Thursday, November 29, 2007

You say tomato, I say tomahto

Have you ever hurled your phone across the room after finishing a conversation with your spouse? I did that once and broke the phone—so I swear I'll never do it again.

But when my husband, Ryan, called me the other day, I practically had to hold my right hand back with my left to prevent myself from doing it again. I was so frustrated! I sent him on a tour of a school that I had already visited. It's one that I like and I'm trying to determine how to rank it on my list. I asked him to help me make the decision.

He called me on my cell right after the tour. "I can't picture Alice there," he said. "I don't think we should include it on the list."

What? Why? Are you serious? Tell me why? I wanted an explanation.

He struggled to explain. "It seems like a good school but I don't see Alice there," he kept saying again and again.

Thus far, Ryan and I have been on the same page. He's only toured about a quarter of the schools I've visited but we've shared the same opinions on those we've both seen. He's Alice's father and the love of my life, so I have to take his feelings into consideration—but I told him that I can't simply cut the school from my list. And so he came up with the idea that we'll both visit the school a second time. It was his idea, honest.

Has anyone had a similar experience with a partner or spouse? What do you do when one person loves a school and the other hates it?


  1. Oh dear, then there is my situation, trying to make make a ranked list with an ex-spouse from a very unhappy and messy divorce. When we made the preschool decision he was pretty much absent and I did all the touring, and he relied on my judgment. This time around he wants to be very much involved. Which is good, I guess (and what I had always wished for), but harder now too.

    Fortunately we do seem to share some values with regard to what we are seeking in a school and to be able to discuss the issues (via email only) fairly well. It may lead to one or both of us each vetoing a school the other likes though. This isn't something we can afford to fight over, leaving the other person feeling left out about. It's actually really important in our case that both parents feel invested and not like the other parent won out or something.

  2. This was, in all honesty, one of the few times in our marriage I listened to his opinion. I felt it was important in this case to do so. I took his opinion with some resentment since I was doing practically all the legwork in the search. But he knows his daughter in a different way and I had to respect that. The school he heartily endorsed (Grattan) which I was more reluctant to accept has been a wonderful match for my daughter's personality and for the family in general. My first choice, now that I know my daughter's abilities in school better (she is in second grade) would probably been a harsher environment for her personality.

    The bottom line is that I am glad that I listened to him.

  3. I am going the process right now and tend to be the same way as the previous poster. I am BY FAR the person doing the leg work -- the research, the discussion, the, the private school essays, etc., and I can rattle off facts and figures like there's no tomorrow. But my husband has an innate sense of what is best for our children, and I trust him wholeheartedly.

  4. We initially did not see eye-to-eye on whether to focus on public versus private schools. But I've since come around (after umpteen tours) to his point-of-view. I'm now fully pro-public and feel much more comfortable focusing our energies and deliberations on that side of the spectrum. It is a wide spectrum to be sure!

    As the January 11th date looms, I am starting to sense friction on the issue of immersion languages. If immersion, which language? I am leaning towards Cantonese or Mandarin, my husband towards Spanish. We're on the same page in terms of the opportunity and potential for an immersion program, but there are numerous issues around which language makes sense for our kids, our family, our future.

  5. I was really stressing about those schools on my list that my husband has not been able (nor will be able to)tour. We always have slightly differing opinions but I fear that those that I am most keen on would have been those that he would be least. So Kate's blog was very timely for me, especially when I read the first two comments.
    I am in awe of "Anon" who is working through this with an EX-spouse. I am finding it tough enough working with a very much in favor one!
    Having heard from second "Anon" it is clear that I have to consider what I know would be his thoughts despite not sharing them and even though he will not have the opportunity to voice them - thank you both.

  6. Kate, loved this post - thank you for sharing it. Are you and your husband concerned about selecting schools based too much on your daughters personality when you have a son who will no doubt go to the same school? I am in a similar position, I really don't want my son to end up at a school that is great for his sister but way off track for him. I'm trying to find a school that works for the whole family (core values, gut feel, location and start time)without getting too bogged down in finding a perfect match for my eldest. This ideally for us, would mean a dual-program school in case immersion is great for one but not so much for the other. Have you considered this?

  7. Agree with the last poster. We are really considering spanish immersion. Our fear is the commitment level required of such a program. What if we move when our child is in 3rd grade or even 5th grade? Will my child be a remedial reader at the new school? Many of the immersion parents encourage commitment to immersion through middle school. It's hard for us to know what will be going on in our lives for the next 8 years.

  8. I'm a Spanish immersion parent. I'm very sure your kids will not have a problem if you move in the 3rd or 5th grade. Just keep reading to them in English at home, buy or borrow from the library great books to read once they start reading, and all will be well. The literacy skills transfer, and they will be English talkers at home, presumably.

    The issue that comes up in immersion programs is not the native English speakers' skills in English; they all do very well. It's the ELL parents who worry, because they cannot support the English at home so well, so it can be a slow development for those kids in dual immersion compared to other programs, like the bilingual ones. The assumption is that the literacy skills will be higher in both languages in the long run and that they can learn English without losing the heritage language. But in all of this, your kids will be fine.

    Both my kids are reading at a high level in English. They probably would be anyway based on our home environment. What they are getting in school that I really cannot teach them or lead by example is the Spanish.

  9. my wife and i toured all 8 schools together. I think it's important to see each other's body language, be able to silently raise eyebrows, and quickly assess the visit right after.

    go together.

  10. my husband leaves everything to me. he says,"i trust you." and honestly he doesn't have (or make) the time. i feel a bit overwhelmed with the decision, but at least i don't have to argue with anyone (but myself) about it.

  11. re: spanish immersion parent - Thank you - very helpful

  12. Touring eight (or in our case 18) schools together is totally impossible. For starters who would look after our kids (three of them), and then we also figure that one of us should be showing up to work. It would be ideal to go together to all tours, I agree with you - but I can't imagine how you actually do that... which brings up the issue of how onerous touring is and how totally biased it is, in favor of those of us who can take time out to look at the schools as opposed to those in the community who just can not, or else risk losing their jobs etc. "choices for all" maybe but "touring for all" definitely not.

  13. For the Spanish immersion parent (or anyone who knows the answer): what is the difference between dual immersion and bilingual?

  14. Dual immersion are the programs SFUSD has in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, etc, where it's mostly taught in the foreign language (I think 80% or so in K) with more integration of English as they get to higher grades (I was told that by 5th gr, it is 50/50). At least some of the immersion programs seem to be seeking 1/2 native English speakers and 1/2 target langauge speakers.

    I think bilingual are classes specifically geared for non-native English speakers to help them learn English. Sherman has a Chinese bilingual K class, which is taught all in English, but the teacher is fluent in Cantonese, so she can converse with the parents. The program is intended to help non-English speakers become English proficient. The kids are mainstreamed into the gen'l ed classes by 4th grade.

  15. I'm the Spanish Immersion parent who posted earlier. What the previous poster said about bilingual ed vs. immersion is correct. The goal of bilingual ed is to help ELL kids transition to English. The goal of dual immersion is that all the kids will be bilingual and biliterate. Generally this means a longer process, K-8.

    For those parents who are wondering how they can commit to that many years, I would just say that it's not like the K-5 Spanish or any amount for that matter will be harmful for your kids--far from it. They may not attain the fluency if you take them out sooner, but they will always have the benefits of those language synapses firing and probably some knowledge of the language. I hope those of you who do immersion will stick with it, but don't stress about it all now.

    IMHO the greater stress lies the with the ELL parents, who may not see the language acquisition as quickly from their end since the model usually starts with their native language dominating. While this is good for them in terms of absorbing content, it is also very important to these parents that their kids learn English--more important in our culture than for our native English speakers to learn Spanish or Mandarin or whatever. So sticking with it can come with some worries along the way. So far, the data shows that in the long run they will achieve more literacy with two languages. And they get to keep their heritage language this way. Hopefully more studies will be done that confirms this.

    In any case, native English speaking kids do fine in English, so I would not worry about that.

  16. It's funny to read this evening's installment (btw, I now read this blog instead of watching the news...) and comments, seeing as my husband and I finally had about 2 hours of uninterrupted time to discuss schools tonight.

    I think it is important to be on the same page about the fundamentals -- and in our house that has been The Great Public or Private Debate. In September, we signed up for a bunch of private tours. Other than the nice facilities, we were mostly underwhelmed (Oh, yeah, the first time we heard "whole child" we thought it was amazing; after the 5th school said the exact same thing about it, and service learning and through-lines, I thought maybe there was a tri-fold brochure on jargon that I should pick up at the sign in table...).

    So we started touring the public schools. They seemed fine, too, minus some of the cosmetic niceties (but I figured spending even a quarter of what I'd spend on private would buy a heck of a lot of paint and a few label-makers, to boot!). But in our circles the Fear That You Might Be Depriving Your Child of Everything He Deserves is big -- you know, if you send your kid to public school, you have severely diminished his chance of going to Harvard.

    So we've been mulling. I, as is typical with us, take a more extreme position and my even-keeled husband tries to point out some flaws in my wild extrapolations, and eventually we settle on something acceptable to both of us -- something where I feel like my principles are not compromised, but also something that has some pragmatism.

    But with the school thing, we struggled to find something that worked. We have heard a lot -- and consequently had talked a lot -- about finding a "fit for our family." (I could go on a jog about that since it's largely rubbish -- if it were only about finding a "fit" not a one of us would be stressed out right now; it's about finding a "fit" AND hoping that there is a spot to "fit" into... but I digress).

    But for me something was missing. Instead of looking at what is right in front of us right now, I hit the fast-forward button and tried to think about what I wanted my children to learn from their childhood -- when the tumultuous teen years and the invincible college years are over, what will they say about the lessons and the values that they learned as children? And then it was crystal clear: What I care about most is instilling a sense of justice, fairness and a commitment to bettering society. Yes, my children may be the most important people in the world to me, but let us not confuse that with thinking that they are the most important people in the world.

    And with that, we wiped the private schools off the table as inherently inconsistent with our core values.

    P.S. The pragmatic move came in the form of the following proposal from my husband: "OK, but if for some reason this all falls apart and our children are having an awful go, we can revisit." Agreed. Equilibrium restored.

  17. Last anonymous:
    You are my new hero. Thank you for your clear-eyed distillation of what, at the end of the day, is important.

  18. Anon before last: You're my hero, too.

    My friend the IRF (ERF?) who works at troubled schools in the district gave me great advice at the beginning of this process that really helped me and my husband focus on what's important to our family: Choose a school that can provide your kid with something you can't provide her with yourself. That made it so simple, really! As middle-class, supportive families, we have the luxury of taking that position. Our kids will inevitably feel special (center-of-the-universe special, in fact), learn to read, learn to speak English well, get enrichment through extracurricular activities, etc. What my husband and I don't feel we can give them: a true grasp of social justice issues, the experience of living with people from different walks of life, professional educational a nutshell, REALITY. This is not to say our kids have to attend the school of hard knocks to develop character -- this was basically my dad's paradigm, having grown up on the wrong side of the tracks in the Bronx and Venice, California in the 1950s -- but neither should they be sheltered and led to believe that everyone has it as easy as they do. Maybe I did inherit this from my dad after all...I don't want my kids to feel they're entitled just because -- I want them to earn it. Otherwise, what will happen when life throws them a curve ball? How will they cope with adversity? How will they develop empathy and the ability to make personal sacrifices for the greater good? How will they not become spoiled brats? (My arguments are sinking under a giant weight of cliches here, but bear with me....).

    Perhaps there are different views on how important it is to have a grasp of reality by the time you graduate high school? (grin)

  19. Thank you to the above Anonymous poster as well! As a parent who has put a child through private K-8, my unsolicited advice to prospective kindergarten parents would be to keep the marketing techniques used by private schools in perspective. Please try to not be overly swayed by the bright and shiny facilities, new computers, slick fancypants brochures and the latest education lingo/buzzwords. Yes, "marketing" is a cynical view but the reality is that it is a very large part of how the tours and application process are designed.

    When I think hard about whether it's been worth it or not, I have to confess there are aspects with which I'm very dissatisfied, and high amongst this list is the feeling of entitlement that exists within our child's peer group. No matter how hard private schools may try to create more "diversity," the reality is that in terms of class, the process is largely self-selecting with tuition acting as the chief barrier. Tuition assistance can only go so far. Our experience feels like a gated community, sad to say.

  20. Thanks to the hero poster and the private school parent. A colleague who sent the kids to French American before moving to SF public (and is happier with SF public) said that, having both perspectives, s/he realizes now that there are good teachers and not-so-good teachers at both public and private. But when you pay $25k per kid (with 3 kids), you get more resentful about the not-so-good teachers in private. It is interesting to hear from the parents who've done both private and public, as they seem to be less invested in 1 side or the other

  21. I agree that that post totally rocked! If you were a religious leader I'd join your religion, anon, having finally found someone with a true sense of justice and righteous values.

    Given that it's totally anonymous and I truly have no idea who you are, may I quote you on the sfschools blog?

  22. Caroline -

    This is the Anon -- I would be honored.

  23. Loved the post too. In the endless public vs. private discussion we came to realize we have some fears about choosing public school. We have doubts about private too. But we feel the private choice has less risk.

    Kate, Wonder if you might create a topic on fears... what is it that makes some people fear choosing public schools and SF schools in particular? Anyone else out there with this feeling?

  24. Caroline...I'll let you respond to the last one...Be gentle...

  25. Well, I'm not Caroline, but I'll try.

    Based on our thoughts when we went through the K search, I assume one fear is that public schools will somehow deprive, or slow down, our bright and well-cared-for children, that they will be held hostage to poor resources, unruly classrooms, and slower classmates. We wonder if we are depriving our children of opportunity to meet their potential if we go public.

    We decided on balance to go public, partly because we were reassured by other educated, professional parents that the kids would do well, that public school in fact provided opportunities (language immersion and other interesting programs, and even more at the upper levels) that many private schools did not. The tours, though more chaotic than the private ones, were also reassuring; we saw bright, engaged children. And kudos to PPS for its barrage of information.

    Finally, we figured public would be a better match with our principles (pretty much those laid out by the anonymous poster above). It's about community and what kind of world we want to live in and how we can contribute to to making it real. Our choices, our actions, teach our kids what we value. We have to walk the walk.

    I am glad to report that my two children now speak two languages fluently and regularly get perfect or close to perfect scores on all three parts (reading, writing, math) of the standard tests. They are reading and writing well above grade level and ask questions about just about everything (usually right when I'm trying to parallel park in heavy traffic, but I recognize it's a good thing).

    In terms of meeting their potential, I think they are growing up beautifully. They have never been without challenging and interesting content in school. They are studying a wide range of subjects, and most importantly they are learning to think critically. They are learning (and relearning more deeply every year) the scientific method, how to conduct research, how to organize themselves for research or writing a paper, the importance of rewriting drafts, that it's okay to make mistakes in the process.

    The exact elements of content are less important to me than learning how to learn, but as well they are receiving instruction in basic building blocks of grammar, artistic techniques in a variety of media, and of course the basics of mathematics such as multiplication and division, algebra and other fundamentals.

    Beyond all that, the kids are worldly in a way that some of the kids we see from the private sphere do not seem to be (children of friends, kids we encounter in Little League and other sports teams). YMMV of course, but my kids and their public school friends seem to me to be more aware of the differences and inequalities of the world and to also to be engaged in the world and stimulated by it. The race and class diversity forces them to operate at least some of the time outside their own spheres, which in turn forces them to grow and think and not take the world as they have experienced it for granted. This piece is an important building block of critical thinking: question assumptions, question even your own experience or worldview.

    Also, the diversity has expanded their sense of what is our community. Celebrations that would be "diversity days" at other schools are not learning about "the other" at our schools; they are learning about our own community. "Community service" is not about helping "the other," although we have certainly collected for tsumami victims and UNICEF and so forth over the years, but many of the projects are related to issues experienced by our own communities and people. "They" have become "us" in the daily and face-to-face interactions and friendships.

    I'm not saying that private schools cannot teach wonderful values of compassion (in the sense of "feeling with," not "feeling about"), but I think it's more difficult to do that in a gated community. Something about the camel and the eye of the's not impossible, but it really is harder to do it over there with the relatively more privileged and also relatively more homogenous community.

    If the fears about public education are about not giving your kids a stellar education to support them in meeting their potential, please do not be afraid. Lots of us educated folks have bright, engaged kids and they are doing great in SFUSD. Your well-supported kids really will also do better than fine; they will do very, very well academically and will as well receive a very interesting and stimulating and rewarding education that cannot be matched in the private sphere.

    No doubt your kids will have plenty of years to mix with professional and educated folk; public school is the main place in America where most of us get to mix it up a little. I say, give your kids this gift.

  26. That was a fantastic response; much better than I could have managed. I think I helped get this discussion started, with a few false steps, but everyone else is taking it to more thoughtful and eloquent levels.

    One friend of mine, a Lakeshore mom, heard about a private school's Diversity Day and retorted, "Every day is Diversity Day at Lakeshore."

  27. Certainly these remarks are compelling. But to me what would be interesting would be to hear of families who moved their children out of private into public into private, or vice versa, so they really do have points of comparison.

    My only experience with this is that we pulled our children out of one preschool, which happened to be less expensive, and put them into a more prestigious, more expensive preschool and it made a WORLD of difference. Our child had been coming home every day with potty accidents, cuts all of their body, even once almost knocked teeth out, and then once in the better supervised environment, became potty trained right away, and didn't get any injuries. Also they napped better, developed better and quite frankly seemed happier.

    Do I think that private schools are worth $20K more than public (which are funded at the rate of about half that per child)? Probably not. But do they have certain things that publics can't offer, like more supervision (by teachers, not parents of other classmates) and more personalized education? Yes.

    So, I buy all the public policy reasons for going public. I buy the convenience issues (since there seem to be decent public schools in every neighborhood). I buy the diversity arguments. But I simply don't buy the arguments that academically their experience is as predictable for all kids. Maybe at AFY, Lillienthal, West Portal and Clarendon. But we all can't be so lucky, can we?

    Sure, tell me how great some children's experiences are at public schools. When parents have the TIME and the energy to keep on top of it, they do have good experiences, most of the time, at most schools. But not all. No way.

  28. One concern I have public vs. private is that the private screen, pick and choose. The public takes all, including those who wouldn't last in private. In Public the diversity is wonderful, the real life experience is the best, but how is the classroom management? If there are 3-4 high needs kids in the class and 1 teacher, I wonder if alot more energy has to go towards behavior management as compared to private. If so, how does that impact learning?

  29. For the parent who moved pre- schools, I can understand why such an experience would shake your confidence and make you more gun-shy about an option that costs less. The former preschool you were at, though, sounds like it had serious problems and I wouldn't necessarily extrapolate that experience into assuming that all education that is more expensive is necessarily better. IMHO, that's not true - it depends on the school. My suggestion would be to tour both public 'n private, talk to a variety of parents at both (esp those who switched from 1to another --one good or bad story could be an outlier), and then follow your heart.

    I agree with you that privates can offer some things that public cannot. I also think that it's a very personal decision that needs to take into account the interests and needs of your particular child and family. If you are passionate about single-sex ed, SFUSD doesn't provide that, for example. I think it is a little disingenuous to say that the best of the publics are on par with the best of the privates; IMHO, they aren't. But are the best of the privates worth $25k (what it would cost if you add in after-school care at private school prices, if both parents work) times however many kids you have, in after-tax $, when you consider the countervailing advantages of good academics, having your kid grow up in a more real world, supporting the publics and the common good, diversity, etc? No, not in our book. The other thing we were struck by was that, the dollars we would have paid for private K or
    1st gr seemed like they would go largely for paying for new buildings, marketing, etc -- not necessarily better teachers. In public, we feel every penny raised is used so resourcefully and to benefit the children.

    The insights of parents who pulled their kids out of private (or had turned down private) and had joined our public we found most compelling and credible when we were trying to decide public vs private. If acad predictability is your concern, that is a plus for the publics. The publics seem more predictable, because they are ultimately accountable. The lack of state-mandated standards at privates are fine and can lead to a terrific, creative curriculum IF you trust the administrators and teaching staff (MCDS, SF Day seem to have great curriculum, for eg), but I have actually heard not-so-happy tales re privates being too loosy-goosy due to that lack of accountability.

    As for the fear that you won't get into a public you like, think of the initial placement letter in March as the beginning of the conversation, not as your fate. There is quite a bit of movement for K, esp in Aug/Sept. Families get into Clarendon, Sherman, Lilienthal in Aug/Sept off the wait list. It is stressful, yes, and I don't know why SFUSD simply doesn't require parents to simply return a postcard by June saying whether they're going to enroll or lose their slot. But if you are willing to do the wait lists, people do get into publics they like.

    On the high-needs kids, that's a legitimate question. It varies from school to school, and from class to class w/in the same school. (at some schools with dual programs, I have heard that kids in one language program or another were 'nicer' or better-behaved.) I was definitely scrutinizing the kids closely to see any signs of disruptive behavior, bullying etc. Ask hard questions about bullying, what the school does, how many kids get disciplined, etc.

    We also figured it would be easier to move our child from public to private someday, than vice versa.

  30. Regarding staffing issues and high needs kids at public schools:

    Class size reduction has been a wonderful gift to teachers in the lower grades. Many schools "buy" an additional teacher with school various site funds for the upper grades as well. I don't know what staffing ratios generally are at the private schools but my kid had 18-20 in K-3 and 22 in the upper grades.

    My kid's mostly superlative teachers have had wonderful control of the classrooms. I remember walking into my kid's first grade classroom and standing in awe of the "happy hum." The teacher was running a reading group while the rest of the kids were working on different projects in small groups; then she clapped her hands in a rhythm and the kids stopped and clapped back a rhythm to her, then they all moved on in their small groups to the next table of work in the rotation. It was beautiful. They seemed engaged and happy. I have seen this set up again and again.

    There have been one or two kids (usually one) in each grade who have been disruptive. In each case they have received special attention from the social worker and the sandtray program. I'm sure some of them get referrals to further help (from personal experience: read on). Some of them have received pull-out literacy support and other supports related to learning disabilities. There are events that have happened in each classroom, including parental death in one case, that seem to have caused some kids to "go off" for a time. But it has been dealt with on a case by case basis.

    There was a time in the very early grades when my child was having emotional difficulties, probably divorce related, and was disruptive with occasional angry outbursts at other kids (words, not hitting). I was ashamed at first to be referred to the social worker but she helped us arrange both specific for our child and also support related to the divorce (Kids' Turn, a great group). The principal also took an interest in our child's situation and paid special attention that year.

    This is all just to say that the disruptive, or high needs, or learning disabled child might not be the disadvantaged kid from across town, but may be your own. You don't know yet. I know of several nice, educated, attentive parents whose kids had emotional difficulties that manifested in the classroom. I was really glad the resources were there. Because public schools are set up to deal with all comers, they have the resources to deal.

    Besides pull-out resources for kids who may be struggling, there are often other adults in the classrooms besides the teachers: student teachers, paras, paras who are focused on inclusion/special needs kids but provide another adult presence in the room, and of course parents. Most public schools seem to have a few dedicated room parents who regularly volunteer in the classroom. I was not one because I work, but was always grateful for their passion and effort.

    I'm glad you raised the issue, but our experience has been good on this front.

    Also, someone said they wanted to hear from someone with a point of comparison, public vs. private. I don't have experience with my own kids, just my own, which was a mix of inner city and private and finally a small town public high school. I personally hated the social scene at private school; maybe it was too much of a contrast for me as a scholarship kid from the wrong side of town, but I could never have the right clothes or a membership in the popular tennis and swim club, or trips to Europe, etc., to make the grade with those kids. Some of them teased me very badly for not having those things; looking back, it was bullying behavior.

  31. re: "But I simply don't buy the arguments that academically their experience [at public] is as predictable for all kids... When parents have the TIME and the energy to keep on top of it, they do have good experiences, most of the time, at most schools. But not all. No way."

    I believe this is true in ALL instances, both publics and privates. I know privates seem appealing to parents because part of the money transaction feels like you are "buying" assurances. But it all boils down to parent involvement and the support given at home. There's been Dept of Education research showing that when you take away factors such as socio-economic and educational background, test results of students from private and public are virtually the same.

     SFGate: Public v. private 

    I'm the parent with the kid that just finished private K-8. I'll tell you first hand that the money transaction part of private school cuts both ways. It may feel like you are buying a package of assurances, but there is an undeniable feeling of a "customer" component to this transaction and it sometimes feels like issues are glossed over and kids are pushed ahead with grade inflation and the like. Private schools are a business, especially with all the high stakes growth so many of them are taking on. So, take heart that if it's assurances that you desire, then you need to look no further than your own home environment.

  32. Back to the public v. private debate! I don't know if generalizing is that useful. I'm sure there are very good publics, very good privates, bad publics and terrible privates.

    Perhaps we can focus more narrowly on two questions:

    * Which (if any) of the privates are possibly worth the cost (assuming the cost isn't a major financial burden to a family, in which case none of them are worth it); and

    * Which (if any) of the publics are as good or better than the best privates and for what reason?

  33. So then, what's all the chatter? If public schools are just as good as private schools, send your kid to the neighborhood school and be done with it. While you're at it, model the good behavior of saving the environment by walking there.

    What's that I hear you say? You want REALITY, but not that much?

    If you choose a public school for economic reasons, great! If you seek to instill "a sense of justice, fairness and a commitment to bettering society" by listing the same seven school as everyone else with the time, money, energy to do so, hm...

    Living with kids in San Francisco provides thousands of teachable moments in justice, fairness and a commitment to bettering society. Supporting (enabling, working, subverting) a seriously flawed lotto system is not among them.

    At the very least I would not try to pass off choosing public over private as morally superior.

  34. So if the enrollment system is so flawed, let's all bail on it and instead flock to a system where the price of admission to APPLY alone can cost a couple grand (application fees, babysitting, etc. for seven schools - the number that privates are recommending that families apply to.) That seems totally fair!

  35. Is there any way that we can all contribute to a collective blog about these schools? Wouldn't it be great if we could see comments from dozens of touring parents about each school? A place where one could see "reviews" of particular schools?

    I guess I'm thinking of a Yelp-like site...

  36. it exists but no one is using it.

  37. whoops,

  38. I would say different families would have different responses to these questions, so there are no consistent answers:

    <<< * Which (if any) of the privates are possibly worth the cost (assuming the cost isn't a major financial burden to a family, in which case none of them are worth it); and

    * Which (if any) of the publics are as good or better than the best privates and for what reason? >>>

    It so depends what you're looking for, what your child's needs are, what your family's economic situation is, and much, much more.

    And it's not so simple as this, either.

    <<< If public schools are just as good as private schools, send your kid to the neighborhood school and be done with it. >>>

    "just as good as" can mean many things. Plus that leaves out the added point that one choice is free and one is $20K/year.

    Is it worth $20K/year? Depends what your child and family need and what your family's financial situation is.

  39. The stikipad site clearly took a LONG time to set up and is full of useful information. However it seems to have a glitch as everything I tried to add resulted in a system crash, so I gave up.
    I'm done now, toured 18 (all public), picked 7 (all "local"), filled out my form and will take it down town this week. Next plan is to have a drink, forget all about it and keep everything crossed for the notification letter next year. Good luck to everyone and many thanks to Kate.

  40. In response to anonymous who accuses public school boosters of hypocritical chatter. You have set up straw man arguments.

    No one would say that the lottery system is not flawed. The district has to reconcile a number of competing, and perhaps contradictory, claims as best they can. The lottery has allowed them to offer opportunities for good schools to families in lower-performing neighborhoods. The choice system (plus site-based funding) has contributed to an effort to create magnet schools that middle class folk will consider. Overall, the quality of the schools is better now than it was ten years ago, and there are more quality schools to consider. There is also more segregation than we had during busing, but probably not as much as we would have if we returned to all neighborhood assigned schools.

    Enabling, working, subverting the system? I followed the rules in applying for my kids, as did my friends. The issue that some have the resources to search for schools has been noted on this blog, and it's a fair point. But it's a lot more fair than only having private schools that are truly inaccessible to most people, or having the separate and unequal neighborhood schools of the past. And it keeps more middle class folks in the district than non-choice busing did.

    This is all pragmatic policy. Maybe if you were on the BOE you would create different policy based on the serious flaws you see in the system, though I wonder what your policy goals would be in that case. The BOE will be looking at amending the system soon (they punted last year). But I think it would be wrong to imply that they and lots of stakeholder advocates are not committed to creating a system of justice, fairness, and a commitment to a better society. They are trying to do that, amidst a certain amount of politicking of course, but mostly their presenting problem is the competing claims.

    As for the ethical reasons to go public. We are, you imply, hypocrites because we don't walk to school (as opposed to what, walk to those private schools in those fancy neighborhoods across town or over the bridge)? You obviously don't know the communities you are talking about. Many of us do walk or bike our kids to school because we sought out schools by location (close to home or work) or school bus line. There is after all a neighborhood preference for non-alternative schools (and alternatives tend to have better school bus lines). Others of us car pool with other families to cut down on car use. Many of the Latino families in my kids' school don't even own a car, and use MUNI to go to and fro--there is a large group at the bus stop every morning. Other parents get on BART at Glen Park or 16th/Mission after dropping their kids at Glen Park or Marshall.

    Other than the MCDS bus families, I'd bet good money that a lot more of us public school parents take alternative means of transportation to schools, including walking, than the privates that by design pull from all over the city and often lack bus service. Maybe Synergy is an exception being near BART, I don't know, but I bet this premise holds up elsewhere.

    You say we are all applying to the same seven schools. Sadly it is true that some schools get a large portion of the applications. However, PPS and the public school boosters here have been encouraging K-seeker parents to check out at least another two dozen schools in a variety of neighborhoods. Starr King, Peabody, Sutro, Yick Wo, Sunset, Sunnyside, Harvey Milk, Grattan, McKinley, Flynn, Marshall, and on and on. The debate for those who are choosing public school in part for community and ethnical reasons is exactly the question you ask: why not choose our neighborhood school and be done with it? Lots of us are doing just that and finding that the REALITY of our local school is indeed very good.

    You imply we are what I think used to be called limousine liberals, getting all self-righteous but holding onto our privilege. Yes, we educated folks are privileged per se, and that has been discussed here. A choice for public school will not change that all at once. But it may move us a step in the right direction. As it happens, I am one who cannot afford private. But I did take the justice issues (including location/transport impact on the environment and my stress levels as well as socio-economic diversity) into account in picking the particular school. I also looked for "fit" for my kids. It's a balance. Clarendon and Lilienthal did not make my list.

    All this is to say that I'm fine with you arguing that going private is the same as public on an ethical scale (though so far I have not been persuaded), but please make a more nuanced argument if you do so. No more caricatures, please. One of the great things about this blog is the level of nuanced and informed argumentation on all sides.

    To the poster just above who toured 18 and listed 7 local schools--wow, congratulations, good luck, and enjoy that drink and the newfound free time!

  41. How hard would it be to make a simpler layout than stikipad where one could simply find schools with "tags"? All the school data is distracting and intimidating to those of us who need a simple interface...

  42. i would definitely not assume that we public school advocates are all choosing the "name" schools. no way. in fact, anecdotally, i get the sense that there may even be a shift this year, with applicants spread across more schools. in that way, at least, the choice aspect of the system is working (for some people, obviously).

    quite frankly, i was underwhelmed by some of the oversubscribed schools (clarendon, both programs) and thrilled with some of the less-oversubscribed ones (harvey milk, mckinley). others seemed dang nice too, but didn't suit our particular situation (sunnyside, starr king).

    there is no way to rationalize choosing private schools as a zero-sum personal choice that does not affect the whole. there just isn't. i used to buy this argument, too, but i have changed my mind.

    a final nugget: a friend who is a clarendon parent said her son got his ass kicked all year last year. i repeat: all. year. by kids in his classroom. she was this close to pulling him. then summer came and the bullies were no longer in his class. nobody did shit. and this is an active, very assertive parent.

    i've heard horror stories from private schools too.

    bullying can happen anywhere. the thing is, a certain amount of it happens to us all, but most of the time it doesn't require intervention (or much of it). we get over it. i absolutely do not believe it is inversely correlated with the attending students' affluence.

  43. If nuanced argument means the use of a lot of words to say that choosing public school is morally superior, then you're right -- there's quite a lot of that here.

  44. "I would say different families would have different responses to these questions, so there are no consistent answers."

    Of course! But I think discussing actual schools themselves is more productive than this endless loop of generalizing about public versus private.

  45. Anonymous poster, obviously you can be snarky if you like:

    "If nuanced argument means the use of a lot of words to say that choosing public school is morally superior, then you're right -- there's quite a lot of that here."

    Although it's too bad, since one of the nice things about this blog has been the relative lack of snark considering that the issues being discussed are as value-laden as they are.

    Also, when you resort to snark, you sound just like my kids when they are trying to divert my attention from the topic at hand. Many posters have said they appreciate both the information and opinions expressed in the comments section. I assume that includes both the pithy and the wordy (but often informative) ones.

    Like the poster a few posts up, I appreciate a nuanced argument in a debate. Not arguing from caricature (of either side), and having some perspective on the tradeoffs that are there on any important issue, yet being willing to take a stand based on real information and also values. It's actually the values discussion that has made this blog interesting to me as I search for a school for my child.

    Perhaps you have different information about the actual state of schools, both public and private, in which case, please share. It's also possible you hold different values than I, and I'm fine with you arguing from those. But to me the straw man and snarky diversionary arguments have been, well, so much straw in the face of the compelling arguments offered by the public school boosters here.

  46. Everyone makes zero-sum, plus-sum, and minus-sum personal choices. Most educated families balance those and bank some for those who can't. Not everyone chooses scholastic education as their platform for zero-sum. I am proud to live in a city that (present company excepted) is tolerant of each family's right to choose the best education for its children, whether it is public, private, charter, alternative, special ed, religious, single-sex, or home school.

  47. Snarky sez:

    "Like the poster a few posts up, I appreciate a nuanced argument in a debate."

    'course you do -- you were that poster.

  48. How would the private-school advocates here feel if this discussion were about buying Hummers?

    It's a discussion involving drivers who are considering buying Hummers, so it's not just about picking on people who already own Hummers.

    Is it intolerant of current Hummer owners to point out to people who are considering buying a Hummer that this personal choice has a negative impact on the greater community?

    Is it possible to claim that there are no values issues involved in driving a Hummer?

    Is it productive to complain that there's too much talk about Hummers and let's talk about something else?

  49. Um, no, I am/was not that poster.

    But now you are really veering off topic so I will stop feeding the troll.

  50. Well, my bad then, but forensically speaking, the use of words such as "caricature" and "straw man" in both posts is suspect. The point is that there is a lot of posting going on here by a few posters, many named Anonymous. Important to consider...

    As for being off topic, you'll recall that the original topic was:

    "What do you do when one person loves a school and the other hates it?

  51. I do think that there is a morality question here, which becomes evident when I hear people say "I would love to support the public schools, but I not at my child's expense."

    (Let's put aside for a second that such a person might be misguided.)

    The effect of doing so takes resources out of the public schools and, consequently, weakens them. Everyone knows this.

    Externalizing the negative effects of one's actions while enjoying the benefits of your individual decision alone, at the end of the day, raises a moral question, insofar as "morality" is defined as the way society establishes a code of conduct on right and wrong.

    Everyone knows this, too, which is why people always hedge their comments about not sending their kids to public schools with some sort of lip service about the greater good the public schools serve.

  52. Alternatives are born when the status quo is not meeting the needs of the population. Making the best of a bad situation rarely leads to reform. The sooner you stop enabling the problem, the sooner radical change can occur. This is tough love, baby. You, of course, are entitled to exercise your own techniques for effecting social change. But leave morality out of it.

  53. How can you tell others to leave morality out of a decision that's very much based on personal values? Or any decision, for that matter?

  54. The neo-con gang of the second Bush administration have put it right out there, they want to "starve the beast" of public services like education by first defunding it (think tax breaks for the wealthy and redirecting spending to stupid wars), second strangling it with constraining legislation like NCLB, and finally pointing fingers at how bad the quality of public services can be, so the better option is to go private.

    That is why they support vouchers as well as the charter movement. This includes for-profit Edison, back before it became a pariah among charters--and no, before someone says it, I am not Caroline nor do I know her personally. There are some good charters and some well-meaning folks within them, but we should all understand that the charter movement as a whole is enabling the push for privatization.

    Along similar lines the Bushies have squashed attempts to expand access to health care for kids, see the SCHIP program veto this past fall. They are even trying to privatize the army through massive contracting out of military services. Privatization is their main agenda, despite all the diversionary talk of gay marriage, abortion, and immigrants.

    The rise in private education is not a simple matter of alternatives arising in the wake of poor performance, though no doubt examples can always be found. This phenomenon has happened because of a well-designed ideological attack on public education and other common goods of our society, and it's been going on for at least 25 years with ups and downs of course depending on who was in power. Getting us parents to bail and go private is one the their strategies.

    I don't think most private school parents intend to participate in that strategy. They are seeing it as only, or mainly, a personal choice. I know many a wonderful and also liberal parent who has gone private. Just that every parent that does go private is in some measure a victory for the privatization crusaders.

    In that sense it is a moral issue that goes beyond personal choice. It's about what kind of democracy do we want to leave for our kids, because public education is one of the important avenues of opportunities we have to keep from being a class-ossified society, and is also an important basis for developing an engaged and educated citizenry. As bad as some public schools have ever been, and outside of a few very challenged locations they are not all that the scare rhetoric would lead you to believe, they are a major element of our democracy and future well-being as a nation, and we should fight for them.

    I give thanks for public school activists who are doing this by advocating in centers of government and also on the ground by improving the schools where they are. The improvement we have witnessed in SF schools in the last 10 years has not been "enabling" a bad system but rather making real change happen for the better, though Bush and his gang would not want to hear that because it does not match their agenda.

  55. Wow! Since when did George Bush join our discussion!?!

  56. Oh, around the time of the NCLB Act and other moves that have had impacts on schools across the nation, including in San Francisco.

    Or do you think public policy, including funding, is not a factor for schools, both public and private? Parents making these school choices should look at the indvidual trees only and not the forest? No aerial views of the forest for you, eh, pay no attention, just move along now....

  57. Er, it was "When did Bush *join* the discussion," not "enter into the discussion..."

    Um, meaning...
    previous "tough love" commenter = Bush
    ...he he hm... :/

  58. To the "tough love" poster -- what disappoints me most about your comment is the defeatism it reveals. When people are unhappy with the status quo, they work to change it -- if it's something you care about. If you don't care, well, then, by all means, take your marbles and go elsewhere. But let's not pretend that your actions are not an abdication of your responsibility to the rest of your community.

  59. It's too bad that some of the posters here are so insecure about their choosing public school that they must turn in into a holier-than-thou moral crusade.

  60. Indeed. Welcome to the discussion, Jerry Falwell. Have you met Che yet?

  61. Back to my Hummer analogy, would you say this about someone who points out the harm to the community of driving a huge gas-gobbler too?

    ...It's too bad that some of the posters here are so insecure about their choosing public school that they must turn in into a holier-than-thou moral crusade...

    Values ARE part of the discussion. Why is it wrong to discuss that?

  62. Because you assume that your values are the correct values, and that incorrect values harm public schools.

  63. Obviously you are not to be swayed. That's fine. But many parents who are predisposed to private schools do not even think about how their choices may impact local community. And if they do, it's a very fleeting thought.

    The point is that these choices do impact our local community in a very very tangible way and we hope that school shoppers today and in the future, might consider these factors seriously before making a decision.

    An analogy - I'm ashamed to say not too long ago, I didn't think shopping at Walmart was a big deal or buying organic products was important. Obviously, I was pretty ignorant. Since having a kid, I've really changed my views and realize that my personal choices really do have a larger impact.

  64. Analyzing survey data from the U.S. Department of Education, sociologists discover that private school families are "more involved in a wide spectrum of civic activities than are families of public school children."

    Is Private Schooling Privatizing?

  65. First Things Journal = a conservative, religiously based magazine intended to promote socially conservative values??

    From the mission statement: "First Things is published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society." hmmmm....

  66. Ouch! A different moral code than yours!

  67. Yes, First Things poster, you may have a different moral code than many of us here. I have no problem with that. I do not claim to have cornered the market on capital T truth, so I'm fine debating with folks who have different assumptions and values than I do, especially if they will state and argue them articulately.

    I have't seen that done here though. Your arguments seem more like name-calling. "Holier than thou" or politically "correct," is that supposed to be a gotcha? Those right-wing cliches have been way overused. C'mon, be a man (somehow I assume you are a man, though of course I could be wrong), step up and tell us straight out how your values and moral code are are different from those that have been posted here, and how they relate to the concept of public schooling. Address them directly, not by bumper sticker attack on someone else's.

    I sense that most here are in the camp of supporting, at least in principle, the value of public schools as something that is important for the future of our community and our country. Nevertheless, some parents are weighing the fit of private school for their family and children, and have also articulated some fears about public schools in SF for their kids.

    In response, the public school activists here have responded with two main arguments: 1) trying to allay the fears, pointing out through descriptions and testimonials that there are many fine public schools in SF; and 2) asking whether going private would be in contradiction with the values that many of us apparently hold.

    This is where Caroline's Hummer analogy makes sense. If caring about the environment and the future of the planet for our kids (not to mention the national security issues related to oil), do we want to make a big purchase over which Big Oil will rejoice? Especially if there are better options? I say the same for private school. Why play into the agenda privatization for an institution this important, if we don't have to.

    Whether or not some parents feel they "have to" pick private for whatever reasons, including availability of acceptable options, is another question. Nevertheless, the moral questions are relevant.

    If your morality is different, as the First Things' poster's is (apparently), then these issues may be irrelevant from the start. Maybe you don't believe in global warming, or you think there is enough oil in Alaska to keep us going for years, or you don't think it is your business to care about the future of the planet when you may not be here to live through the changes. In that case, buying a Hummer, if you have the money to do so, might make sense to you. Some countries may regulate Hummers out of existence, but here in America, you can still make that choice.

    Similarly, if you think the very idea of public education, and probably other publicly funded services, is per se a bad thing, then the idea that there is moral argument about supporting public schools is just wrongheaded as far as you are concerned. In that case I suspect you are not the audience for many these posts. I also haven't seen you state your values up front, though.

  68. Private school families are by and large going to have more resources (time, education, networks/access, and money) to engage in civic activities than many of the public school families. Especially when civic activities and also philanthropy are understood to include a wide variety of non-profit institutions such as private schools, and arts institutions such as the ballet, the opera, the symphony, and museums. I like these groups, even attend them sometimes, and I very much appreciate their outreach programs in the schools, but they are not the same as institutions that have a mission of benefiting the whole community across class and other deep lines as their main mission.

    Also, I bet if you found a way to weight the contributions based on family assets, income and education you would find the graph would shift somewhat, a la the widow's mite.

  69. Just to set the record straight: The survey asked parents questions about the extent of family involvement in nine civic areas. It did not ask them about ballet.

    - member of a community organization?
    - participated in an ongoing community service activity?
    - went to the public library for books, tapes, lectures, story hours, or to use library equipment?
    - voted in a national or state election in the previous five years?
    - wrote or telephoned an editor or public official or signed a petition in the previous twelve months?
    - attended a public meeting in the previous twelve months?
    - contributed money to a political candidate, party, or cause in the previous twelve months?
    - worked for a political cause in the previous twelve months?
    - participated in a protest or boycott in the previous twelve months?

  70. Community members with more education, resources, leisure and empowerment are clearly overwhelmingly more likely to be able to engage in those activities. In other words, engaged citizens by those criteria are far more likely to be socioeconomically advantaged.

    Sound studies comparing public- and private-school students and families control for income, parental education and other demographic factors. So this study is from a source promoting privatization and is methodologically unsound -- not much of a definitive case for anything.

  71. Well, you missed the point. The point is that choosing a private school does not make you pro-privatization and anti-community.

  72. I don't think anyone was saying that. The fact is that your decision impacts local community, even if you have really good, solid reasons for going private.

    Furthermore, I think the original "tough love" poster was trying to make a political case for opting out of public - isn't that trying to affect social change as well?

  73. I don't think anyone missed the point. You are jumbling up intentions, which may be benign, and the actual effects of making that choice.

    I happen to assume that most folks who go private for school do not intend a negative effect upon public schools or the broader community. I assume that most of them are good people. I even assume that a great many of them support the concept of public schools (though clearly not all, perhaps including the tough love and/or first things posters, if they are not the same person) and hope that they thrive. And of course, as has been suggested, many private school families contribute to the public good and to the community in a variety of ways.

    Yet. None of this good will means that the choice of private school does not contribute to the trend of privatization. In fact, making that choice really does do that. Whatever the personal choice motives of the family, that choice has a deleterious effect upon public schools (the specifics of which have been noted on this blog more than once) and also plays into an ideological strategy of the right to trash publicly funded services included education. No amount of civic volunteering or philanthropy will ever make up for a several decades of trashing of a publicly accountable commons that is intended for all. The fight for public schools is really a big line in the sand on the question of privatization and what kind of society do we want to live in.

    How to weigh this factor against the choices available for one's child, the needs and desires of the family, and the fact that there are lots of other moral choices in one's life that also need to be tended, is of course a matter of personal decision. No one has claimed moral perfection here. We have just said it is an important question to be weighed.

  74. Consciously withholding a child from public school is as powerful a catalyst for positive change as consciously enrolling one in public school is. The methods and timelines are different even if the goal is the same: improving education for all children. Don't assume that your way is the only way or the only right way.

  75. eh -- not sure i follow the last poster's logic. if all the people who could afford private schooling, chose it for their families, I don't see how that lifts up everybody else. It would just mean the poor kids would end up with schools that suck. Not that the public school system in this country is anything to write home about -- it's an apartheid system at best. at least the choice system seems somewhat fairer, even if imperfect.

  76. It's called a boycott. Poor kids already have schools that suck. Those are the ones ~you're~ avoiding through choice.

  77. well, ok, so i should have the poor kids' schools will "sick even more." and it's true, even with choice, it's not like we're lifting up the entire system. though i dont' know how you do that, except by completing revamping our educational system and calling for more taxes, which never seems to go over too well. but i still don't see how sending kids to private -- via a boycott -- will help those left behind. american society isn't egalitarian enough. those left behind would just be left behind, with even suckier schools.

  78. No one is assuming there is one right way. Choose your weapon as you will. All people are saying is to consider that enrollment or non-enrollment is a political act. Many do not even consider this decision as such.

  79. The more students in SFUSD schools, the more ALL SFUSD schools benefit. A child at Clarendon still brings some measure of benefit to Malcolm X Elementary. And of course even though our schools are not as diverse as those of us who care about such things would like, they are still very diverse compared to any high-end private school or to schools in most U.S. cities. So the notion that all the poor kids are being dumped in a few sucky schools is not accurate.

    The notion that boycotting public schools benefits poor children in public schools is unsound. I assume that only one misguided soul is making that odd statement.

  80. Of course (and unfortunately), the hard right would have us all starve public education to "save" it. Example:

    This incites such fury that I feel war must be waged.

  81. War is already being waged, by the right wing on public education. Privatization of education is their aim. Funding cuts; strangling NCLB rules that lead to teaching to the test and ultimately to reconstitution; vouchers; charters; and encouraging folks to go private (by insisting to anxious parents that the public schools are bad, not academic, and above all, not fixable) are all part of the strategy. PPS and PTAs and other education advocates are pulling the opposite way. The stakes are high, which is why the topic get so much heat on this blog.

  82. "No one is assuming there is one right way."


  83. Really this is getting quite repetitious.

  84. I would also point out that not all parents on this list who are choosing public schools are avoiding those school that poor kids attend. 70% of the kids at Leonard Flynn qualify for free school lunch, 62% at Fairmount, 58% at Harvey Milk and Buena Vista, 44% at Commodore Sloat and Alvarado. Granted, many of the more popular schools have lower numbers (West Portal 34%, Rooftop 33%, Grattan 32%, Miraloma 30%, Alice Fong Yu 24%) but even those schools have far more kids in need than even the most progressive independent schools. (Parochial schools may be an exception; I really am not familiar with them). Personally, part of what I am weighing in making my choice is the value of my kids being exposed to peers with different socioeconomic backgrounds. And it is important to me that what I can contribute to my children's school with my time, energy, and money will benefit not only my own kids but also those kids who have far fewer opportunities than they do. I don't judge those who choose to go private, and who knows I may end up there myself someday, but I do think it is outlandish to claim that when privileged people desert public schools it somehow contributes to positive social change. Or even to claim that choosing to go private does not have a negative impact on the public system.