Thursday, March 27, 2008

Must-read: Sandra Tsing Loh's public education piece in The Atlantic

You may know Sandra Tsing Loh as a commentator on NPR's "Morning Edition." Or maybe you read the Los Angeles–based writer's best-selling book, If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now. Loh also gained quite a following for her one-woman play Mother On Fire, which recounts the story of her search for a kindergarten for her daughter. The play ran to sold-out audiences in Los Angeles for seven months.

In the March issue of The Atlantic, Loh writes a classic story, "Tales Out of School," which touches on her experiences with sending her daughter to a Los Angeles public school. The piece might start out a little slow if you're unfamiliar with the writer Jonathan Kozol. But I encourage you to persist through the first part—or skip over it—so you can get to her tale about starting a band at her daughter's school. This story made me laugh out loud and brought me to tears. Enjoy!


  1. Anyone even slightly familiar with diverse urban public schools -- which truly includes everyone reading this blog now! -- WOULD share Loh's formerly secret bemusement about Jonathan Kozol, though. She really dared to say the unsaid.

    Kozol, who is deeply revered and is getting up there, is more highly political than highly academic. Starting decades ago, he has heroically exposed and decried the plight of low-income children of color in an era when the schools that served them were underfunded, falling apart and ignored by those in power. But he is pretty much stuck in that era.

    That can baffle those of us who are familiar with TODAY'S urban schools, since we can see that various funding streams are specifically aimed at enriching such schools. In fact, presumably Kozol and other advocates like him get a lot of the credit for that kind of funding structure.

    Loh (as an NPR commentator) gets an interview with Kozol, tries to tell him about the resources her children's high-poverty LAUSD school now has thanks to Title I and other funding, and invites him to visit the school. He brushes her off. You get the idea -- the revered Kozol is sticking to the old script and isn't about to move on.

    Much of Loh's account shows that the resources that are available to a high-poverty school make it really rewarding for an activist parent to take a dramatic step like starting a band. (In the Paul Revere vs. Miraloma discussion -- an energetic grantwriter is going to get much better responses seeking money for Paul Revere.)

  2. I love Sandra Tsing Loh! I have been known to laugh myself to tears reading or especially hearing/watching her stuff. Check out her website at She is LA's version of our own Kim Green.

  3. Her podcast is great too. And, based on her semi-regular articles in the Atlantic I'm thinking about re-subscribing.

    I do hate how she's pretty much given up on white middle class parents though. From one of her podcasts I gather that one of her good friends got the holy grail of LA magnet schools, and turned it down because the art was "too rote." This despite the fact that her friends clearly could not afford private school. I'm not sure how much she's generalizing from this one experience. At least from this blog, the white middle class has not given up on public schools in San Francisco.

    Loh's understanding of 21st century urban education is more nuanced and "on the ground" than old-schoolers like Kozol. It's this one fact that made me thing, "hey, what about me??? I'm white, and I sent my kids to Miraloma when it was still considered a bad school by the vast majority of the population." (It wasn't, but most people won't look beyond popular perception.)

    Truth be told, I do wish we had an art teacher or consultant at our public school. But we have dance, music, poetry, rhythm, chorus and, hey, even good academics.

    But I appreciate Loh's addressing race in education head on, and appreciating the complexities.

    Plus she's hilarious, which always helps.

  4. Kate,

    I love this piece, but wonder what you felt while reading it - it is clearly aimed at families like yours who chose private over public, although you did look at the schools in public closely and tried for them. I know you tried the public system, but it does seem a bit ironic for you to post this? A person does have to do what is best for their family, but you had seemed such a public school supporter, that it makes me curious why you posted this article.

  5. Two things can be equally true, you know. Not everything is either/or, no matter what people try to force onto you.

    We support public schools. My wife works many more hours of her day as a public school teacher than is reasonable. We give our money and time to helping her school and students including afterschool activities, clubs and tutoring.

    We are also seriously considering sending our son to private school. Partly to meet his particular needs, partly because the thought of having to expend the energy into two schools is daunting.

    We don't see any contradiction - just our reality and our family's circumstances. We wish that we could live according some perfect set of principles, but life is a lot more messy than that and you can just do the best you can.

  6. 11:31
    I'm not sure where your wife teaches, but
    is there a reason that you would not consider sending your son to the school where your wife teaches? That's what I'm going to do and I can't wait to do it! I am looking forward to devoting my time and energy to one school. I don't know what private school you are considering, but I think most private schools encourage lots of participation and volunteerism too...;you might still pulled between two schools.
    Just a do get some enrollment preference at the school you teach at.

  7. Again the point about reality vs. idealism. Not every school is right for every child. My wife teaches mostly ELL and immigrant kids with very specific needs. She is devoted to her kids and her school but recognizes that our own child’s needs would not be served at her school. Especially since at the upper grades the district tends to transfer the disruptive kids from other schools to her school. It’s not right, but the reality of her school. She has been teaching at-risk and ELL kids for 13 years and does a lot of good for her students. She doesn’t want to move to another ‘acceptable’ school just for our son and abandon her students. They need a good teacher as well.

  8. One of the interesting things about the parcel tax initiative is the agreement of UESF (teachers' union) to accept a pay hierarchy--for examples, more pay for teachers in higher risk schools, more pay for master teachers--as part of the deal that would also raise everyone's pay to closer to Bay Area market rates, if it passes. I am betting this will make a difference both in overall retention rates and also in some of those marginal-but-ripe-for-improvement schools.

    Vote yes in June!

  9. Anon at 3:59:

    Does your wife's school have any special services to help those disruptive children transferred from elsewhere? It seems like every school has one or two kids who need intensive behavioral intervention. It would be great if there were somewhere where these could get the help they need while they are still young.

  10. 3:59
    Your reasons make sense. I teach at one of the schools that has recently become very popular, though it was not the case when I started there.

  11. This was a funny bit in the article, about private schools:

    “honoring diversity” … even if the diversity that is honored looks like 14 white children and the son of Denzel Washington."

    LOL. So true.

  12. March 28, 2008 9:12 AM posted: "I love this piece, but wonder what you felt while reading it - it is clearly aimed at families like yours who chose private over makes me curious why you posted this article."

    My goodness, poor Kate can't do anything right in your eyes. She posted this article because it's funny and well written and obviously relevant to PUBLIC school parents. Sandra Tsing Loh mocks the pathetic old dinosaur Kozol precisely because he doesn't get how much public schools have improved. How would you feel if we turned the tables and started flinging spiteful questions at you instead of at Kate, for example, what has life done to you to make you so bitter?

  13. Anon at 11:16,

    you are spewing more venom than the person whose post you are flaming.

    That person asked a fair enough question.

    Besides, Sandra always admits that if she had had the money to send her kids to private schools, SHE WOULD HAVE.

    A quote from the article linked to:
    "I myself am no freedom fighter. If I could have afforded either a $1.3 million house in La Cañada or $40,000 a year to send my two girls to a private school ... I wouldn’t waste two minutes on social justice."

    So come on people, attacking anybody who asks Kate questions is a bit silly, she started this blog, "let it rip' as my son would say.

  14. 8:12 AM, I believe you are the same poster, defending your original snide post.

    Whether you are or not, the original question ("it makes me curious why you posted this article") is not legitimate, because it's not serious. It's not designed to elicit a factual answer. It's a gotcha question designed to humiliate and embarrass the person it's aimed at.

    "Let it rip" your son says (why do you hide behind your son?). This is just an excuse for "allow me to be a jerk who torments Kate for making choices I don't approve of".

  15. Anon at 10:09

    Get help. You have severe anger issues. Funny how the snidest posts are from people accusing other people of being snide.

  16. I am not any of these posters from this morning but I want to say that Sandra Tsing Loh completely captures the insanity of moms trying to navigate the education world. She is so funny. She also does a hilarious job describing public schools (and defending them, despite their sad grass and fluorescent lighting). If you haven't yet, check her out through her eponymous website or just google her. The Atlantic articles are particularly good, but her "Scandalously Informal Guide" to LA public schools is great too, and there is much that is similar to the experience here.

  17. I've read Sandra Tsing Loh's writings on public school loyally, and I would say her attitude isn't as simple as "We would have gone private if we could have afforded it."

    Clearly they would have done so initially, except that they also got rejected by the privates they applied to. Then she came to appreciate the benefits of LAUSD (she likens it in one piece to seeing behind the ugliness of Costco to find treasures there, and spotting Yo-Yo Ma shopping). While they obviously would have gone private originally, not knowing what they know now, I don't think she's saying they would NOW if they could afford it.

    Regarding picking on Kate (of which I also disapprove despite the fact that I'm probably the most fiery public school advocate reading this blog), I'm not really sure the poster who's ragging on her is doing it from the point of view of pure public-school advocacy. The attitude I'm seeing is: "Now that you've chosen private school, you should attack public or you're a hypocrite." It's not that simple either.

    Meanwhile, I don't see how "let 'er rip" is a wise or productive philosophy. If I posted the stuff I'm THINKING sometimes (especially in response to regular flamers), my computer would melt. What is the thinking behind the notion that unrestrained nastiness and incivility are effective ways to make a point, outside the Rush Limbaugh/Ann Coulter hatefest crowd?

  18. Asking Kate why she put a link to an article can hardly be considered "attacking". She is probably not as emotionally fragile as others here seem to be.

    People are pissed off, upset, and frustrated by the ridiculous enrollment systems and procedures, from both public and private schools, so things will get heated, and people will get bitchy. C'est la Vie.

  19. I predict civility will return in direct proportion to how many people are placed in a kindergarten in Round 2, or accepted off the waitlist to the private school of their choice.

  20. I posted the original question to Kate - sorry for confusion - the question was essentially - when you read this did it give you pause thinking of what you could have found at your assigned school J. Serra had you looked deeper - yet choosing a private like MCDS does bring the diversity issue front and center. I just wondered if she felt a little bit of perhaps regret or something about not doing the J. Serra choice, otherwise it does seem weird to me that she posted an article about looking past the "outside" of a public school and finding a great education for your child when she did in fact choose a private (no comment on that at all, it's actually fine and understandable to me) that is not that diverse. it's a bit like that old game telephone to see where a simple post gets to in terms of how people interpret it! it was a friendly question asking if she had any second thoughts.

  21. I read this post under "Kate's Update" and thought it was very fitting to be under this thread. I hope the original anonymous poster doesn't mind that I've re-posted here:

    Honestly speaking, even the SF public schools, even the "trophy schools" are not that great. I've gone through the entire public process now, with my kid heading to college, and mostly wound up with the best public schools. It is a truly sad state of affairs that the job of running and improving the schools is given over to parents. Parents are not professionals and in my experience 90% of the time they are primarily interested in their own kids (with certain notable and truly impressive exceptions). So in my kids' trophy school there was usually an A class (most popular teacher, more perks) and a B class. The volunteering parents were in the A class, and those single working full-time parents got what was left. I think this is typical, and if I had it to do over again I would go for a less in demand school, with less manipulative parents. I truly fear the movement to have parents reclaim schools. It is going to turn all those schools into political places, run for the benefit of parents who can afford to give time and/or money. It is the school district that really needs to do its job.

    This said I don't regret choosing the public school route. Nothing is perfect, we're financially okay, and my kid has done fine. I just wish people would be honest that the schools are not heaven on earth.
    March 29, 2008 11:58 AM

  22. Having just been through private K-8, I don't think you'll find things necessarily different in the private realm. Even there, you have your equivalent of the PTA parents who make a lot of noise and the "popular" families who contribute a lot of time and money to the schools. In addition, the money transaction that happens with private schools creates this sort of tacit pressure not to be entirely forthcoming when it comes to parent conferences and report cards.

    Certainly public schools are not "heaven on earth." You'd have to be pretty naive to think that. But neither are private schools.

  23. I haven't noticed an A class and a B class at our public school. Maybe it's because the teachers from the incoming and outgoing grades meet and figure out class placement? As far as I can tell, parents, even high-flyers, have not been able to request specific teachers.

    I think exceptions are made when a child has a particular special need though. And, sometimes there are children who cannot function in a class with certain other children. This seem legit to me.

  24. 5:18am - the best schools I've seen have high parental involvement, and sadly it isn't unusual to have an "A class" and a "B class". If there's a split grade class it's often a "B class" simply because no one wants to teach two grade levels so these classes most often go to teachers without seniority. How much thought is given to the makeup of each class is entirely up to the school administration - if the principal wants teacher input, there will be teacher input, if not... The "extra" money that goes to schools with economically disadvantaged students can't make up for things like not having a PTA. Who is going to make the school district do its job, if not the parents?

  25. I think these posts start to get to a point that not a lot of people put into so many words - that it's a lot more work to have your kid in public school than in private school. Last year I had one child in each school and, while they were both getting great experiences and enjoyed their learning thoroughly, it definitely took a lot more effort on the parents' part to make that happen in public school (one of the "trophy" publics). There is a lot of parent involvement in private school too, but if it didn't happen your kid would still be getting things like music, afterschool classes, more than one adult per classroom, library time, etc., whereas the public schools are completely dependent on such things for that to happen.

    Is it good for parents to be heavily involved in their childrens' education and schools? Yes. But it's also a wearing and frustrating as a parent, and at the same time very gratifying, to know that without your efforts your kids would not be getting these things.

    I think this is an issue that Sandra Tsing Loh completely glosses over. It's why it's so important for the less privileged kids in public schools that there are parents with the time and resources to make things happen. It's also something that turns people with time and resources off from public schools. In my opinion this is a very difficult Catch-22 to resolve.

  26. I completely agree. As a mother who is the primary breadwinner of the family -- and who greatly enjoys her career -- I don't think there is time in my day for being a public school PTA parent. I would guess that most PTA parents are moms, not dads, with some notable exceptions of course, but let's be honest here, and my family doesn't fit that demographic.

    In that way, and maybe Caroline, you can convince me otherwise, but public schools are best suited for the nuclear dad-as-primary-breadwinner, mom-as-volunteer family.

    Of course, our family make-up (mom as primary career person) made us less attractive at private schools too, but we did get into one we love (NOT one of the pac heights ones - I refuse to call them 'big' except the ego of those who idolize them), and that is where we are sending our child next year.

  27. Anon at 11:26

    Honestly, the PTA is more moms than dads, but not as much as I would have thought.

    Of the most active parents (the ones you see around all the time), about 25% of them are dads. Some of the families are in your situation (mom as primary breadwinner, dad has the more flexible job) some aren't.

    Our PTA and site council officers are mostly full-time working parents.

    The great thing about public school is that there is no requirement for you to do anything whatsoever. You don't have to volunteer a single hour, buy a single roll of wrapping paper, or donate a dime. But, anything you can do is appreciated, whether that be reading with kids in the library, making photocopies for teachers, participating in PTA meetings, or helping collect read-a-thon pledges. People generally find their niche. And, when people are truly volunteers, they usually like what they do, and do it willingly.

    I've been impressed with the spirit of generosity with which parents give their time. It's truly amazing.

  28. Anon at 11:26 AM: I think you will find plenty of examples of "the nuclear dad-as-primary-breadwinner, mom-as-volunteer family" in private schools as well.

  29. As I wrote above:

    "Of course, our family make-up (mom as primary career person) made us less attractive at private schools too, but we did get into one we love (NOT one of the pac heights ones - I refuse to call them 'big' except the ego of those who idolize them), and that is where we are sending our child next year."

    I heard that some public schools, like Clarendon, have huge expectations of parents. In an ideal world, I would love to be more involved! But for many of us, we have to support our families and can't be the PTA mom that the up-and-coming schools require, and the fundraising machines expect.

    This is NOT to bemoan anyone who has the bandwith to support their schools. I'm just saying that public schools may not work best for every family, particularly in the context of the demand of high parental involvement.

    And CERTAINLY I want to emphasize that there were several private schools, some of which are discussed in gushing terms here, that made it pretty clear that a mom-as-career-parent would be extremely unusual, and, quite frankly (unless the mom were famous or extremely successful, which I am neither) undesired.

  30. Anon 4:31 -- how did you get the impression certain schools thought a career mom would be undesirable? Also curious which schools you mean if you don't mind sharing.

  31. I am a single working mom with a child at Clarendon and a younger child in nursery school. I do what I can and feel very much a part of both my kids' schools.

  32. I think that volunteering may seem more daunting in theory than practice. As has been pointed out there are no set expectations, but what many families find out is that giving is infectious and that many folks end up giving much more than they initially anticipate, not because they feel obligation, but because it is pleasurable.
    In successful schools giving is part of creating a community with a common goal. Families at these schools have built life long relationships that endure and the bonds that are created extend beyond school. Families volunteer together, but they also go to sporting events together, vacation together, and have outside social functions. At these schools the supportive and caring community is an integrated part of the daily lives of the families involved and it truly makes life easier, not more difficult.
    Yes, it takes a few motivated and organized folks to dedicate hard work get things started, but once the ball is rolling, it becomes easier over time.

  33. It's not a question of volunteering being daunting or not, or whether it's considered an obligation or not. It's the feeling that if a parent didn't volunteer, there are things that just wouldn't happen at all. That's the unsettling part.

  34. If it feels unsettling to imagine that things won't happen at your child's school unless parents volunteer, think how it feels to the teachers who know how much more their students could be doing, if only they had the time to make it happen. How do you decide which work not to display, which activities to skip, etc.?

    I don't have a good idea of how much volunteering is considered to be "a lot" - is an hour a month a lot? Volunteering just 9 hours a school year could make a significant difference at most schools. I'd love to hear more about what exactly has been expected of parent as volunteers at different schools!

  35. I've worked at schools that have had zero volunteer participation and schools that were practically run by parent volunteers. The main difference is that the ones with no participation from parents have teachers who have to do much more work on their own. It meant devoting my weekends and evenings to prep work and giving up time for my own family. As teachers we try to compensate for what is not offered by parent volunteers so that the students don't suffer. Many years ago there were paraprofessionals in most classrooms, but that is just a memory now.

  36. I would concur with parent/teacher.

    My kid went to a Catholic school that did not encourage parent participation in the classroom or within the school (helping teachers, etc.) However, their teachers were excellent and even without much parent participation, they certainly got a good education.

    Our current public school has tons of parent participation, and a thriving happy community.

    But, at both schools, the core is the principal and teachers. Parents can fill in around the edges, but the teachers do the real work of the school by educating the kids.

    I would look for a school with good bones -- a parent-friendly principal with good leadership skills, good teachers, and at least the semblance or openness towards involved parents. Schools like Sunnyside, Junipero Serra, and Paul Revere sound like they are ready to take off because they are already good schools. Sure, they could be even better with more parent volunteers, but good things are going on there already.

  37. Some glimpses of what volunteering is expected -- well, nothing is really expected. I've never seen anyone trying to count up how MUCH a parent is doing.

    We have friends who have high-powered, more-than-full-time jobs and a child at Aptos Middle School. The mom has made a point of taking on chairing one one-shot event each year -- this year it was the fall school beautification day (a Saturday volunteer work day); last year it was the fundraising car wash (a Saturday in the spring). That requires a burst of activity for a short period and makes a big contribution to the school.

    But even parents who just came to help at the beautification day and the car wash (the latter really done by students, but they need supervision) make a big contribution.

    One thing I do for SOTA is weekly e-mail announcements to the school community of that week's events and performances. I can do it from home on my own time in a couple of hours a week. We have a database created pro bono by an alumni parent who showed me how to use it. (Other volunteers have input the names -- another volunteer opportunity.)

    SOTA just completed a three-week run of student performances of the musical "Beauty and the Beast." Three Saturdays in a row, the students did a matinee and then an evening performance, with a fairly short break in between. Each of those Saturdays, parents did a potluck dinner for the cast-crew-orchestra in the SOTA caf. I coordinated the potlucks (which wasn't much work). Lots of parents (and some sibs) provided food and came to help out -- set up, serve, clean up. Just dropping off a dish or spending an hour doing cleanup makes a significant contribution.

    This is high school, but you still get the idea. I learned about these volunteer opportunities/needs by attending PTSA meetings.

    It's illegal for public schools to REQUIRE volunteer hours, though some more-middle-class schools essentially do that (I don't know of any in SFUSD except charters; Clarendon is a maybe). In diverse schools, the attitude that's encouraged is to honor ALL parent involvement, even if it's just showing up for the parent-teacher conference or attending your child's performance.

  38. Okay. Actually I'll be one to chime in and say that any parent who makes her daughter commute an hour or more each way to a school--that's about 10 hours per week for the kid and 20 hours for the adult doing two round trips--can't possibly have the best interests of her kid at heart. It sounds CRUEL to me.

    It's like those fools who live in Fairfield or Martinez or wherever who spend an extra 15 hours in their cars each week commuting, in order to be a home owner, when in fact, their lives would be richer living in the city, staying renters, or settling for a smaller home, and spending that time and money in a more useful, less stressful way. Like leaving their house and going to a park, a cultural event, something! It's what the rest of the world does.

    You can accomplish a lot in 10 or 15 hours. As a parent, as human, as a student.

    Kate should move to Marin if she wants MCDS. But if she does move to Marin, the public schools there are phenomenal. And she wouldn't have any excuses for not sending her kid to a public.

    I'm just saying.

  39. ^ could you post your comment to only one thread, instead of 4?

  40. On the topic of volunteering: Our charter elementary school requires 40 hours per year per family. They have a wish list of task which need volunteers and then each family helps out to the best of their capability (whether it be in the classroom or behind the scenes). One family (the dad is a photographer) does class pictures every year, others volunteer in the classroom, another does the newsletter, some do get the idea.

  41. That's wonderful for the school (requiring 40 hours) -- but it's also illegal -- even for charters.

  42. At Claire Lilienthal you have to either volunteer or give an extra contribution to the PTA. Although I guess they can't really do anything if you refuse to do either one.

  43. Some of these schools are pretty insensitive. Of course they can't do anything if you don't volunteer or donate, but the principal needs to tell whomever is declaring those policies to cut that **** out. Obviously, it's unfair and intimidating to low-income families, which is why it's illegal.

  44. Even if it's considered technically "illegal" it's pretty great and fosters a real environment of involvement.
    (I'm referring to the required volunteering)
    Also, a great way to get to know other families.
    The kids really have a sense of community. :)

    It seems like in a school with a mostly affluent population, (Claire Lilienthal) I could see where opting to give a contribution instead of volunteering might work better for many families.

    Isn't the point to get involved in any way you can?
    I don't see a problem with requiring this.

  45. Of course it's wonderful if all parents can be made to volunteer. But requiring that (or a donation) constitutes charging tuition, which is illegal for public schools to do.

    Claire Lilienthal has 20% low-income students. That's low for SFUSD, but still...

    Of course in schools that don't get automatic assignments, letting prospective applicants know about these illegal "requirements" can be a way to ensure that low-income and otherwise low-functioning families don't apply.

  46. (Plus, aren't we supposed to advocate obeying the law, as civilized people?)

  47. I guess I should know better than to argue with you, Caroline. You've completely missed my point so I guess I'm done here.

  48. When you enroll at Claire Lilienthal you sign a document saying that you'll participate in their parent-involvement approach. I believe that this system (or whatever you call it) is what makes CL an "alternative" school.

    CL is not entirely an "affluent" school, as Caroline points out. There are kids from all over the city there. It's very economically diverse. In practice, I've found that about a third of the families are heavily involved, a third are marginally involved, and a third are not involved at all, to the point where it's hard to even find contact information for the parents.

  49. CL sounds great. I like the idea of a pledge to be involved.

  50. I didn't miss the point. I understand why it's wonderful to require all parents to commit to involvement. But you're missing the points about why it's a problem.

    And no, that is not why Claire L. is an alternative school, nor is it legal in an alternative school. "Alternative school" simply means a school with no designated assignment area (in SFUSD, that's what it means -- in some districts it means "reform school"). That's the only thing it means.

    Requiring mandated volunteer hours constitutes in-kind tuition. It's illegal to charge tuition or require compensation to attend a public school. Of course it does also tend to discourage applicants who can't participate (low-income families and those with other issues), and it widens the gap between "have" schools and "have-not" schools.

    And it's "technically' illegal, so I know, wink-wink and all that. But it still is.

  51. Really I think too much is being made of thread of volunteerism. The fact of the matter is that volunteerism is no less required in private schools than is required in the "good" public schools. Who do you think organizes the spring galas, fundraisers, auctions at the private schools? The teachers and administration? Of COURSE it's the parents! The spirit of volunteerism is much required at any successful school in this day and age, whether public or private.

    And you will find the 20/80 rule pretty much everywhere. 20% of the people (or less) doing 80% of the work. That's just how it goes.

  52. The original point about volunteerism is what it supports in public schools vs. private ones. In private school the spring gala supports financial aid. In public school it supports the presence of a PE teacher, and without the spring gala (and the work put in by the parents) there would not be a PE teacher for the kids at the school. That's the big difference- not the amount of time, but the nature of the opportunities that it supports.

  53. Prop. H funding provides PE teachers at elementary schools, happily. PE teachers are part of the regular school budget in middle and high schools.

    In my experience the biggest fundraising expenditures are enrichments such as Lakeshore's cafeteria-menu program, from which teachers can choose various arts and other programs; and classroom grants.

  54. hmmm..wonder why the elementary school we got assigned to said they have no $ for a regular PE teacher so now they are training the teachers to do PE with the kids (in addition to everything else they do)?

  55. In the past, that WAS how PE was often done -- the regular teachers were in charge. But Prop. H funding has arrived, designated for PE. So I don't know why a school would say that.

  56. For the Charter School my son goes to, it says this on the hand-outs:

    "expectations for all families:

    * every family contributes a minimum of 40 volunteer hours per year"

    The keyword being: EXPECTATIONS.

    As much as Caroline loves to find any excuse at all to pounce on Charter Schools, it is not now, nor has it ever been "illegal" to have EXPECTATIONS.

  57. Maybe a school would say that because from the looks of this poor exhausted teacher, it appears to be true.

  58. The previous poster used the word "require":

    "Our charter elementary school requires 40 hours per year per family."

    I'd say the word "expectations" is pushing it, myself. It certainly IMPLIES "requirement."

    However, I also raised the same issues about Claire Lilienthal, which is not a charter.

  59. Spring galas and auctions are not necessarily about raising money for tuition assistance. Private schools consistently make statements that even though they recognize tuition is high, it only covers 85% of the actual costs of educating each child, etc.

    PE in elementary school is new to me. We just had recess K-5.

    Perhaps the papers Clarendon and CL make parents sign are just to emphasize and make clear the type of parent participation culture that is expected. I'm sure none of it is enforceable and I'm sure nobody understands it that way although I do see how it might technically cross the line of legality.

    The fundraising that's become a necessity for public schools to thrive is indicative of how successful the far right have been to the extent that now public education is now somewhat privatized. The fundraising is an absolute necessity in the short term but is very problematic in the long view.

  60. My apologies for the confusion: When I said that our school "requires 40 hours per family per year" I meant to say "expects" but I think we're splitting hairs here. I also think that my child's school is not unique in requesting parental involvement. Obviously, this is not something that can be enforced but should be (in my opinion) encouraged in ALL schools.

    The point of my posting was to tout how wonderful my child's school is and how parent volunteers have helped make it so. Too bad C feels the need to spin this as a negative thing. It is not.

  61. I do think signing the expectations pledge is creepy, and pushy, and totally alienating, TO ME. I shied away from choosing schools that appeared to be run by the PTA, or advocated having the kids constantly selling things.

    That said, I volunteer as much as I can at my kid's school because I like to be there and be part of what's going on. He's my kid! What else is there to do when not at work? I prefer that the principal coordinate the efforts of volunteers, and so those are the types of schools I applied for and got placed in.

    I think there is a comfort level that parents seek, to match their own philosophies. This is a good thing, and there are a range of schools out there.

    I feel it's another unsung benefit of our school choice process, as sympathetic as I am towards the 18% who don't get a school on their list in the first round.

  62. Needless to say, I don't spin parent volunteering as a negative thing -- that's a willful misunderstanding if I ever saw one.

    You can see that I listed parent volunteering examples, including a small percentage of what I've done, in another post. I'm a busy volunteer myself and strongly encourage parent volunteering.

    But one of my mantras is that it's never as simple as you think. "Oh, it's just so easy to make the school better! Just make parents sign a commitment! Why doesn't every school do that?"

    No, it's not so easy. Requiring, or expecting -- whatever verb indicates a high degree of pressure -- a set amount of volunteering is nuanced. aside from being illegal. The message "don't apply to this school if you can't meet that expectation" is pretty loud and clear. Would you dispute that, CACS parents?

    And indicating to parents that there's a requirement (enforceable or not) that parents donate money if they can't volunteer is obviously problematic too, aside from being illegal.

  63. The reason it is not being dropped is because the people who are so proud of their school's expectation of parents donating time and/or money don't seem to realize they are driving away families with poor, working parents. Or maybe that is the point?

  64. "god! shut up!! - April 1, 2008 9:08 AM"

    You fool! Don't read it if you don't like it. The rest of us are learning stuff and are interested in everyone's viewpoint.

  65. I can't believe that lower income people and/or others who don't have much time or money to give to their schools actually consider this when they select a public school. When I toured CL a few years ago I recall there was a very active PTA but I don't remember being told about any specific hour/money "expectation". I think bigger problems faced by lower income groups in the school selection process are (1) even knowing about round I so they can participate, (2) having the time to tour schools and (3) figuring out transportation options to schools outside their neighborhoods. Parent involvement is very important to our schools today, but it can come in all shapes and forms. It's good for the school, good for the kids, and good for the community. I find nothing wrong with encouraging involvement as long as we are understanding that not everyone will contribute in the same way. The important thing is for everyone to do something and for everyone to feel their contribution (in whatever form) is valued.

  66. thank you, 10:45.

  67. I have to say I agree 100% with Caroline and its too bad she's almost a lone voice here. It is illegal to require parent hours, and not just illegal but wrong. Some parents might think its a "nice" thing, but its not so nice when you are being told to sign something you know you can't do, or when you get phonecalls suggesting you do something and you know that requires finding a babysitter on a weeknight at extreme stress to your family. Not everyone is similarly situated and some people really don't have the support network, financial ability, job flexibility, or even the physical abilities that others do. It always amazes me how clueless some people can be that not everyone can do what they do.

    When I chose an elementary school I almost didn't choose the one I did because it had mandatory volunteer hours that I knew, for a number or reasons, I couldn't do. But I was counseled, and I now firmly believe, that these are public schools and they are open to everyone, even my family. It may seem innocent, but its an insiduous type of elitism to attempt to require these hours, and scare off many families who are not able to do them.

    I also think that people who just prefer not volunteer should also have access to all schools. It may be nice to be around all "your kind" but that really can't be forced.

  68. This sums up my point (aside from the illegality):

    "... an insiduous type of elitism to attempt to require these hours, and scare off many families who are not able to do them."

    I totally agree that active parent volunteers are a huge benefit to a school, and the more the better.

    But in requesting volunteers, public schools are supposed to "encourage" and "request," not "require" and "expect." Requiring and expecting volunteer hours and donations excludes and humiliates families who can't volunteer or donate sufficiently.

    For that matter, there are families who don't volunteer or donate even though they can, because the parents are oblivious or self-absorbed or have misplaced priorities or whatever. Should their kids suffer the collateral exclusion and humiliation because their parents are like that?

  69. 11:42-You're kidding yourself if you think public schools can survive without volunteers or with very little parent involvement. Sadly, many of the schools we visited that seemed to be struggling had a group of, say, only 5 parents each putting in 120% just to try to keep the school afloat.

    If you are contributing to this blog, than you must at least have some typing skills or perhaps the skills to call someone on the phone. That requires neither a babysitter nor a huge time commitment. I firmly believe that if EVERYONE contributed in even a tiny way, no one group would have to saddle the responsibility for the whole thing. After all, aren't we all in this together?

  70. PS: I don't think Caroline is a lone voice here.
    Even though I don't agree with her perspective I find it interesting. :)

  71. It is not just the educated or affluent who volunteer. Some of the most active members at many schools are not in the demographic that is being discussed on this blog.

  72. Nobody is saying public schools can survive without volunteers or that the low-income can't ever volunteer.

  73. Of course we should be working to foster a community that is all in it together, and encourage volunteering of all levels. I think the point is that to get to that point means having an awareness of the different cultures, languages and economic classes that are present, and being sensitive to the assumptions we all carry.

    The fact is that some of us find it really easy to take over with our facility with English, our high levels of education, our easy assumption that we know how to make things run. Even our assumptions about what constitutes a "small" donation whether in terms of time or money. Maybe also our our status of having papers to live in this country. It's so simple for us to take over. And we forget how intimidating that might be to those who do not share these advantages.

    What is needed is community-building that encourages participation on the terms of all the cultures that are represented. Not an easy task, but really worth it in the long run for everyone, including the kids, in terms of social education of how to live in a diverse and ever smaller world.

    By the way, I have definitely seen it work in the schools here. I have also seen blunders. And sometimes there is a trade-off: you can raise loads of money faster by pulling off a few big events and encouraging donations from those families that can afford to buy the big auction items. Taco sales and car washes may not raise the same large amounts, but they do encourage more broad participation. Both are needed, in my opinion, but they need to be held in balance.

    Yes, this is more of a public school challenge and ALSO reward. You can simply assume in public school (even Claire Lilienthal) that your community will be diverse in terms of ethnicity and class, and that these challenges will be there. Again, if you do the work to overcome them, the payoff can be quite wonderful.

  74. I have to say I chose not to send my child to CACS despite an acceptance there because of both the requested time committment (which I resented having as an expectation and wasn't sure I could easily fulfill) and the sense that the school had a weak principal and was essentially run by an assertive group of parents.

  75. to ANON at 1:09

    Oh well. Your misperceptions have deprived your child of going to a really great school.

  76. Prop H does provide money for elementary PE but it's very hard to find qualified PE teachers and SFUSD has only been able to hire a few. So although K-5s should have a PE teacher, most don't. Some schools hire someone to do PE and some have sports groups providing PE. So PE is hit and miss at some schools. Libraries and art have had more success in hiring with Prop H funds.

  77. jeez I hope Kate posts a new topic soon as I continue to be shocked by how hostile the blog sometimes is. Let's all pretend we're actually at a cocktail party together face to face and temper our responses accordingly. I have loved that this has fostered community (I recently wrote to Kate about numbers and she said over 3000 unique visitors have been in the blog - wow!), but lately the tenor of the blog postings has been so unpleasant it's, well, unpleasant.

    Please, civility!!! Just because popular culture now passes off televised shouting matches as "debate" does not mean that civilized people can't actually exchange and take in ideas they disagree with without personal attacks. Who actually says "shut up!" to people in real life? (My six year old has already learned that's not okay.) I have read that kind of comment on more than one occasion in here (often directed at poor brave Caroline who posts her name for all to see!) and just wonder what crosses a person's mind to be so rude. Is it just the anonymity? What ever happened to "hmmm, that's interesting, I'll have to think about that."? or even "good point." (even if you disagree with the overall premise.)

    This climate makes it scary to actually post ones name (which I will flinchingly do here), because it feels as if people are so ready to pounce angrily if they diasagree with you.

    here goes

  78. To Kathy B.
    Well said....

  79. I thought it might be good idea to create a community site where anyone can post.

    You do need a wordpress account to post, but it's free. Comment on the welcome post to be added to the community list of posters. If you don't want to do that, anonymous commenting is permitted.

  80. After reading "Tales out of School", I read the following,
    "Nannyhood and Apple Pie"
    by Sandra Tsing Loh

    This section hit a chord with me (a reference in the article)

    "Especially in their more recent incarnation, the commercial substitutes for family activities often turn out to be better than the real thing. Just as the French bakery often makes better bread than mother ever did, and the cleaning service cleans the house more thoroughly, so therapists may recognize feelings more accurately, and childcare workers prove more even-tempered than parents. In a sense, capitalism isn't competing with itself, one company against another, but with the family, and particularly with the role of wife and mother (substitute parent)."

    I feel this way often in raising one child and preparing to raise a second. I feel reasonably competent at work and often so miserably incompetent at home.

    My toddler/little girl orders me around and I feel guilty at my lack of patience and rising blood pressure as I negotiate, unsuccessfully, with my little one to get dressed, get in the car or get in the carseat.

    Can anyone else relate?

  81. I can. At preschool my daughter is well-behaved, listens attentively, follows directions, eats all her vegetables and is polite. This is not the case for us at home where just convincing her to get dressed or put away her toys has become a huge battle.

  82. I'm curious how many of you who eschew Kozol's writings and believe he is hopelessly out of date have actually visited many poor urban schools. I can direct you to many schools in E Harlem and the South Bronx that is every bit as depressing and restrictive as the worst schools he describes (I am teacher and recent transplant from NYC). I've seen schools with bars on the windows. Full time policemen are the norm in many NYC schools.

    Just like San Francisco, many schools in NYC are great. There are a few, in struggling neighborhoods, that are not so great. You may also find that there are some Kozol-esque schools right here in your very own backyard. I notice no one has visited schools in Hunter's Point, the Western Addition, or Bayview.

  83. Which schools are you referring to, Anon at 3:34?

    I'd disagree that posters here haven't visited schools in those neighborhoods. There are Rosa Parks parents posting here, as one example, and haven't some of the parents who were assigned to John Muir checked it out? PPS staff go to schools in the neighborhoods you mention, probably frequently; I've been in some myself. They vary, but I'm not seeing schools in poor neighborhoods in terrible condition as Kozol describes.

  84. Oh, and a grant provides full-time police to a number of SFUSD middle and high schools. The idea is that it's a program beneficial to the community and not a sign of out-of-control crime. You can see the cop car parked outside Lowell as you go by, for example (not usually a hotbed of crime, though some students think the grading policies are criminal).

    Sorry to sound like a know-it-all. One day I hope the younger parents here will be discussing their experiences with the newer generation. But it does seem like clarifying information is useful enough to take the risk of getting slapped down.

  85. I have a question... My neighbor sent her son to C. Lillienthal, where he was beaten up in the 2nd grade. When she complained, she was told to be understanding of "students of color." Then her son came home talking about "Flavor of Love" and "South Park." How does one navigate this sort of thing? I am not being snarky, I really want my baby to go to public schools, but the violence and the sleazy culture frightens me. PLEASE HELP!!

  86. I can't believe this - full-time POLICE at the middle & high schools???? Are you serious?

  87. So I am a snotty elitist if I don't want my children going to school with the sort of kids who require full-time police staffing?

  88. Beaten up in second grade? Excuse me, no. If I had been told that, I have no words for what my reaction would've been. Can I understand kids from hard backgrounds resorting to violence? Yes. Can I understand the school allowing and dismissing these occurrences? I think you know the answer to that. And that happened at one of the "better schools"? Nice.

  89. my friend's kindergardner was hit and bullied on the playground at lafayette. it's not just CL.

  90. At my kid's school, most of the bullies are the middle-class white boys, almost never the sons of impoverished recent Chinese immigrants.

  91. My number one worry about schools is bullying. I have no preconceptions about who is doing it. I know anyone can be a bully. What I'm concerned with is the lack of control/concern over it that seems to exist in the schools. I also realize that there is bullying at private schools, but my hunch is that it is less, and if it does occur it's handled more effectively there. I know some of the public schools have programs like Tribe to combat those problems, but certainly not all do. Is there anyone out there in private school who can speak to this issue? Honestly, is bullying a problem there? How is it handled? Brushed under the rug, met head on, something else? I'd really appreciate some insight.

  92. Bullies come in all sizes and colors. The big question is how does the school handle this?

  93. I went to private school for middle and H.S. back on the east coast in a very affluent neighborhood. The school had bullies (who were expelled) and also their share of vandals and drug dealers. Many of the problems lay with the parents being in denial rather than the administration.

  94. I think the issue was not that the bullying child was non-white, but rather the school's de facto acceptance of the bullying.

  95. Anon at 5:04 -- I went to private school in the SF area, and there was mild verbal bullying in my elementary school (primarily name calling) and none that I recall in my 7-12. That's just one person's experience, though. I'm sure bullying happens at private schools, too. I think that perhaps the kids are more subtle about it because usually there are pretty clear, harsh consequences. Unlike public schools, private schools do not have to take/keep kids who act out with any frequency. At the same time (and I would freak if my son were the victim of extreme and or regular bullying), I think one shortcoming of my education is that I was not forced to learn how to coexist with and tune out bullies. I'm not talking about kids who beat others up, more the ones who are prone to saying rude things on a regular basis. Once I was out of such a sheltered environment I had to develop a much thicker skin. Just something to consider, I suppose.

  96. I posted at 3.34 about Kozol doubters. I work in a school in one of the neighborhoods I mentioned, so I am very familiar with the less desireable public schools in SF.

    I have not seen schools in SF that are like the schools I worked at in NYC. When I talk about police, I am not talking about what you describe at Lowell. NYC schools have fulltime police at the doors of their schools-SF schools do not. Kozol describes children spending their recess standing in lines in "Shame of the Nation." I worked at a school where children marched in lines during recess instead of playing. Of course, there are also amazing schools in NYC as well.

    I merely posted because I think it is dangerous to negate what Kozol has to say without having seen the full spectrum of public education in the United States. SFUSD has a lot to offer-but don't think that it is this way across the nation.

    I work in the public school system here and am a strong supporter of public schools, which is why I read this blog. I love the attitude parents have of sending their children to public school and working to improve them.

  97. Bullying and violence have truly not been problems in my kids' school years, except for the third-grade-girl meanness issue (see below).

    Re the police ("School Resource Officers" or SROs) it's not that they're necessary, at least not at schools I'm familiar with. They are there through a federal grant.
    They certainly add some clout to the school staff's discipline. Some elements in the community really don't like them there, but there's money for it and the principals do like it.

    My kids have now spent nearly 12 and nearly 9 years, respectively, in SFUSD schools, with no bullying issues worth worrying about -- well, except for the third-grade girls, who are the most vicious species of humanity on the planet. That was a rough year for my daughter (and I would never put a girl in an all-girls' school entirely because of that). It's not the ghetto girls who are mean in that way, either -- it's definitely a middle-class-and-up characteristic.

    One year at Lakeshore I was spending a lot of time volunteering in class, and noted that there were a few boys who seemed to be drawn to trouble. If a kid acted out, those boys would glom onto that kid and join in the behavior. If those boys were interacting with non-problem kids, they were fine, but they made a point of being drawn to any kind of commotion.

    We had a PTA meeting with bullying as the topic, and the parents who complained that their kids were being bullied were the parents of those very kids, who were so drawn to trouble. I'm not blaming them because they were just little kids, but it was really clear that it was their own choice of companions that made them targets.

    My son tended to avoid kids like that. There was one boy who had a bully-ish edge (middle-class, later thrown out of a Catholic high school),and my son
    wanted nothing to do with him, though they had some friends in common.

    There are the occasional real problem kids. My feeling is that schools need a very strong intervention program with some kind of therapeutic setting; they are too slow and too hamstrung about responding effectively. But getting picked on by them was never a problem for my kids and their friends.

  98. Caroline is right about the mean third grade girl thing, and it is certainly not an issue specific to public schools. On a couple of our private school tours, teachers/heads of school mentioned interventions the school had done w/ the third grade girls as examples of how they resolved conflict. I wonder what's up with third grade girls.

  99. I got the brunt of it in 4th grade rather than 3rd.

    My theory is that there is some sort of competition between girls--sort of a Lord of the flies-like pecking order to see who emerges as popular. From what I remember back then, the tall skinny girls were extremely mean to other girls whom they didn't consider pretty enough to be part of their clique. I wonder if this is the same competitiveness in an all-girls' school or if it has something to do with trying to get attention of the boys (beginning of puberty, etc)...just a thought.

  100. As a young girl, I was tortured for four years in a tony private school, and it left marks on me that linger to this day. I still have a big problem with affluent entitled people. They rub me the wrong way. I learned to deal with it, and those skills have served me well.

    But that's not the point. The teachers and the other families seemed to think it was a normal part of growing up.

    Bullying is unacceptable. But it is the norm. How we handle it is the issue.

    Also, about five years ago, my best friend pulled her child out of Claire Lilienthal mid-year for exactly the same reason. She'd gone through hell getting in, then faced the reality of finding a private school for her child mid-year. She did, French American. At FAIS, iover five years, the torture culture was even worse, the kids were clique-y, and the teachers did nothing about it.

    I know this kid, and she's a great kid. It wasn't the kid.

    Finally, my friend found a top parochial school, and this kind of behavior has zero tolerance. The child has been happy, does very well, and I wonder if it doesn't boil down to hard-ass discipline. Catholic schools can get extra points for that.

    they have 30 kids in the class, and discipline is an iron hand. There is no room for it. The kids appear to get along so well and bond and support one another.

    Do you think there is something about Claire Lilienthal school?

  101. Well, this is somewhat alarming! We're registered there for this fall.... Dish it out... I want to hear it.

  102. French-American is one of the privates I was considering. This is not the first time I've heard they're full of cliques, though. Disappointing. Does anyone know how Lycee Francais La Perouse compares overall as well as with the clique factor?

  103. One of my daughters had a girl yank on her hair, totally unprovoked and unbelievably hard, in kindergarten at a Catholic school. By the time I got to school, I heard about it from her teacher, and a couple other parents who had been there. The school took instant action, and called a meeting with the girls' parents. This was not the only incident with the girl, who was clearly troubled. Unfortunately, the parents were not willing to work with the school to help this girl, so they pulled her out. In my experience with Catholic schools, if the parents are willing to work with their child's behavior issue, they will keep them on and try to work it out. If not, they have to leave.

    Even so, I know that other kids were bullied more subtly. It's really tough to catch and enforce. Each individual incident may seem trivial when reported, but the overall pattern is damaging. Something like a TRIBES program, or other supportive program can make a big difference to overall school climate. Schools really need to stay on top of these issues.

  104. Please, let's get real. What kind of bubble did people grow up in? I myself grew up in this city in the 70s and 80s and attended Grattan ES, Hoover MS, then Washington HS. None of them were perfect schools, a fact I was acutely aware of at a young age. But I didn't need or expect them to be. Nor did my parents. The backbone of my education came from my life outside of school - namely family and community. Public education made me feel a part of this city, its delights as well as its pitfalls. Yes, I remember being bullied at each school. No, it didn't feel good, but I was raised to be able to put it all in perspective, and to be empowered to stop it in its tracks. Yes, I remember knowing the cops assigned to Hoover and Washington and greeted them just as I greeted teachers and administrators. I was glad they were there, and their presence did not make me feel that there was something wrong with my school.

    I am now raising 2 small children in this city and hope they can go to the same schools I went to. The SFUSD assignment process is flawed, yes, and this is both frustrating and tragic. The schools never have been, nor will they ever be perfect. Nonetheless, I will persevere in my pursuit and committment to public schools and the excellent "real" eduction they can provide. It's that simple.

  105. Well, I for one, did grow up in a sheltered, upper middle class bubble. It was the era of the preppy, and it was safe and comfortable. Couldn't live in the suburbs now--I love cities--but it does color what you want for your child. Sorry if we're not tough enough to blithely accept the perils of city schools. We're just trying to find a way to make the public schools work for us. I understand a lot of fears are probably overblown, but just going, oh well, it will all work out, and tra la laing along is not my thing either.

  106. I would highly recommend Michael Thompson's excellent book Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children to gain insight into the complicated world of bullying and childhood friendships. Thompson has a newer book called Mom, They're Teasing Me which I haven't read yet.

  107. I may as well completely out myself here as it's hard to cover this topic without doing so. My son was in K at Claire Lilienthal last year. He has a physical condition that causes facial underdevelopment, so he looks different than most kids. I think they handled the social side of his situation remarkably well at CL. I also found that it became a non-issue very quickly, partly, I believe, because of the high level of diversity in the school. All the kids came from different backgrounds and looked different from one another. Heterogeneity was the norm. Obviously there were no other kids who looked like my son, but the fact that he was "different" didn't stand out so much.

    That being said, the school has 4 classes per grade, and that means there are a lot of kids to supervise at times when they are all together like lunch and recess. It's pretty easy for bad behavior to occur and for things to fall through the cracks in that setting. That's not a function of CL per se, it's somthing that could happen anywhere where there are that many kids. I've heard much the same about other public schools, especially Alvardo.

    My older child attends a private school (Friends), and we moved our son there this year for first grade. There were a lot of reasons that we switched him, pretty much eqally divided between concerns about the curriculum differences in public school and logistical issues for our family. There are probably a lot of factors involved beyond our son's appearance, but we've definitely found the kids in the new school to be less comfortable with our son's appearance than they were at CL. We have generally had the experience that more affluent kids are less accepting of him overall, not just in school (obviously this doesn't apply to every child, just an overall impression). However, the school itself has responded extremely well and extremely appropriately to all situations that have come up. They spend a lot of time working on the kids' social abilities and I can see it paying off in my daughter's 4th grade class.

    By the way, the reason the kids were in 2 different schools in the first place is that our daughter's original private school (NOT Friends) would not admit our son. They gave us a variety of explanations for this decision but fear of dealing with the social situations that could arise from his presence seemed to be the underlying cause, which is why we moved our daughter.

  108. Let's not turn the bullying discussion into a suburbs vs. city thing. I grew up in an upper middle class suburb and certainly witnessed, participated in, and was the target of my fair share of bullying. The one time my mother called the school about it, it made things worse. It's certainly a serious problem, especially for kids who are the targets of a disproportionate share of the bullying. But it's not limited to SF by any means. And other than those situations where someone is being consistently victimized, I think it probably is good for kids to learn to stand up for themselves. I am nervous for my own son, who is currently in a very small, sheltered preschool environment, and will be starting public K this fall, but I also think he does need to learn to stand up for himself and deal with kids who try to bully him. That being said, if bullying is a consistent problem, I do expect that the school will take it seriously and have a way to deal with it. I know the particular public school he is going to attend prefers NOT to suspend kids, and that this may make it hard for kids who are victimized by bullies and don't see that the bullies are getting punished, but I understand the reasons why and think it makes sense to try to work with kids who are K-5 rather than kicking them out.

  109. I wasn't turning it into a suburbs vs. city thing. Someone asked about people living in bubbles. My experience was exactly that. I did not experience any bullying at all, and none of the people I knew did. Now, by the time my younger brother got to school, he did. I realize it happens. But my experience was pretty idyllic. My point, to the person who was making light of concerns, is that our personal experiences color our desires for our child. Simple as that.

  110. I really don't mean to reopen the public/private debate again, but I am really outraged that your daughter's other private would not admit your son just because he looks different. I thought they wanted diversity! Ugh!

  111. Anon at April 2, 2008 11:29 AM
    Thank you for your post and the very specific information you have shared which has given me a lot to think about. You have raised some difficult and important issues. I hope both your kids are happy and thrive in their new school.

  112. check out this blog re NYC public elementary schools --goes to show there is no such thing as perfect and stress-free process. can you believe they test for gifted and talented kids for kindergarten?? only in new york!

  113. Regarding the French schools: We have good friends who live in Paris -- American husband, French wife, one child, a son my daughter's age (French equiv. of 8th grade). They've moved between countries; the son attended public school in Rockville, MD, K-3, and since then public school in Paris' un-chic 20th arrondissement.

    When he had been in school in Paris for three or four years, the boy himself told me, in some awe, that fighting and bullying weren't allowed in his former school in Rockville. That's a big contrast with his school in Paris, where fighting and bullying are viewed as normal,not-particularly-problematic behavior and basically ignored.

    The other interesting note was that parent volunteering is not allowed at all under any circumstances, and parents aren't allowed to enter the school, ever, period.

    I've wondered about this when I've heard that FAIS and the Lycee offered a French-style education. A boy in my son's grade, 11th, attended the Lycee in early grades -- I think maybe just K-1 -- and his mom told me they used corporal punishment. That was some years ago, though not THAT many.

  114. Oh, this refers to the Paris school, not the Rockville school:

    "The other interesting note was that parent volunteering is not allowed at all under any circumstances, and parents aren't allowed to enter the school, ever, period."

  115. i have been told by fais parents that parents are not allowed to "interfere" in the classes and that the teachers can be very harsh. c'est la vie!

  116. Thanks Caroline and anon for the information on the French schools. Come to think of it, I think I did read somewhere that parental involvement isn't welcomed. Wow, corporal punishment, I'd definitely have to ask about that. Not my thing. (Of course my child would never need disciplining, I'm sure!) :)

    I know the culture will be much different from the traditional American school. I just don't know if would be too different for my tastes. It might very well be.

  117. I was just at Alvarado this morning and saw three (there may have been more though) teachers on the yard during the 4th-5th grade morning recess. One teacher was actively engaged in running basketball skills games. The others were talking with individual students and keeping an eye on the yard. Yes, there are a lot of kids with a lot of pent-up energy, but there was definitely an adult presence.

    I think a lot goes on with kids under the radar of adults at any school. The best teachers will have a sense of the overall dynamic of a classroom, and parents will notice when something is wrong, but even they/we will miss the small stuff that crops up--I don't mean systematic bullying, but the tiffs that happen occasionally and then blow over without the adults ever hearing about it. And yeah, there is indeed a lot of drama with the tweener girls (8+), especially as most of them begin to head into pre-puberty in 4th and 5th grade.

    Kids are going through different phases of growth at different rates in school, and they have to work out the issues that come with that. They have to work out what do to when someone cheats at a schoolyard game or wants a do-over, or how to handle losing. They have to figure out what to do when their previous "best friend" suddenly finds a new "best friend." It's really hard to be a kid and learning this stuff. Heck, it's hard to be human and while I have my adult comportment in most situations I sometimes have my own moments of reactivity to tough situations (hopefully not in front of my boss!). These kids are still trying to figure it all out.

    At Alvarado I have seen up-close responses to more serious incidents, or series of incidents, of bullying or being bullied. On an individual level, parents and teachers will usually meet together with the school social worker, who has remarkable networks of experience, contacts and information. Based on the situation, they will often work out a plan that includes both in-school stuff and possibly referrals. There is also a free on-site sandtray program to address emotional issues the kids are carrying.

    The afterschool program (GLO) addresses behavioral problems immediately, this is again in my experience. This usually starts with a low-key approach for a first-time spat between kids (often, talking it out with apologies encouraged), but if it happens again or becomes a pattern then the parents are brought in and there are escalating consequences.

    On a classroom level, I believe there was recently a special class on bullying in the 4th grade in response to some incidents that rose to that level among a group of kids. There is also TRIBES taught throughout and one of the second grade teachers is especially good at implementing this. There is of course a fair amount of mixing by race/ethnicity/national origin and economic class and also differing dis/abilities (we have inclusion and two special day classes), so it is very real.

    I try to find opportunities talk with my kids about bullying, both how to handle it when they are targets and also trying to build an empathy response for kids who are being bullied. Don't know if it helps, but I figure it doesn't hurt to put it out there and make it clear that I don't approve of bullying and also that I understand that stuff happens out there in school and camp. (Kids sometimes think we parents are quite dumb.)

  118. Thanks 1:39 for some perspective. I'm curious what you tell you kids regarding how to respond to bullying. I have a child in K and although he hasn't experienced this personally yet, or at least hasn't told me about it, I'm not sure what to tell him when it does come up. I'm thinking I need some middle point between stand up for yourself and get an adult to intervene? Does it just make the bullying worse if they run to the teacher after the first mean comment?

  119. My own experience, which ranged from a very poor inner city school (nothing like SFUSD which provides amazing resources, I mean way poorer in every sense) to wealthy private school to small town high school, was that the poorer working class kids--these included a white & latino & black mix--could be a little rougher in words and in type of play, but were also quicker to move on. There might a shove or two, or some words, but by the next recess you were friends again. There was kind of a rough acceptance of the idea that everyone had problems and also that everyone belonged.

    Whereas the emotional bullying I experienced at the wealthy private school--and to be fair, this was middle school--was unbelievable. There were full-blown exclusion campaigns, and we scholarship kids were a target. Everyone knew who we were because we took the public bus from our poorer neighborhoods as opposed to the wealthy neighborhood car pool, didn't have as many or as nice clothes, didn't belong to the country club. Really, I was told I was excluded because of the country club factor. These kids were very polite to the teachers, very well behaved, I'm sure were widely considered to be "nice" kids, and very, very mean behind the scenes. I left that school because of the bullying.

    Luckily I had a few amazing friends at that school who were willing to brave it with me; in fact, my best friend, who did belong to the country club and had all those same advantages, declined an invitation to a girls' slumber party to which every girl in the class was invited but me and one other girl, and she told the inviter that she wouldn't go without me. Now, that is the solidarity of true friendship. I remember all this so vividly and viscerally, ouch, isn't that amazing. She and I are still in touch today.

    I agree with some of the posters here that some of the worst exclusion I have seen at my kids' schools has been perpetrated by the more affluent kids. Not sure why that would be....that is, why the emotional power games? A few of the less affluent kids do act out and the teachers definitely work on that, though the vast majority of the poorer kids are to my eye really well behaved, and are in fact less likely to "question authority" or the stretch the rules like their middle class peers, and overall they do not seem to engage in the same level of extended emotional drama, at least among the girls. Not sure why that would be.

    This is all anecdote though, and certainly not a significant sample at that. I am wary of ascribing values in a mass way to public versus private school in terms of how they handle bullying (a term that covers a wide range of behaviors, and about which we probably don't all agree). Just from the anecdotes on this list, it is apparent that some privates may have a strong approach to bullying and others may not, or may even be incredibly exclusionary themselves in terms of accepting kids who are "different."

    Public school approaches may differ too, based on the principal and teacher leadership and also parents & community cultural norms at that school. Is the approach different in the more Asian schools on the west side than at Clarendon or Rooftop? I bet so. However, I think most SF schools are pretty well within basic American norms of response.

    Thanks, Caroline, for pointing out that these are not necessarily, for better or for worse, global norms! And it helps to remember that our schools encompass people from all over the world.

    At the end of the day, I think my kids have learned some significant social skills at their schools, both in the classroom and in the "deep end of the pool" that is the playground. Basic stuff that would be at any school like how to get along and also the whole big idea of diversity and how to deal with that--this is a clear advantage of public schools in terms of affording that opportunity.

  120. 1:49, an interesting resource is Peter Yarrow's (of Peter, Paul and Mary) song, "Don't Laugh at Me." There is a book that goes along with it, and also an anti-bullying program. Y'all can google it. I don't know much about the program, but when I played the CD of the song in the car one day, my kids got really quiet. The song might be a little hokey, but it definitely touched a nerve for them (3/5 grade).

    So, playing that CD was a conversation-starter. It led to a conversation about bullying that they are aware of, and beyond that more conversation about the various roles they have played, from being bullied to passive bystanding to sometimes (they have admitted) even participating in name-calling or playground exclusion. This last is hard because I am not sure which is worse, hearing that your kid is being teased or hearing that your kid is doing the teasing.

    We have also talked about "what is bullying" (there is a range of behaviors, obviously) and about what the school does about it, and about what the school can/can't do.

    I encourage my kids not to participate in bullying or exclusion or teasing of other kids. I encourage them to speak up and "interrupt" that behavior. We've talked about the specific kids who are being teased and how my kids might help. I know it is hard to do. Kids want to fit in and there are power games, just as there are for adults.

    As far as dealing with being bullied, I encourage them to deal with "one-off" incidents themselves, unless whatever it was was really serious, like physical violence or racial name-calling. They need to learn to handle themselves. But they also need support. It is a middle way, I guess. I guess I, and also my kids, just don't see being called a poopy head as rising to the level of bullying. Maybe other kids do though. There are different levels of sensitivity.

    I suppose I am hoping they will become resilient people who are confident in themselves and so can bruff a lot of stuff off as belonging to the other person. I even hope they might become compassionate people who "get" that other people might be having a difficult time--not to tolerate bad behavior towards themselves, but not to take it personally, and to respond compassionately. Ultimately these are all kids and while consequences for bad behavior are often appropriate (missing recess, whatever), don't we want all the kids to grow up whole? That is where the school referrals and parent meetings come in, but anyway I try to teach (and model, though big disclosure :-) I am FAR from perfect at this) compassion at the individual level. I tell them that even small gestures can make a big difference.

    Who knows, maybe this is all going in one ear and right out the other. Doing my best. I was bullied as a kid so it matters to me (a clear example of the character-building benefits of bad experiences, I guess, sigh).

  121. Thanks! They sound like good strategies.

  122. Just food for thought...

    There was a girl in my daughter's 3rd grade who could be a classic mean girl, though she did have a nice side. (She was in my daughter's K-3 grades, that is, but turned mean on schedule in grade 3).

    I actually witnessed her once when her friends deigned to include my daughter in a game, asking: "Who said YOU could play?" -- a truly deadly weapon in the mean-girl arsenal.

    Kids started avoiding her, understandably. Her parents believed she was being treated cruelly, so they moved her to a private school (one of the ones on the radar of every parent here who has looked at private). I know from other friends at that school -- the network of parents with kids in the same grade -- that she continued to be a mean girl there too, even post-3rd grade.

  123. I think we "older" parents have all seen similar situations, Caroline. My point would be that this girl is meanie out of her own pain or difficulty (not to say it the kids should tolerate it) and that she needs help and support not to do this. This kind of stuff is often quite complex. I say that as one who has a somewhat prickly, not easygoing, child.

  124. I can't speak for FAIS, but parents are definitely expected to volunteer at Lycee, and we parents complete a form that indicates just how we'll volunteer. We also have two room parents for each class and parents who participate in the Conseil de Classe and the Board of Directors.

    There is no corporal punishment at the school, and we've found the maternelle (pre-school) to be a very loving environment full of field trips, activities, music, and correspondence with peers in France.

    Although the school follows the French national curriculum, it also does much to appease (or at least not culturally shock) the American families.

  125. Jeez, all this talk about how horrible 3rd grade girls are and all the bullying that goes on makes me seriously consider homeschooling.

  126. I recently observed ugly girl meanness at a local playground. My two year old approached two other girls (about 5 and 4) who were playing on a small structure. The older girl (only about 5 remember) called her some mean name and told her to go away. Then the older one whispered to the younger one to repeat the mean name (I can't remember what it was exactly, some type of five year old gibberish). The younger one complied. I told the girls they weren't being very nice and the older one said she didn't want to be nice. She wanted to be mean. We moved on, but it definitely made me worried about mean girls in my daughter's future.

  127. FAIS parent above -

    do many non-french nationals receive financial aid at FAIS from what you know?

  128. For some interesting, funny, well-written reflections on the huge cultural differences in parenting between France and the United States, I recommend Adam Gopnik's book, Paris to the Moon. We Americans come across as total ninnies and they seem to my American eyes a bit negectful. Not sure where the truth lies, but it is funny reading.

  129. Not a FAIS parent, but know several families receiving aid there who are NOT French nationals. French nationals get aid from the French gov't. At the Lycee there is less financial aid for those not eligible for French gov't money.

  130. 4:11 wrote: "....but it definitely made me worried about mean girls in my daughter's future."

    I know that mama bear feeling when your small kid gets picked on. The worst part is, it could actually be your child who goes through a mean girl phase somewhere in 3rd-8th grade, and think how mortifying that would be. I have seen kids from the nicest families deal with their social insecurities this way, and their parents work really hard to help them learn to interact not so meanly (read: so defensively), but it's not always so easy in the turbulent years.

    Anyway, since your child is so young now, just enjoy this phase. These other challenges will arrive soon enough. And I actually like my pre-teen daughter (um, most of the time)....I'm loving the ability to have real conversations, and I'm loving her tentative steps into independence.

  131. Also, the French schools welcome parental involvement, but not volunteering in the classroom itself. There are lots of roles parents play in the school, from chaperoning trips, to fundraising.

  132. Also, the French schools welcome parental involvement, but not volunteering in the classroom itself. There are lots of roles parents play in the school, from chaperoning trips, to fundraising.

  133. Lycee is also around 14K a year as opposed to 20K.

  134. Since I have a third-grade boy, not girl, I think the relevant bullying is different. Nonetheless, it seems clear to me that some kids are particularly singled out for bullying, and I trained my son from the time of preschool not to be one of those kids. (i.e. don't let a bully know he has upset you, as that gives him a sense of power.) There was a recent article on how when another child tells a bully that his treatment of a third child is not ok, the bully is less likely to continue his behavior. Accordingly, I've suggested to my son to speak up when he sees other kids being treated unfairly.

  135. good point and good suggestions, 6:49.

  136. In response to comments about the French schools here in SF, I wrote a long post about what Lycee Francais La Perouse is really like (mostly good), but mistakenly posted it in the "Kate's absence" thread instead of here. Anyone who's interested can take a look (it's dated April 3, 2008 11:32 PM). And no, we've never heard of corporal punishment at La Perouse.

  137. The Lycee is very close to a typical French public school. There is no corporal punishment (it is prohibited in French public schools). However, yelling and humiliating kids in classrooms is still common is French schools. In my opinion, verbal/emotional punishment can still be as hurtful as the physical kind.

    C'est le systeme francais!

  138. "...yelling and humiliating kids in classrooms is still common is French schools..."

    No, it absolutely is not. What is your evidence for this rather hurtful assertion? Do you have any first-hand experience in the matter? If so, please share it. I lived in France for years, and have had kids in the French schools here. Teachers may occasionally yell at students who are acting out (like in any school - French teachers are human too), but the vast majority treat the kids with respect.

    The real problems in French schools are strikingly similar to those in American schools, namely the schools by themselves can't cope with the evils of society in general and the harm inflicted on kids outside of school.

  139. Anon April 4, 2008 7:02 PM wrote:

    "No, it absolutely is not. What is your evidence for this rather hurtful assertion? Do you have any first-hand experience in the matter? If so, please share it."

    Perhaps the system has evolved since my 19 years of French schooling. Or perhaps the French schools in the US are different.
    Yes I do have first-hand experience and I am sorry you feel hurt by my opinion.

  140. Does anyone have experience with FAIS as opposed to Lycee? We have been accepted there, but I would not feel comfortable sending my child to a school where children are routinely humiliated. When I visited I got very different feelings from both schools, and I was not comfortable sending my child to the Lycee, but thought FAIS was OK. Anyone have first hand knowledge?

  141. We toured both Lycée and FAIS and liked both. They are however different in many ways. The Lycée seemed more tied to the French government. The FAIS community seemed more affluent and multi-national. The morning drop-off situation at FAIS looked stressful for driving parents, since there was no kindergarten valet drop-off and parking was very difficult. In terms of academics, both schools have great reputations.

  142. Yeah, FAIS is more international and much more socio-economically and racially diverse than the Lycee. But because there are more native speakers of French at the Lycee, the children's French tends to be better.

    Both are described as rigorous by fans and rigid by detractors.