rather than people? Perhaps consider the merits of her/their argument in that light?

    Also, Caroline herself as well as some of the other public school advocates posting here have been willing to acknowledge the good in private school communities, including the benefits they afford as well as efforts to diversify and reach out to a broader base of students. They then have put the "good" within a larger context of concern and have raised some very good points in the process. Someone on another thread said it was shades of gray. Someone else pointed out what a value-laden discussion this is. Deep breath here, it's hard. Doesn't mean the points are not valid.

    I would be glad if the private school advocates & defenders on this list would address the larger issues being raised more directly. If we can stipulate up front that we are all good people trying to make good choices, and also that private schools have wonderful programs and that many have been trying to diversify as well, that still doesn't address the larger point made by Caroline and the others that trends to private schooling are also trends toward disinvestment from public schooling, and that there is a social cost in that equation that is primarily borne by poor kids, but ultimately by all of us.

  12. Hi Kate,
    I love this blog, and I seem to keep going back to the MCDS page because there is a lot of stuff being thrown around there about class and public schools. Thank you for this forum.

  13. I have absolutely no problem with Caroline expressing her point of view, which is often insightful and certainly valid. I did not say that her points are not important. I would have no issue depersonalizing her comments if they did not include personal attacks in the first place. My issue here is with stereotyping and using disrespectful language. I've been putting up with Caroline's nasty comments for some time now hoping that she would get her need to put others down out of her system but to no avail.

    There is no reason to shy away from tough issues that do not feel warm and fuzzy. I can handle that. What I cannot handle are the frequent insults and self-righteousness in Caroline's posts that, sadly, detract from her ability to communicate her points effectively. A former boss of mine once said that you need to express your opinions in a way that others can hear. In my mind, Caroline's posts demonstrate precisely what my boss was saying.

    I would be glad to address the idea that "trends to private schooling are also trends toward disinvestment from public schooling, and that there is a social cost in that equation that is primarily borne by poor kids, but ultimately by all of us," with you or anyone else who is willing to be open minded and non-judgemental (as you appear to be). I don't disagree that there is a social cost associated with private schooling, and it is a cost I find troubling. However, I refuse to discuss this issue or any other hot button topic more directly in a forum that includes someone who has consistently demonized those who have chosen a path with which she does not agree. I just don't need that kind of hassle or toxic energy. I might as well go play in traffic. Disagreeing with others while engaging in an honest exchange of ideas and concerns (meaning that we actually welcome ideas and opinions that differ from ours, even if we are not ultimately swayed) is not only fine but also a necessary part of a good discussion. Demonizing is neither necessary nor fine, and I finally reached the end of my rope with her.

  14. I agree with the poster above who finds that Caroline's presentation of her views makes it impossible to "hear" what she's saying. I have a difficult time taking her seriously because she seems incapable of considering any other viewpoint but her own. She is hateful to those who choose differntly. (And I would rather support the public schools than the private, but I still can't get behind her.)

  15. I liked the apples. There's nothing wrong with saying you like something better than something else.

  16. If people feel like that Caroline is "nasty" or at best "ineffective" with her rhetoric, then it is good that you said so. She is now free to reflect and modify as she chooses based on that feedback.

    I also feel like asking for a a little bit more thick skin from everyone (skin that I am also trying to get my younger child to grow, btw). Most are posting here anonymously. Barbara of MCDS who was posting less anonymously on that review's thread maybe had the most cause to complain about attacks that were close to her own school and heart. The rest of us can say, hell ya Caroline, or alternatively, roll our eyes, depending on our mileage with these issues. Personally, I like her broader points and sometimes cringe at the pointedness of her comments. Maybe I'm just nicer, or maybe I'm a wuss. But I'd rather address the bigger questions than get diverted like this.

    The question of community impact has been raised. Someone wrote, "trends to private schooling are also trends toward disinvestment from public schooling, and ... there is a social cost in that equation that is primarily borne by poor kids, but ultimately by all of us ...." This concern was echoed in the now-online SF Magazine article about private schools, by a former MCDS head of school, no less, talked about it in terms of trashing the American dream. That same article, which was written by a private school parent, also implied that the intensity of more, more, more in private education in pursuit of the mythical Land of Oz might be actually missing something crucial for the kids while costing families a whole lot in terms of time and money.

    Okay, so, !really trying here! to get away from personal attacks that may be emanating either Caroline or towards her, what do the readers of this blog think of the multi-part critique of private education that has been raised?

  17. I really like the previous comment, and thanks for acknowledging that it can be a bit rough listening to some of the specific/pointed remarks being made about private schools in general and my school in particular.

    A great deal of this debate about whether it is our social obligation to send our schools to public and to work toward positive change within the system reminds me of a parallel line of thinking in Judith Warner's fantastic book Perfect Madness about the supposed "mommy wars" between working and stay-at-home parents. She posits that rather than women turning on each other and judging each other's choices (and non-choices,) we ought to all come together to raise societal questions about why the government, workplace and other institutions make it so difficult to parent in today's world.

    Likewise, why is the sorry state of public education, the overemphasis on standardized testing, the sickening inequities between schools, and crazy SF lottery system something that we are fighting with each other about? Why is the outrage turned inward, when we're all trying to make the best of a big ole mess? Private school folks are reacting to the mess in one way, public school folks in another...but it's a mess that forces each of us to make some difficult moral choices about how we want to improve society, educate our children, participate in our communities, etc.

    Everyone take a deep breath.

  18. I'm sorry. I thought my comments were about the institution of private education in general and not about individuals. I'll bow out of the blog discussion.

  19. Barbara's pointing to the "mommy wars" is apt. Like that topic, this one is value-laden and also has cultural and class overtones, so can easily devolve to a personal level when, in fact, it is embedded in wider policy issues related about investment in education for all. Not cutting up a small pie but baking a bigger one.

    Policy solutions I dream about:

    A) more money from all levels of gov't.

    * Prop H was a great start from San Francisco (thank you, voters!!) that has provided funds for arts, libraries, science. However it will take political will--pressure from the people--to keep it in place since our fair city also faces needs in the health care and other arenas. So many social programs have been devolved to the local level through unfunded mandates and abdication at the federal and state levels.

    * State funding. This goes up and down depending on revenues and the vicissitudes of which political party is in office. We have to get over the taxes=death equation. Just have to find a way to reframe the possibility of taxes in terms of improving life in the state for all. Can we resurrect the commons?

    * Federal gov't. Stop funding stupid wars and provide more money for education. Pass a farm bill that makes sense and helps feed our hungry kids. Raise the marginal tax rate on the superrich at least halfway to 1970's levels. Sigh.

    B) This will never happen, but I would love to see an end to the charitable tax deduction. Please understand that I say this as a non-profit fundraiser who has made all of my living in this field, getting money from folks in part because they can deduct part of the donation. I think it was Robert Reich, the economist and former Secretary of Labor, who wrote that this provision moves money from publicly accountable social programs like public schools (by decreasing the federal income through taxes) and moves it to 501(c)(3) organizations that serve an overall more wealthy demographic. Not entirely, but taken as a whole. Charities like churches take the biggest portion. We are also talking about symphony, ballet, etc. as well as innumerable private schools, and yes, even local PTAs for public schools. Ultimately all of this this means there is less money for the public schools that do not have boosters and PTAs. 'Course, this line of argument implies that our government wouldn't take those dollars and spend it on wars and contracts with Halliburton and Blackwater, sigh.....And I do understand it would take a toll on lots of fabulous non-profits; I just wish we functioned more like Western Europe with much higher taxes, esp at the higher margins, and more publicly accountable spending on health care, schools, the arts, international development, the works.

    C) While we're at it, let's fund national health care so that our kids have at least that much equity in going to school. Oh right, Bush just promised again to veto SCHIP expansion that would provide health care insurance to kids who are going without. Another big sigh.

    Perhaps the seeming futility of my policy dreams point toward why we end up arguing "inward." A lot of us here who tried pretty hard to defeat the GOP in 2004. Some of us struggle with ineffective and weak Democrats too, or those who are cozy with the corporations. We keep struggling, but where can we make a difference? A lot of us end up in the arena of personal choice (do we buy a car at all, what kind, etc.) and of course school choice. We also end up working in the arena of local action, including working with PPS or other groups to improve the schools in our own city, despite the almost criminal lack of resources from a wealthy nation. And we get passionate about it!

    Like other posters, I have many good-hearted friends who have gone private for their kids. When I hear the news--Synergy, Live Oak, SF Day, MCDS, etc.--I am not one to chew them out, at all, but I am ALWAYS sad about it. I know these friends will continue to vote the right way on measures like Prop H and state school funding bills and lots of other stuff, but I also know we are losing their passionate energy to improve the schools. And I don't know how we can build the networks and political energy to succeed on the big policy scale if we are not invested in some of the most important institutions at the local level, like our schools and health care systems. This is where we see what can be done, and what the stakes are. We see it every day in the faces of the kids. Opting out, i.e., going private, makes successful change seem all the more unattainable and distant, seems to me, and runs the risk of diluting the political will and vision to make it happen on a broader scale.

    I don't mean this as a personal attack on anyone here who is associated with or considering private schools, but more as a plea to consider public. We need the energy and intelligence on display in this blog in our public schools. I applaud the MCDS headmaster who moved on to work in the Oakland public schools.

    A couple more points:

    No disagreement with Barbara about the overemphasis on standardized testing in public schools. We need accountability and some way to measure progress, but bringing the hammer down on struggling kids and their schools is a control technique of the Bush Administration. "No Child Left Behind" did NOT provide the funding that was needed, but it did have the enforcement mechanisms. Of course, fundamentally, Bush and his buds do not believe in public schools.

    However, I'm not one who thinks the SF lottery system is inherently crazy. It's less crazy than navigating private school applications, in any case! And a lot better than making it all about real estate. There may be some problems with the actual algorithm--see the thread on "Do I need to apply to seven schools" for more on that; and it is not a perfect solution to segregation. But it is better than pure neighborhood schools and it also does give parents more choice of school community and special programs, which I think has pushed the schools to improve.

    I also would not say the public school education in San Francisco is in a sorry state. I'm not just saying this, because my kids really are getting a fine education there. The schools could improve, sure. I also think my are getting something they wouldn't get in any of the fine private schools mentioned here, so the trade-offs are worth it to me: it's a no-brainer. I worry most about the kids in the several dozen schools in SF with many fewer supports, the ones not even on Kate's list to visit, who are coming from some very challenged environments. We've made progress with so many schools, but there is a ways to go with others. Segregation is a part of this (see comment on the school lottery, above).

    Finally, I hope Caroline does not withdraw from posting altogether. I hope no one does. Maybe everyone should reflect on tone of voice before we hit send, and maybe we develop thicker skins too, with the understanding that we are all doing our best and have pretty good hearts. I welcome the passion on all sides, but Caroline has a wealth of specific information to provide from her years in the district and from her activism.

    Please, this issue matters so much, and the level of discourse here has generally been quite high, so let's keep that going.

  20. Judith Warner does offer interesting reflections on parenting issues, including through a gender lens. Another NY Times columnist, Paul Krugman, has an essay in today (November 5th) called "Wobbled by Wealth" that touches on some of the broader economic policy issues affecting the middle class that were raised by the last poster. They are certainly germane to school funding.

  21. IJWTS that I hope that Caroline doesn't bow out of the conversation. Although I think that some of her comments crossed the line (e.g. specific pointed attacks on Adda Clevenger and the presumption that wealthy folks write better essays), I would rather have someone cross the line here than withhold altogether.

    The other thing I want to say, and this is a whole different can of worms, is that I resent the comparision to the so-called "mommy wars," which I think were manufactured by authors who want to sell books and media outlets who want to sell advertising. The Mommy Wars are not real, but the educational crisis certainly IS. In California, that crisis was not manufactured -- rather, it stemmed, as Brian pointed out in a different thread, from Proposition 13, a horribly misguided piece of legislation voted in by the majority at the expense of the minority.

    Now, ironically, Prop 13 hurts all of us, rich or poor, minority or majority. Having underfunded public schools hurts the poor by depriving them of an equal playing field. But it also hurts the wealthy by harming property values. Not to be Machiavellian here, but homeowners stand to benefit A LOT by improving their neighborhood schools, whether or not the lottery system guarantees admission to it.

  22. I just wanted to respond to the comment that public education is in a "sorry" state. The SF Magazine article also gave that impression. Various articles in the Chron and elsewhere seem to say that too (most recently about science, I think).

    I would be the last person to say that public education is not criminally underfunded. But somehow the heroes--teachers, activists, etc.--are providing excellent opportunities nonetheless. We are both Ivy-educated with advanced degrees, one in science and one in law, and we have been very happy with our kids' education in the SF system. It is far better than what either of us got in our own elementary or middle school years.

    A lot of the discussion on various threads has focused on the community and ethical considerations for going public. Guess I'd just like to offer some words of reassurance to prospective kindergarten parents that your kids can also get a great education there, and a nurturing one. As well as, perhaps, a wider view of the world than may be possible at private, but I'll leave it there because that topic has been well-addressed.

    Specific examples. We are now in middle school and upper elementary, and things have only improved in our time in the system:

    Science. From the early grades on: "balls and ramps" to learn about the physics of friction, gravity, angles. Everything from rolling balls on ramps down the long hallways (measuring speed and distance under various conditions) to rolling balls down the slide on the playground. Also, rocks and geology, much loved by the kids for the tactile part. Worm boxes. What composts and what doesn't (scientific method of hypothesizing, observing, measuring, used throughout all these projects). An in-classroom planetarium. Homework to observe moon phases. Hermit crabs, guinea pigs and fish in the classroom. Dissections of owl vomit to see what the owls ate (sounds gross, was cool); also dissections of cow eyes (same--learned about lenses). In environmental science, trips to the dump, recycling center, and waste water treament plant--eeeewww, but they still talk about it. Boat trips on the Bay to study marine life. Measurements of energy loss, gain, and maintenence depending on different kinds of shades and blocks from the sun. Building electronic circuits, learning about closed circuits, AC/DC, currents, dimmers. I know I have forgotten a lot!

    Math. A mix of traditional (long division, multiplication tables) and fun math with manipulatives. Estimation. Graphing and diagramming (usually in connection with social studies projects like counting how many kids are from which countries or national backgrounds). X and Y axis graphs and plotting. Pre-algebraic equations (in our older child's public middle school, algebra is required in the 8th grade for all kids).

    Arts. Lots of hands-on stuff in the various disciplines (2-D art, clay, theater, Orff and instrumental music). Also art history, learning about techniques ranging from Matisse to Van Gogh to Picasso to Grandma Moses. A range of dance techniques from modern to Latin to jazz to hip hop. Field trips to film and art and music and theater.

    Language arts. 2-way immersion, so both kids are bilingual and biliterate. If you can do this, I think it's a no-brainer. It also offers that extra challenge to gifted kids. Ours have been reading fluently from K or 1st, reading Harry Potter and Eva Ibottson by 3rd, reading Lord of the Rings and the Odyssey by middle school. How much of that is home environment? I don't know, but they haven't suffered. The kids have also gotten "extensions" on their projects, i.e., asked to do more research and write more pages and with more sophistication than some of their classmates who are still working on the basics. The teachers have been amazing that way.

    Social studies. It helps to have so much diversity right there, since much of the lower grade emphasis is on helping the kids understand that they are part of families, neighborhoods, cities, countries. In the later years, the beginnings of traditional curriculum in American history, California history (including native cultures). Geography is fun because so many kids are from somewhere else; world culture is close to home and is reflected in the festivals and assemblies and artwork and food.

    The kids have also formed amazing tight communities with their peers, and made some cross-grade friends too. The 4-5 classroom was fantastic for that and helped our oldest transition to middle school--we already knew some of the kids and they were very kind.

    Prospective parents, you may not see this on your tours of public schools. The volunteer tour guides are not professionally trained, and some of them may be parents of lower-grade kids. The tours are large and more chaotic in public (seems like, at least, from Kate's description). I really hope you will talk individually with public school parents and not rely only on the tours to form impressions! Find friends you trust whose kids have gone through public. Talk with PPS ambassadors. Tour your favorite public schools again.

    Because: your kids can do very well, and can get a fine curriculum and lots of nurturing, and great community in a San Francisco public school. And--back to the social impact argument--you would be doing the larger community some good too, and maybe saving your money for college down the road. Please look beyond the tours! There is wonderful education to be had here.

  23. I also hope Caroline does not feel she needs to bow out of the very interesting discussion, while agreeing everyone should strive to refrain from personal attacks. While I agree that strong writing need not correlate with wealth, her point that private schools judge which 5-year-olds to admit based in part on how articulate their parents are, which rewards children with parents who have had the privilege of a strong educational background, is a completely valid one. Of course there are people from all backgrounds who write well. But of course those with stronger educational backgrounds tend to write better essays. (Not that choosing which 5-year-olds to admit by judging THEM is any less offensive to me, by the way. Obviously, this is the prerogative of private schools. But it certainly perpetuates inequities between public and private to pick the "cream of the crop" -- at least by their standards -- and leave to the public schools those who will be more difficult to educate).

    I have friends with kids in private schools and do not judge them for it; and I also don't rule out the possibility that I will end up there with them sometime in the future. But I do think the existence of private schools has a seriously detrimental effect upon the quality of public schools by pulling out parents who could otherwise be involved with fundraising and strengthening public schools and by pulling out kids whose presence would benefit others. I hope those who are thinking about going private and lending their energies there will at least consider giving public a try.

  24. thank you to the anonymous poster who gave such a detailed rundown of the types of curricula kids get at the publics -- i was excited to hear it from a parent, and you're right: it is more detailed and relevant and compelling from that source.

    as far as what type of discourse is constructive, well, i would say all of it so far. i think it's fine for people to get hot under the collar once in a while. the issues at hand warrant it. caroline is brave to identify herself and speak freely. her point of view and fire often help me decide where i stand. keep it coming, i say!

  25. I'll echo the poster who described some of the curricula at his/her kids' SF public school. My kid has had a similar array of projects in his SF elementary, some the same as described, some different, but definitely both academic and interesting.

    Currently the 5th graders are learning "powers" in math, as in calculating 2 to the power of 5 or 10 to the power of 10. They have been impressed with how the numbers grow fast. Before that they were working on identifying prime numbers.