Friday, November 20, 2009

Hot topic: If I knew then what I know now...

This from an SF K Files reader:

I just had the most random thought. it might be good to start a thread on your sfkfiles blog under the rubric of "if i knew then what i know now" -- messages directly from parents who went through the school enrollment process fairly recently -- say, the last couple years -- to the parents touring and applying for kinder now. it would be a great chance to share wisdom, offer comfort, debunk some of the myths, get parents more focused on the fact that there is life after kinder, how much kids change after they start K, challenging all your tightly held precepts about what your kid can and can't handle, etc. (starting to think school search is like birth -- the first time you focus so hard on this one event, you forget you have to raise the dang kid afterward.)


  1. I wouldn't look for a popular school; I would look for a small school.

  2. I would have done immersion...

  3. I would only have listed schools with start times later than 8am.

  4. This doesn't come out of regret but confirmation:
    - Choose a school where you think you'll find like-minded parents. This really matters. If you don't feel comfortable, you won't be involved; if you're building warm, trusting, laughter-filled friendships at your child's school, your child will find it that much easier to do that, too.
    - Location matters. A lot. This is a trip you'll be taking ten times per week for six years. Make sure the school is close by.
    - Test scores are much less important than the Similar Schools Rank. Check it out.
    - Get over the 'rock star school' BS, and quick. It's mythology. Think for yourself, trust your gut.

    Good luck everyone!

  5. Don't be such a control freak, and don't take anything personally. (I'm talking to the person I was two years ago.) So you went 0/7 in Round 1? IT'S MARCH!! School doesn't start for MONTHS!! We went 0/7 but got our wait pool school in Round 2. The labor/birth/actually-raising-a-child analogy is really spot on. I vaguely remember that my head was ready to explode when we got our 0/7 letter, but really...the memories fade after it all works out.

    OH! And if you're touring schools and nothing seems quite right, it might be because your child isn't ready for K. Our child's preschool teachers were really encouraging us to hold him back, but my husband and I were determined to send him as soon as he was eligible. Yet I couldn't picture him in ANY school (public or private) that I toured. We finally made the decision to hold him back based on his teachers' recommendation, and voila -- during tours the next year, I suddenly could picture our child at just about any school I toured. In retrospect, it really had more to do with where he was developmentally, as opposed to the schools I was touring.

  6. Wish I had known this (from BoE member Rachel Norton's blog, posted 10/17/09):

    Of the 947 families who did not receive any of their Round I choices last year, almost 800 listed one of these high demand schools as their first or second choice:

    * Alamo
    * Alice Fong Yu
    * Alvarado
    * Clarendon
    * Grattan
    * Lawton
    * Lilienthal
    * Miraloma
    * Rooftop
    * Sherman
    * West Portal

    Wish I had not been scared of putting other schools on my list. There really are some gems beyond this list (really). Check out Marcia and June's posts about some of them. But I didn't find that out until after a stressful process of 0/7.

  7. I would have started touring schools a year earlier. I got sooo stressed and tired out, not to mention confused with all the school tours...

  8. Wish I had spent less time looking at the facilities and more time looking at the teachers and the children: are they engaged, happy, working together well, or distant, detached, bored, and acting out?

  9. I would have not lost hope simply because the odds seem long in getting into some privates. Turns out despite what seemed like long odds we had plenty of choice.

  10. Any private school parents wish that I had gone public or was your choice confirmed?

    Any public school parents wish that they had gone private or was your choice confirmed?

    Struggling with the choice

  11. I wouldn't have made choices solely on what I read here on the SFKfiles. I would have gotten out and seen more schools in person!

    a) I put a school on my R2 list that was well-regarded here (without touring it), were assigned there, and when we actually got there weren't satisfied.
    b) I left a nearby school OFF of my R2 list (again based on "reputation" here), without seeing it in person. After R2 I went on a tour and liked it much better than my R2 assignment, and probably would have gotten it if I had put it on my R2 list if I had taken the time to tour it before dismissing it.

  12. I would not have put Alvarado SI #1 on my list (or at all) since we're not in the attendance area. That bumped all of our other choices down a notch and probably killed our chances of getting placed. I.e. schools we might have gotten had we listed them #2 or 3 were instead #4 or 5 and we didn't get anything.

    Some folks say that after it all works out you get over it but going 0/7 was pretty hard emotionally, I guess we were not prepared. Some folks are more realistic and take it in stride.

    And, we had some serious disagreements in priority between me and DH which was part of why we put Alvarado SI #1 even though we both knew we wouldn't get it. It was more of a symbolic choice that we were on the same page i.e. excellence and language, because we didn't see eye to eye.

    And for immersion, see my post on the Immersion Hot Topic thread but definitely recommend anyone going for immersion to have a long conversation with someone whose kids are in at least 2nd grade or higher (in an immersion program) about the learning arc over the next 6 years. Really understanding what to expect with delays in reading and ELA at grade level compared to their peers.

  13. "Any private school parents wish that I had gone public or was your choice confirmed?"

    I won't even mention what private school we selected. I'm not going gush like Hamlin mom.

    We are very happy with the school. It is nice to be in a pack of like-minded, professionally focused parents. We're not worrying about school funding issues.

    I enjoy the parent talk at the school about science curriculum, the passage of the health care bill, the state of the california economy, etc.

    Had we found our way to Clarendon, Alvarado, West Portal or Miraloma, or another public school in that league, we might have found a similar experience for our child and selves. Don't know since we couldn't do that.

    The total cost of paying for private is a concern and we do think about moving out of the city to get for free what we have to pay upwards of $20,000 a year for here.

    What would I have done differently? Put Miraloma after Clarendon on our list and taken West Portal and Alvarado off the list (too hard to get into and preemptive of other, more likely, choices.)

    I would have waitlisted Clarendon instead of Sunset. (More movement in the waitlist.)

    Everything else the same. Odds are we still would have ended up where we are now.

  14. 9;27, you can still move into an SFUSD school rather than moving out of the city -- it would require some effort and coping with the bureaucracy, but less hassle than moving!

  15. "Any private school parents wish that I had gone public or was your choice confirmed?"

    Not at all (and I'm a public school kid). If you can afford private and you can get into one of the best then there is no comparison. Top flight private is the best.

  16. Most families are happy with their choices or situations, or they'd presumably be moving to change things.

    Private school parents who are not in top income brackets might have some pangs once they have to look at paying for college, not to mention retirement, though.

  17. "Top-flight private is the best"

    Depends what you are talking about. Lincoln High's high-level science program is the best, yes, better than all the privates combined. SOTA arts program is the best. If you want to surround your child with top students, Lowell is a powerhouse--there are no "legacy" students there. Public SIs have the best Spanish elementary programs. No privates in SF to my knowledge offer Korean immersion as at Lilienthal, or even the actually very good level of Japanese that is available at Rosa Parks.

    And as for social education--there are pros and cons with any approach, no doubt, and each kid is different, but my kid is happy in the diverse and broad social scene at her middle school, whereas I have a friend whose daughter suffered greatly last year at a well-regarded private middle school, because of cliques (and with a small class size, no where to look elsewhere for friendship and support). She is strongly considering public high school after this experience, for that reason.

    That is NOT to say that there are not better programs in some areas in the private schools, or that all private schools are cliquish nightmares for middle school girls. I'm not saying that. Rather, that such blanket statements are not useful! You have to know your own values and priorities, and know your kids' needs, and look for yourself. There are many fine educational offerings in this town in all categories, including public. It does help to do some research--to know that Sunnyside as well as Grattan and Alvarado have strong science programs, for example. But the support is out there to figure it out.

    That is why asking broad questions like "do you regret going public" or "do you regret going private" probably won't help you. You need to know the specifics of any story and draw inferences from there. Which public? Which private? What happened? Etc. Too much is made of these categories "public" vs. "private" vs. "parochial"-- other than the financial affordability component, which is real for most families. We have friends in all these categories, and our daughters seem very much all in the same ballpark in terms of interests, skills, academic success, focus, drive, etc. If I put them in a room you would not be able to tell the difference, seriously.

  18. "Private school parents who are not in top income brackets might have some pangs once they have to look at paying for college, not to mention retirement, though."

    San Francisco is not the only cosmopolitan city in North America. The city does not have a particularly good business climate. It suffers from corruption and poor governance. In terms of livability, San Francisco falls behind cities such as Boston and Vancouver. These cities also have much better public schools.

    We do look at our friends in Saratoga and Palo Alto who send their kids to public schools that surpass almost all private and public schools in the San Francisco in math and science.

    So no, I would not say that being in a top income bracket would necessarily stop me from considering another city with better and more affordable schools.

  19. I wonder if there is a difference with parents of boys and girls or even a difference with single-sex/co-ed schools. I have read that private K-8 for boys can give them the self-confidence and social skills that they might not otherwise get in large public class-rooms (as well as built in time for wiggle room which deters behavior problems) but that private schools for high school are better for girls because they tend to get distracted and lose self-esteem in high school.

  20. Everyone loses self esteem at some point in middle and high school.

  21. i would have been less obsessed with proximity and dug up the school bus routes to more distant schools i liked. good stops near your house can bring a school closer. (i say this, admittedly, after transferring for first to our neighborhood school. though we did this for other reasons, too.) and i would have understood that our kid would not always have been four years old and would have learned independence from taking that bus (she did!).

    as an immersion proponent, i would have not pursued an 0-7/waitpool top cohort strategy and instead put immersion schools i liked less on my round I list and made the best of our round I assignment, instead of saving them for round II. (in my defense, as 08 applicants, 3 of the schools on our round I list were considered good shots for round I the previous year, but were no longer so. we just didn't know, since there were 300+ more applicants in the system.) still, there is really something to be said for getting an assignment of your choice in round I and putting your heart behind a school early - getting involved and preparing your child. it's much more fun.

    have to second what another poster said about the importance of liking the community. fairmount families are going on their annual memorial day camping trip next spring and i'm already looking forward to it! i love this school. consequently, i am there all the time and my career is in a shambles, but there you go.

  22. As a parent of a kindergartner in a trophy school, I probably shouldn't have much to complain about but my child is having difficulty with the transition to kindergarten and I'm having trouble with the teacher. I'd say focus on the classroom environment and the teaching. It seems like the public schools have very structured kinder environments which works for some kids and is more difficult for others. Really take a good look at the way the teachers interact with the students, see if they use positive rewards, what they do with kids that act out and how they help kids who have issues or differences work through them. The kids can't do it on their own and just because a school is a trophy school doesn't mean the teachers are the right fit for for your child or your family.

  23. "Wish I had spent less time looking at the facilities and more time looking at the teachers and the children: are they engaged, happy, working together well, or distant, detached, bored, and acting out?"

    Spot on~

  24. 7:28 Our choice was confirmed. The blossoming of our child is the highlight of my year. I would never switch to public at this point. I also wouldn't switch to quite a few privates though. This school just fit our family incredibly well.

  25. 10:45:
    That's so great to hear! What school is your child at, if you don't mind sharing?

  26. What I thought then: My child is so precious that I have to find the most precious environment I can for him
    What I know now: ALL children are precious!!

  27. Most of the hundreds of folks who make a school "hot" do not really know a thing at all about that school. It's all urban legend. The fact that one school gets 1293 applicants, and another gets 150 doesn't matter at all.

    You have to check out the school and talk to the parents. We parents will be very honest, and frankly, most parents rave about their schools. So so many good public schools in SF, I was shocked.

    Unlike some on this list, I do think scores should count for a lot--anything below 840 or thereabouts was off my list, and that left a long loooooong list.

    Finally, be willing to wait until October if need be, because you will get a slot in a school you want. I realize this is easier said than done, but it does work 90% of the time.

  28. Oh, and as much as I didn't want to believe this, I think you should just FORGET about naming any of the schools that get over 500 applicants, because it is 95% futile. A total waste.

  29. To November 21, 738 am, I went private, then got lucky and snagged a public spot. Best thing I ever did. I am all for reconsidering when my kids get in middle school or high school, but friends, it's $240,000 to get a kid through 5th grade in this town, or it's free plus tons of donations and time in the public schools.

    The decision isn't even close.

    I've said it a thousand times, I'm sure the teachers in top privates are perfectly great and all, but what kind of professional choses to work for LESS money, NO job security, NO union protections, and LESS benefits? That person is a private school teacher.

    The real pros, and the real tops in their fields are in the public schools, with good salaries, union protection, great benefits, and often higher salaries. Not to mention a true diverse population of kids, where they can really make a difference.

    This information came from friends who are career elementary teachers, and as a mom, I've found it to be true. The teachers in SF public schools are generally better qualified than private school teachers.

    This is the one thing that makes a kids education, not all those white kids with nice cars, not all those killer facilities, not all that bling.

  30. You won't need to reconsider when your kids get to middle or high school, Laurel! You may decide to for one reason or another, but not because they can't get an excellent education in SFUSD middle or high schools.

  31. I wish I'd known about the wonder of field trips. My kid is at a three Rs school, but that hardly means limited enrichment. His class is doing 11 field trips this year alone -- going to all sorts of museums, the symphony, the botanic gardens and more. The docents on these trips are generally terrific.

  32. "To November 21, 738 am, I went private, then..."

    Sorry, but your entire story rings false from that point on. For starters, everyone who applies to public school "snags a spot." Armed with all the facts and opinions you have, I fail to see how you ever would have chosen private school.

  33. Kim - I hear you about the busses but with the assignment redesign, we fear that the district will reduce, change or cancel the bussing within a couple of years.

  34. Having a school within walking distance of your house is priceless (er, except that we chose a walking-distance private school). You won't realize this until you start commuting to kindergarten, or stop commuting to preschool!

  35. Regarding the comment about the salary of teachers at public versus privates....

    There are many private schools in SF that pay as well as or better than the public schools. However, I agree with you that the parochial privates tend to pay less than publics.

    The working conditions in the private non-parochials is IMHO much better, particulalrly after k-3. In privates, the class size stays small at all grade levels, at 20 or 22, there are aides, the number of student daily contacts for middle and High school is much, much lower, professional development is well-funded, etc...

    It is true though that publics have union protection. However, speaking as a teacher and parent in both public and private, I have to say I've never seen a veteran teacher at a private with any fear of losing their job.

  36. The private school teachers tend to have it easier because the students are hand-selected and of course can be (and are) kicked out if they cause a problem. And in most private schools there are generally no children with any disabilities except the most mild; none that pose a challenge.

  37. The amount of totally unwarranted public school cheerleading on this blog is amazing. People should go elsewhere to find out unbiased information.

  38. I wouldn't have let fear get as involved in the process. It does work out for most people--if not immediately, quite soon afterward. The sniping comes from that sense of powerlessness--that you won't get what you want because the system is so terribly flawed or even that you won't get what you want because, really, who can predict what a school is really like from a 2-hour tour and so how do you really identify what will work for your 4-yr-old over the next 6 to 9 years?
    From the other side--it works out. If I could, I'd reach out and give a virtual hug to all parents reading this and struggling through this miserable process. Try not to let fear and frustration color your experience with all the schools. It will work out. And kindergarten is an incredible experience--really amazing to see your kid grow and learn so quickly.

  39. 12:25, it's not a waste. Our school had over 500 applications and we got in which we never would have done if we lost hope. Very happy at our school.

  40. I'd roll my eyes less at the open houses. Turns out the multitude of folks that dress to the nines and drop names all over the place? They don't get in and aren't at the school. Families are actually quite humble and the parking lot is a fleet of Prius's and minivans regardless of how many millions they have.

  41. Well, 3:34, the "cheerleading" is from public school parents who are happy with their schools, so would you discount that? And how disrespectful can you be, calling it "unwarranted" -- who are you to discount their opinions? Most people view personal experience and word of mouth as valuable information. And what IS "unbiased" information?

  42. @3:34 - People will say or do anything to justify their lack of better options, especially when it comes to their children.

  43. That's a dismissive, nasty, cynical and contemptuous view of parents who have made other life choices than yours, 5:48.

  44. I'd focus less on the cute kindergarten classrooms and really look at the other grades - I'd think more about what it means to have the class size increase in 4th grade.

  45. The cheerleading from public school families comes because we need you. The public schools will continue to improve if committed families continue to throw their energy and hope and ambition into the ring. Those can afford to go to private often do, and that is fine, as there are wonderful private schools in SF. But those that commit to the public schools help the rest of us, and our kids. When people with time, and good ideas, and willingness to get pull up their sleeves, and yes, open their pocket books join the public school world, the schools benefit (just as they do in the private sector.) You should feel wanted in the public schools. We know what you're capable of!

  46. Wow, 9:09, I loved your comment! Very well said, and I couldn't agree more.

  47. This is a strange blog. On the one hand, so many seem to hate the private school families and attack them for their choice. On the other hand, they admit that they want them in their schools because they are more apt to volunteer and assist the public schools.

  48. 9:57 - that makes no sense.

  49. No one (at least no one who's not a wack job) hates the private school families. Some find the disparagement of public education, by one or more of them, objectionable.

  50. "The amount of totally unwarranted public school cheerleading on this blog is amazing. People should go elsewhere to find out unbiased information."

    I agree about the public school bias. Where should people go to find less bias, though?

  51. Focus your attention on the engagement of the children in class, not the facilities. Most kids are just as happy playing with the box as the fancy toy inside.

    Look at the 5th or 8th graders, not just the little ones, who look happy and engaged even at a rock-bottom school like John Muir. If a school does not proudly show off their upper grades, take that as a red flag.

    If your child is not the type to sit at a desk, watch for classroom flexibility. One of things I have always loved about our (private) school is their tolerance for our little boy's need to move, as long as he's not disruptive. When he gets called to the board, you can see he's been absorbing the information.

    Don't be put off by a low overall API. Dig deeper into the SARCs for your socioeconomic group.

    Don't discount the importance of geography and start time.

    Think about how much parent involvement is welcome and required. Can you do what you think will be necessary to support your child(ren) and school community without feeling burned out or resentful? Do you feel you will not have as much opportunity to be involved as you would like? Don't assume all privates are one way and all publics or another.

    Don't succumb to peer pressure:
    1. The fact that a school has a lot of competition for seats just means that it's popular, not that it's "best." Many families are very satisfied with low-demand publics and open-enrollment privates.
    2. Immersion is the latest middle class thing, and I'm all for it, but it's not for every child or every family.
    3. Some people are public zealots. Some people are private zealots. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. No school or system is perfect, so take it with a grain of salt.

  52. November 23, 2009 9:00 AM

    Where should we go to get a more objective view of SF and California schools?

    Recently, I've found the sfgate comment threads to be illuminating.

    Just this morning in the Chronicle, there is an article about Indian immigrants to the Bay Area:

    Buried in the text:

    California urgently needs to focus on the quality of math and science education in its public schools to ensure that Americans are prepared to cooperate and compete with their Chinese and Indian counterparts.


  53. "One of things I have always loved about our (private) school is their tolerance for our little boy's need to move, as long as he's not disruptive."

    Would you mind sharing the name of the school?

  54. "9;27, you can still move into an SFUSD school rather than moving out of the city -- it would require some effort and coping with the bureaucracy, but less hassle than moving!"

    Talked with a mom who kept her kid out of kindergarten, in preschool until January, until the EPC finally found her a place in Dianne Feinstein (after she went 0/15 and no joy on the waitlist). Persistence can yield dividends.

  55. 10:01- I really like your pearls of wisdom, especially about not succumbing to peer pressure. It's so easy for people to be swayed by the opinions of the crowd on the playground, etc. Always trust your gut. Only YOU know what will work for your child and your family.

  56. 10:07 I'd like to agree and disagree. I strongly agree that math and science (especially in CA) need a lot more emphasis and rigor. I think that requires more emphasis on math/science credentials and less on teaching credentials when staffing middle and upper grades. It would be nice to see more of our brightest and best headed for medicine and science instead of dreaming about becoming a hedge fund manager.

    Years of working in Silicon Valley has left me not exactly awake at night worrying about my job going overseas. I'd take a handful of smart US educated engineers over a building full in India or China any day. There's a lot of education there but the culture and perhaps the educational process don't seem to encourage initiative or pushing for the right solution. There's a lot of hierachy and appearance of working to please the boss and not a lot of cutting to the chase and producing good results. The accountants that run our companies salivate over cheap overseas labor that looks great on paper but I've seen failed outsourcing over and over again with the contract spaghetti code finally dumped in frustration and re-written by locals. So we are doing something right here, just not enough of it.

  57. For incoming parents:

    You will get a kindergarten your child will love. Just don't fix on The One School. There are over 150 schools in the city, and more than one of those will be a great fit for your kid.

    With choice comes uncertainty. The district can't offer choice *and* guaranteed placement in the neighbourhood school. So celebrate that you have an element of choice, particularly those parents in the SE of the city.

    On things I'd change:

    I'd have toured fewer schools, although I was actually enjoying the experience.

    I'd have toured fewer trophy publics, in favor of focusing on schools closer to home. Logistics matters, people, and is more important than minor difference in test scores.

    I'd have focused more on the upper grades during tours.

    I'd have checked out bus routes more. As it is, we got a trophy public over on the other side of town, but thankfully there's a bus stop nearby. But that was dumb luck, not planning.

    I'd have toured fewer parochials, just because as there's not as much competition for their spots as for the independent privates, you only need to apply to 1 or 2 to get a Plan B slot.

    I'd have toured 1 more independent privates: I only toured one, so don't really have an idea what that sector offers versus the publics.

  58. 10:10: Adda Clevenger, which is an academic and theater school. This has been a terrific school for us but it's not for everyone. For us the advantages are:
    1. Lots of physical activity. PE/gymnastics 45 minutes a day 5 days a week. Dance 45 minutes a day at least 3 days a week. Daily lunch and snack periods with recess.
    2. Lots of creative opportunities. Studio art at least 3 days a week 45 minutes a day. Choral music 5 days a week for 45 minutes a day. "Creative expression" at least 3 days a week for 45 minutes a day.
    3. Academics seem solid. Kids do well on their SSATs and high school admissions. We have been delighted with the teachers and our son adores them.
    4. No more than 20 kids in a class, and a teacher and assistant in each class Grades K-4.
    5. Warm, unpretentious parent community.
    Things to be aware of:
    1. Girls outnumber boys about 3:1.
    2. The school day is 8:30 to 4:30, great for high-energy kids, but the long day is hard for some kids and prevents participation in after-school activities that may be available to kids with earlier dismissal times.
    3. Longer school year means more vacation days than other schools. The PE teacher generally offers a camp for school holidays, but the off-cycle school holidays can throw off family schedules.
    4. At this time there are no opportunities for the children to study a foreign language or work with computers during the school day. Parents have organized a very popular fee-based Spanish class this year that takes place on school premises but after school hours and not part of the official curriculum.
    5. Parent volunteer opportunities are limited.
    6. No field trips for K-4. Older kids go on a concert tour to Europe or the east coast and see a lot of theater. Last year they did bring some cool stuff for the little kids--a NASA astronaut and a "Bubble Man" science show, but the school expects parents to do things like Academy of Sciences and the zoo on their own time.
    7. No standardized testing until the SSATs.
    8. The school is not independently accredited.
    9. Not all teachers have credentials.
    10. You will hear a lot of public school bashing from some of the teachers and administrators that's based on out-of-date perceptions about public school quality.
    11. The school is for-profit. No financial aid or sibling discounts.
    Recent developments:
    1. The school has expanded its physical space and will be adding a preschool program next year. They also now have a proper, non-parking-lot playground for the full school day, though still no play structure.
    2. The reins have been handed over to the son of the politically controversial founding headmistress. He is a professional school administrator. Parent communication has improved noticeably.

  59. November 23, 2009 11:37 AM

    Hey, "Years of working in Silicon Valley has left me not exactly awake at night worrying about my job going overseas." I couldn't agree with you more about how terrific US trained engineers are.
    In spite of all the setbacks of the last ten years and the lack of investment in fundamental research, it is still pretty terrific to be a Silicon Valley engineer.

    I don't want to derail this thread!

    I just wish more kids in the California K-12 system were making it to the UCs and other good science/engineering/medicine schools and opportunities.

    Don't miss the events at the Exploratorium this month and next(40th Anniversary Celebration.) There was a great interview about Frank Oppenheimer, founder of the Exploratorium, on NPR last week:


    Back to "If I knew then . . ."

  60. In today's news:

    "Obama said Monday that the U.S. needs to restore the nation's leadership in educating children in math and science to meet future challenges, and he announced a new Educate to Innovate Campaign."

  61. 12:11, this is 10:10. Thanks so much for all the info on Adda C. It's been on my radar but haven't toured yet.

  62. Also, as a note to incoming parents:

    1. Weight the experiences of parents with older kids stronger than those of parents with just a kindergartener. From my own experience as a kinder parent, kinder parents are still coming up the learning curve with a school, and are probably still in the infatuation stage. Further, your child changes *a lot* in the first 1-2 months of kinder, and it's easy to that growth down to the magical powers of the school, versus it being the growth you'd see in any kindergarten class.

    2. Know your own prejudices and what those are blinding you to. Talking with friend who've went on the same tours can help with this. Physical state of the plant, ethnic background of the kids, can cause subconcious reactions pro/con a school that are unrelated to the school quality.

    3. Weigh direct experiences stronger than fourth-hand anecdotes. There was a ruckus last year with Flynn, with one parent pulling their third-grader out and into Alvarado. However, said parent kept their younger child in Flynn, as she still believed in the school. Details on anecdotes about "I heard XYZ about school ABC..." are important, and get lost in the chain of transmission.

  63. Thanks for passing along Obama's comment on the Educate to Innovate Campaign.

    Very inspiring!

  64. Our friends' kids attended Adda Clevenger. They weren't concerned about the lack of accreditation, though that might bother some people.

    But the lack of standardized testing meant that they had NO idea where their kids were in relation to their peers in other schools, public school standards, etc., until the older took a practice SSAT in 7th grade. At that point, Adda C.'s former headmistress told them (required them) to have the girl repeat a grade. (Adda C.'s concept of "grades" as we know them -- meaning grades as in 1st, 2nd etc., not A, B etc. -- is fuzzy anyway.)

    Our friends acquiesced, and the girl repeated 7th and completed 8th grade there. But they pulled their younger kid out and sent him to SFUSD middle school.

  65. 2:19 again, about Adda C. I forgot to mention that the aforementioned girl's practice SSAT was dismayingly lower than the parents had expected.

  66. 1:50 - you have your information wrong. We know that family and the younger child was left at Flynn due to no spaces being available in that child's grade at Alvarado. The child is on the waitlist there.

    I would echo what someone said, talk to the parents in the upper grades as that is where it falls apart most often in elemntary schools. There were serious issues at Flynn in the upper grades last year.

  67. I wouldn't have worried so much.

    I would have trusted my and my husband's parenting abilities and our skills in instilling our children with a strong sense of the values and joy of learning for its own sake.

  68. Hi SF Parents,

    I used to live in SF, went to UC Berkeley (before I became a parent). Now I live in LA and have a blog on this exact topic...lots of pertinent information to this topic and all your reader comments. I i also wrote a book on the subject of applying to private elementary schools in LA. The process was very stressful for my family-and my daughter was accepted at all 3 schools. The blog and book are intended for any parent who is planning to go through the private elementary school admission process. SFK Files is a great blog! Christina

  69. Thanks to all for the comments on watching how a school handles the increased class size in grade four and five.

    That was a big one for us, having heard from other parents with older kids.

    You've mentioned Flynn as having trouble in the upper grades. Buena Vista has also had some trouble as kids enter the upper grades.

    Good advice to try to find out how kids fare in grade four and five.

  70. A point about Flynn and the upper grades is that the characteristics of the class are probably pretty different. Flynn has only become popular recently enough that the upper grades are, by definition, filled with kids who were assigned by default.

    I know a family with a 4th-grader there who were horrified when they got that assignment, and then decided (after being thwarted in the wait-list process) to give it a try, and liked it. But that demonstrates that the year today's 4th-graders were being assigned, Flynn was still not a highly thought-of school. Once it becomes a high-demand school, the characteristics of the students tend to change.

  71. 6:42 - as a parent at Flynn I don't know who you know in 4th grade, but I can assure you that the students did not change over the years except for the pioneering 5th grade class that was the first immersion class at the school. You are making some thinly veiled, not so nice, and quite frankly incorrect comments about students at this school and should check your assumptions based on your friend's initial reaction.

  72. 6:42 - another thing, the problem wasn't with students, but the teaching staff which has changed.

  73. It's 6:42 here, and I have heard this same kind of comment about other schools as they became more popular with middle-class families, who tend to bring with them fewer challenges to a school than disadvantaged students from impoverished backgrounds. It used to be said about Miraloma and Grattan too, for example -- "the upper grades have more problems." Then the upper grades, which were made up of much higher percentages of disadvantaged and challenged students, aged out.

    I'm not saying white students are "better" at all. But in SFUSD, a higher white percentage is a signifier of more middle-class students in the class. As of last year, Flynn's 5th grade was 0% white and its K was 28% white. Clearly the school is changing grade by grade. My comments aren't thinly veiled; they are correct; and they simply reflect reality.

  74. If I knew then what I know now...I would have stopped reading this blog. Thank god I bucked the advice I found here and listed my dream school because I would have cheated my son out of a wonderful future. If it's your favorite school, put it #1 on your list, period. You owe it to your child to at least try.

  75. sorry I'm not a current kinder parent but just wanted to add something to the Flynn comments. I toured Flynn recently got a bad sense of the upper grades. First, a fourth or fifth grader walking unaccompanied down the hall yelling "bitch! bitch! bitch!" Then, a fifth grade class with a couple students disrespecting the teacher openly. I really wanted to like this school (it's our local school) but these things definitely give me pause.

  76. "1:50 - you have your information wrong. We know that family and the younger child was left at Flynn due to no spaces being available in that child's grade at Alvarado."

    Thanks for the correction. The version I gave was as I heard it from a Flynn parent.

  77. Another thing: I'd have used parent contacts, such as PPSSF's parent ambassadors or more to screen schools before touring.

    I think you get more of an honest picture from a school than on a tour from a one-on-one conversation than on a tour.

  78. Great article in the Chronicle this morning:

  79. "Great article in the Chronicle this morning"

    Yes, but some of the sanctions that the author of the article proposes are facilitated by the SFUSD lottery. A school that can't get enough applications to fill its slots is going to have to either close or reform to get lottery applications.

  80. Just a nomenclature note: This isn't an article, it's an op-ed piece.

  81. Thank you Beth.

    We can read too.

    It does say "Open Forum" in the header of the article. definition of the word "article" used in this context:

    "Piece of nonfictional writing on a specific topic, identified by its title and often by its author(s), and published with other such literary works."

    An op ed piece falls under the general category of newspaper article.

  82. No one said they would have or would not have applied for financial aid. I know some people who think that makes a difference in independent school admissions. Any regrets?

    On financial aid application, what is considered in ability to pay? Just income or also stock, retirement, house value? We don't make much but have saved a lot (relative to our income.)

  83. There are consultants who specialize in advising families on qualifying for financial aid. Your CPA should be able to recommend one. A reputable one should be able to do a free or minimal cost intake interview to get a general picture of your financial situation and advise you whether your situation warrants using their services further. I believe non-retirement savings are considered in your ability to pay, and some but not all of the equity in your home.

  84. The Chronicle op-ed in question is by Lance Izumi of the far-right free-market Pacific Research Institute "think tank" (really advocacy organization), a longtime opponent of public education. PRI favors a fully privatized school system. Bashing public education is their stock in trade and they just make s*** up as they feel like it. (The Chronicle doesn't care.)

  85. ... as you can see from Izumi's attacks on challenged public schools and his support for private-school vouchers.

    "The act's other major flaw is that it has failed to impose tough consequences on underperforming schools. The law contained a host of potential consequences for a failing school, including removal of the principal, reconstitution (replacing the faculty), and being turned into a charter school. As it turned out, these tough consequences were virtually never used on failing or underperforming schools.

    Instead, an academic improvement team is usually dispatched to poorly performing schools to give the school advice. That's it.

    Without tough consequences for poor performance, such as giving students at failing schools a school-choice voucher to go to better-performing private schools, there has been little incentive for schools to improve dramatically."

    I hope that whoever called this op-ed "great" is someone who was already in the anti-public-education camp. It would be really alarming if people who didn't already agree with Izumi found his attacks persuasive.

  86. I would like to support Izumi's statment that API scores are misleading.

    With the current budget crisis, aren't we in a post right and left world?

  87. I agree with Caroline. He's a right-winger as is his organization. Regardless of the technical definition, most people make a distinction between "article" and "op-ed". This is an opinion piece for sure.

    No, it is not a post-left/right world, anymore than it is "the end of history" per Fukiyama. The budget crisis did not just appear out of nowhere (remember those tax cuts and going to war on two fronts, and disinvestment from real jobs and workforce development over the last generation?).

    I'm all for innovation and I can definitely see problems with the traditional approaches to education, as well as the upside of accountability--sure, report out the API scores in a better way, I'm for that--but this is a thinly veiled attack on public schools and also teachers. If you want to get past left and right then you can't toss out those babies up front.

  88. As we look at the city, state and federal budget crisis, we will be asked to weigh thousands of issues, many of which conflict with each other, and will not be resolvable with a black and white, right and left approach.

    How will we weigh the decimation and underfunding of our state parks against our desire to help and school an economically disadvantaged population of immigrants with a high birth and crime rate? Both of those issues are on the traditional left, so right and left doesn't offer us much on that one.

    How will we continue to fund the University of California system in the face of the budget crisis?

    What do we say to comfortably ensconced liberals who vocalize very liberal social spending while not discussing the fact that the would never vote out prop 13?

    Izumi's statement about the fact that API scores are misleading is right on, in my opinion. I don't agree with him about vouchers.

    Let's hope that we have the ability to read an argument and weigh it on its own merits. Sure, you can keep in mind the political affiliation of the author, but that doesn't excuse just blowing someone off because they are a "right-winger."

    So, "if I knew then what I know now", I would look hard at CST data by subgroup and not API scores. Then, based on that initial examination, I would visit the school.

  89. My point was simply that an article presents (or should present) all sides of an issue. This was one sided and pushing a specific agenda. In my world (I work as a reporter) that's a no-no for an article, but fine for an op ed.

  90. 2:32 here again. As I said, I am all for better reporting of API scores, and I agree with you about looking at CST scores. I also advocate looking at cross-tabs and ways to see how individuals and groups of kids are improving (or not) rather than inter-group comparisons that do not take into account various confounding factors. That's all well and good.

    My reference to his being right-wing is to point out that he has a very big axe to grind. He uses a broad argument about better reporting to go to school reconstitution and vouchers, which are not solutions supported by his evidence.

    I'm liberal (or left of) and somewhat comfortably ensconced compared to most--though I think less so than many on this list as I could not consider private school, for example, because of my decidely middle as opposed to upper-middle class income. I am, however, a property owner. AND I would be thrilled to vote out Prop 13, or at least vote for reasonable reforms of it, including dividing the rolls (residential/corporate) and finding ways to alleviate the unfairness of longtime property owners paying little and young families paying lots. There could be protections for elderly owners, and protections for one's first home up to a certain amount--there are lots of sensible ideas.

    With a sensible tax policy and re-investment in education and workforce, I don't think there has to be a contradiction between parks and schools. We need to fund services for the immigrants we have here already--and implement comprehensive immigration reform that includes alleviating the flow of new immigrants (border controls and incentive development aid to countries of origin that rely on remittances for a huge portion of foreign capital and GDP).

    So anyway, I do consider the issues. I also consider the source!

  91. I actually don't agree that we'll never vote out Prop. 13.

    Only the most highly educated and aware of California adults under 40 are even aware of what Prop. 13 is/was. Since it passed in June 1978, only people born before June 1960 were old enough to vote for it. So much for the notion that it's the "third rail of California politics. I asked pollster Mark DiCamillo once how many people he polls about Prop. 13 even know what it is -- well, he never gave me a percentage, but he acknowledged that they have to explain it on the spot to many, many people when they poll -- which IMHO means a "support" response is absolutely meaningless, given that those people have seconds to consider it and the implications. Lower taxes good, ug.

    One good-size piece of Prop. 13 was already dismantled, the former requirement that all bond measures on the ballot have a 66.6% margin to pass. That was voted away in 2000. It doesn't seem that unlikely that the mandate requiring a 2/3 majority in the legislature to approve the state budget will be changed, and then there's increasing talk about a split roll -- removing corporate-owned property from Prop. 13.

    Some may recall Warren Buffett, when Schwarzenegger was first elected and Buffett was advising him, speaking out strongly against Prop. 13 -- I think Schwarzenegger cut him loose pretty quickly after that.

    I have some faith that the generation behind mine, which includes many readers of this blog, will decide that those old geezers really f***ed up the state when they passed Prop. 13 (I was 24 and it was really a project of my grandparents' generation, the folks in their 70s then, of course fueled by corporate interests). It really comes down to whether we want to be a "we're in this together" or a "you're on your own" society.

  92. I am not anti-public school but I also agree that the APIs are misleading and hide the percentage of kids that are not meeting state standards.

    SFUSD has a district-wide 771 API--that's pretty darned close to the state target of 800. Looks pretty good. But wait: The 2008 SFUSD SARC says almost half our students are not meeting state standards. It gets worse the longer kids are in school.

    In 2008 fewer than half of SFUSD's 11th graders were proficient in English and fewer than a third were proficient in math--even though the percentage of ELLs and special ed kids drops below 30% by high school. Plus, over 23% of high school kids are GATE-identified. Now I realize GATE covers many kinds of giftedness. But 23% GATE-identified and only 29% math proficiency in 11th grade? With almost 14% of the City's high school population at Lowell? Something's wrong with this picture and I don't think the APIs are telling me about it. What's really weird is that math scores kind of rock until 4th grade, then drop, then really drop for high school.

    Some other common points about he "unfairness" of comparing public and private schools and responses:

    1. "Private schools cherry pick the most educable, least troublesome children."
    Largely true. It's wrong to demand that a public school include test scores of ELL and developmentally challenged children in its overall API score. (SARCs do get into that level of detail but the school's overall API may be dragged down if it has a large number of ELLs and disabled children.)
    2. "Private schools don't take the same tests and don't publish their scores."
    Somewhat true but things to know: Private schools are not allowed to use current STAR tests. They can only use year-old tests to which answers have been published online, which would undermine their integrity. You can ask when you apply, but you have to take a private school's word on how its kids are doing on the Iowa Basic Skills Tests or the Stanford Achievement Tests, unless your kid goes there, in which case you'll get your results. Private school kids don't all perform at or above grade level either.
    3. "Private schools don't deal with poverty the way public schools do."
    True, but with 1/2 their students on free or reduced lunch, it has become a big job, perhaps the main job, of an urban public school to teach poor children. To the extent poverty overlaps with ELL or disability status, see #1 above. To the extent there is no overlap, does that mean that the average public school is not doing a very good job at its hallmark virtue (enabling class mobility)? That children of the non-Chinese poor are less educable? Neither is a very happy conclusion, but what else is one to conclude?
    4. "Public schools have a much bigger job to do with far fewer resources."
    Absolutely true. Who's accountable? The public that owns the public schools. They underfund them and then an impose impossible mandate to educate all children, regardless of whether a child is able or willing to learn or a parent is able or willing to support the child's learning. They keep a union in place whose function, by definition, is to preserve jobs, income and benefits, regardless of performance outcome.

    This is no way meant to imply that a kid from a supportive family cannot get an excellent education in SFUSD. Rather, we expect more from our public schools than they can deliver with the resources we give them. "Accountability" rhetoric without major systemic changes to resources and expectations will just keep pushing us around in the same circles.

  93. November 24, 2009 4:34 PM:

    Brilliant, thoughtful post.

    (I'm the one who put up the link to the article.)

    I don't buy the accountability rhetoric either. However, I do remember being agape the first time I looked at the CST data for high school math. I continue to be freaked out that so many people are not aware of how math unable we are.

    To be honest, my benchmark for what could be possible isn't San Francisco private schools. As a society, we're not very interested in math. I would doubt that most private school parents hope that their kids are aspiring geeks. [;)]

    I'm more interested in looking at what is going on in some of the public schools with a lot of Asian kids in them, especially where the overall culture of the school brings up the scores of other socioeconomically disadvantaged children. (E R Taylor)

    I'm interested in looking at a small number of examples of where kids from Latino and African American backgrounds did well in math and science. What made the difference for them?

    Why do poor Asian kids do well? Probably because they do their homework. The TV is not on at home. Asians are pretty fearless when it comes to math and scientific learning. There not working on their basketball or football future. They don't have a cultural or religious prescription against math and science. I think they stand alone in that regard.

    I still remember the surprise I got in grade nine when, at one of the better public high schools in Vancouver, I realized how hard the Asian kids were working and how much they didn't worry about being geeks. The girls did not worry about being geeks! They were good at math.

    That changed me, middle class white kid.

    That process must be possible for other kids as well.

    Vouchers won't do it.

    I'm also interested in other initiatives in the city. I think there was an effort to start a math circle at Mission High. We need more of that kind of thing where kids can be in a warm academic setting outside the classroom (and away from the TV set at home.)

  94. I'm bored with the public vs. private, Prop 13, how-are-our-public schools doing chit chat that is all over other threads.

    Let's get back to the topic, please, because it's actually a really useful one for those who are going through the process this year.

  95. November 23, 2009 4:41 wrote:
    I wouldn't have worried so much. I would have trusted my and my husband's parenting abilities and our skills in instilling our children with a strong sense of the values and joy of learning for its own sake.

    YES!!! As a parent of a middle schooler and next year, 2 middle schoolers, I agree with the above statement more and more every passing year!

  96. I'd autoskip anything written by Caroline who just seems to want to be heard. Her kids are in college for goodness sake.

  97. Actually, Caroline has a kid who is a current high school sophomore. As a middle school parent looking at high schools I have appreciated her comments over on the high school thread about SOTA and the Academy of Arts, as well as her perceptions of how the lottery works at that level.

    Speaking of that thread, if you are reading this, Kate, could you move that thread and also the middle school thread up? The high school thread is still active and has well over 100 posts, but it is buried down there. I think there are lots of us looking for high school who read this blog (and many more who will find themselves there more quickly than they can imagine).

  98. Funny someone mentioned the Exploratorium a few posts back. The inquiry-based philosophy - teaching skills, not facts- is what many private schools can actually provide. They are doing the kind of open-ended, project based curriculum that develops the skills future scientists need. I went to public school, and would love to make it work, but as far as science the public schools are crippled by no child left behind, the horrible california state standards, one of the lowest funding rates in the nation, and likely to shoot up to 32 kids per class once SFUSD feels the impact of the state budget crisis.

  99. Hey, November 25, 2009 10:12 AM:

    I posted the stuff about the Exploratorium.

    Reaching the level of ability and creativity to become an great engineer or scientist transcends the public/private debate. It also transcends a single approach to teaching.

    I went on a tour of E R Taylor last week. They're doing all the project based stuff there. They're also using a rigorous approach where necessary. Although they have more than 60 percent english language learner kids, their test scores by grade 5 match those of Clarendon.

    (I like Caroline's comments too, especially her thoughts on highschool.)

    In looking for a school, I would look for depth, rigor, versatility in teaching style and love of knowledge and teaching. I would also look to make sure the school is covering the California curriculum in language arts, math and science, as well as having some extras like music and sports.

  100. Thank you -- and re my comments on Prop. 13, the devastation it has wrought affects all Californians of all ages, and really does collateral damage far beyond California too.

  101. I never would have wasted the time touring publics as a safety, b/c our son ended up 4 for 4 at the privates we wanted.

    Maybe the theme here is to trust you gut feelings?

  102. Hi "Maybe the theme here is to trust you gut feelings?"

    11:11 here.

    yeah. trust your gut feelings, but then back them up with some data. with respect to private schools, it is somewhat harder to get that data because there are few published test scores. If the private has a high school, I would look at the universities that the kids gain admissions to, as well as other criteria, like how well the kids do with respect to international testing standards.

    I'm not saying just go on test scores and data, but you have to start somewhere. We can't just give the private schools carte blanche. We're paying them a wod of dough.

  103. @10:12, I believe you are misinformed, as the California state standards are far from horrible; they are in fact quite good and are used by many parochial and private schools as well. Some states set lesser standards but California's were built by experts in their fields. Teaching them and meeting them is another matter. In my experience, the teachers are very aware of the standards.

    Underfunded schools may have trouble meeting the standards in arts education (yes, art education standards exist across the arts disciplines in all grades) compared to an Alvarado with a well-developed arts program. Teacher who have to focus on remedial work or with extra challenges (SPED, ELLs) may have trouble keeping up with the grade-level standards, even though all the kids are tested on them and expected to meet them. Although it sounds like ER Taylor is showing exceptional results even with a highly challenged population, and kudos to them.

    Bottom line, the standards themselves are quite good. There's plenty to criticize about the schools, certainly, but rather than blanket statements it's most helpful to disaggregate that which is good from that which needs improvement. And also helpful to notice when the predictive demographic factors are being overcome, such as at ER Taylor. What are they doing right and how can it be replicated?

  104. ER Taylor has a fabulously wealthy benefactor that gives lots of $$$ to the school. No joke.

  105. It's true about E.R. Taylor's donor. My husband works with the school. Great principal too.

  106. Over a million dollars donated to the school ( ER Taylor) by this donor.

  107. I would've paid closer attention to the school's start time and end time and the availability of a before-school and after-school program. Just because a school has a before-school or after-school program does not necessarily mean it's availability for incoming new kids.

  108. This is such a hard topic. Let me approach it this way. We decided not to go the wait pool method and get into a trophy school, but instead settle on a second-tier school. We've had times where we get down on our kid's school. We get frustrated with the clueless principal and the lack of "extras" like at the trophy public schools. Or I hear about how Miraloma has 4th and 5th grades with under 25 in a class, while my school has 33! And then there are the times we realize that we are happy: our kids have collectively been through eight different teachers at the school and each one has been stellar. Or, like what happened the other day, we overhear our kids talking to kids from a trophy public school and the kids from the other schools complain about bullies -- and my kids say, "gee, we don't have any bullies at our school." Or we hear about principals at other schools who are complete control freaks and tyrants, and realize our very pleasant, but ultimately clueless principal ain't all that bad. We are starting to think that maybe public school in San Francisco is all a mixed bag -- that some of the trophy schools just aren't all they claim to be and that, while the second-tier ones lack amenities, they can have significant redeeming value. Bottom line for newbies: try to ignore the hype -- some of the trophy schools have lost their luster and some of the second tier schools can have hidden pluses; try to talk to as many parents whose kids go to particular schools (and not just the newbie K parents) and get the "real dirt" about the school; ignore comments by neighbors of schools (they ALWAYS say the kids are out of control!); and, ultimately, go with your gut feeling.