Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Stratford School Tour

Reviewed by Debbie

What?! A private school tour this late in the game? I had been happily settled in what we had done so far in the public school application process and had been calmly awaiting the arrival of the assignment letter. I had only toured three schools, and all of them had been public. THEN, a week or so ago, a friend of mine tells me about the Stratford School tour that she recently went on and how amazing the school was. I had seen a flyer about the Stratford School, and it’s relatively close to our house, but I hadn’t heard much about the new San Francisco campus (opened Sept 2008) so it didn’t really hit our school tour radar until my friend’s recent glowing review of it. So after a few days of thinking, coupled with the realization that we don’t really have a back-up plan, I reluctantly dusted off my school tour notebook and went on a school tour….a tour that would rock our world.

THE FACTS:

Date of tour: 2/19/10
Location: 301 De Montford Avenue (Ingleside area), 415-333-3134
Website: www.stratfordschools.com
Principal: Mr. Kelly Woods
School type: Private
Parents’ Club: “Parent Committee”
Tours: Call to schedule a tour
School day start/stop: 8/8:15am – 3:15/3:30pm
Grades: K – 8 (currently just K and 1st, but next year will have 2nd grade and will add a grade every year)Total enrollment: Currently, one kindergarten class and one 1st grade class
Kindergarten size: Max ratio is 1:14, currently has one kindergarten class of about 22 with two teachers, will have two kindergarten classes this coming fall
Before/After school care: Fee-based before and after school care and enrichment programs

THE TOUR:

Let me first start out by saying that I loved everything about this school, and it started with my first call to the school to schedule a tour. A very nice and friendly lady, Josie, answered the phone and made every effort to schedule a tour that was convenient for my schedule. She gave me directions and told me where to park. The school is located next to a church, and the school building itself looks kind of church-like so at first you’re not sure this is the school until you see the Stratford School sign.

If school security is important to you, you’ll love this. There is only one main entrance/exit door, and it’s locked from the outside. There’s an intercom and video camera so the office staff can see who’s at the door before deciding whether or not to buzz them in. All parents of attending students receive a code so they can enter without having to be buzzed in. The main office is located to the left immediately after you enter the building so the office staff can see everyone who enters and exits the building. All the other exterior doors in the building lead to the outdoor play area, which is completely fenced in. If you’re in the outdoor play area, and there’s an emergency, you can exit through gates (normally locked but all staff have keys).

Even though this is a private school (about $14,000/yr), I saw nothing extravagant or showy - just a simple, clean, neat, organized, open and airy feeling facility, in the hallways and classrooms. There are three floors. The first floor has all the pre-school and pre-K classes. The second floor has five rooms, but only two are currently being used – one kindergarten class and one 1st grade. The third floor classrooms are not currently being used. Next year, they will have two kindergarten classes, one 1st grade class and one 2nd grade class. Each year they will add a grade, up to 8th grade. They have plenty of unused space in this building to add classes.

The tour was led by Kelly Woods, the principal, and there was one other prospective parent who joined us in this tour. We went to the second floor first which is where the kindergarten and 1st grade classes are. The kindergarten class has two teachers – not one teacher and one assistant but TWO teachers. The maximum ratio for their kindergarten is 1:14 – the current kindergarten class was 22 children I believe. 1st grade maximum ratio is 1:22 so in 1st grade they have one teacher.

When we entered the kindergarten classroom, we were greeted with a handshake and a “Welcome to room 208” from a little girl who was the “greeter of the week” (very sweet). The classroom was clean, open, bright, and uncluttered. The children were sitting in a circle and reading from a book. Yes, reading. Mr. Woods explained how most of the children couldn’t read when they first started. I noticed one of the assignments on the walls – several full sentences written about a topic with a picture drawn by the child on the top of each sheet of paper. Mr. Woods explained the assignment that I was looking at on the wall: with some guidance from the teacher, each child wrote sentences on a topic then drew an associated picture. I was impressed. In the classroom, the children then got up and went to their individual desks, and each child took turns getting up in front of the class and reciting a nursery rhyme. Public speaking – wow. I realize that schools put their best face forward when doing a tour, but I couldn’t help but be blown away. I also couldn’t help but compare this to what we saw children doing at the other schools we toured - I remember one class in particular was working on a worksheet and trying to identify brown objects on the worksheet. I also remember thinking that was not going to be very challenging for our daughter (I'm really not trying to brag, but she started reading when she was three). At Stratford, however, I could picture our daughter there, and she would thrive.

We went to the library which was neat but sparse. Mr Woods explained that they just finished up a book fair so they had many more books waiting to be placed on the shelves. The cafeteria/multi-purpose room was on the basement level. Not much natural light in the basement but it was a big clean open room so it seemed more than adequate. Mr. Woods also explained that there’s a catered lunch option available for purchase ($4.50 for lunch) – a fresh organic meal. Over 50% of the children eat the catered lunch, and the parents can pre-order the meal online.

In addition to the regular curriculum, kindergarteners also get music and PE. 1st graders (and up) get music, PE, Spanish (2x;/week), and Computer classes. There are two big events each year: the musical (where every child has a speaking part), and a science fair.

There is a volunteer “Parent Committee”. There is no fundraising. When Mr. Woods first said there was no fundraising, I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly. Every parent that I know who has a child at a private or parochial school is always talking about the fundraising requirements and/or expectations. Mr. Woods said that everything is paid for with the tuition and why would he expect parents to fundraise when they were already paying tuition. I liked everything that I had seen and heard so far on this tour, and this statement was the icing on the cake.

We also saw the play yard. It was large-ish with one play structure. More than adequate.

When Mark and I walked out of this tour, we both turned to each other and said, “I wish we hadn’t ever seen that”. Our world was rocked. Not only were we impressed with what we saw in the classroom in terms of what the children were doing, but it just felt good being there. Mr. Woods was so warm, friendly, knowledgeable, and so generous with his time, and every staff member we met was the same way – warm and welcoming. Everyone seemed happy to be there. I also really liked that there was nothing fancy at this private school. All the money seemed to go towards things that directly impact the education of the children. Somewhere in the middle of the tour, the school switched from being a potential back-up plan to being my #1 choice. But first we’ll have to see if our daughter is accepted at Stratford, and also see to which public school she’s assigned. Then we’ll potentially have a very difficult decision to make. Then there’s the money thing. $14,000 a year for private school is less than other private schools, but it’s still a big chunk of dough, and add that up for eight years and factor in tuition increases each year, and….you get the picture.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Stratford School states that they consider applications on a first come first served basis. Does that mean that you’re accepted as long as they have space, and they keep accepting on down the line until they run out of space? Or does it mean that you are “considered” on a first come first served basis but someone applying after you could be accepted before you? I really have no idea, and I probably should have asked that during the tour. I’m assuming that they still have space since they’re still giving tours, they accepted my $75 application fee, and we have an appointment for our daughter to be assessed this week.

Needless to say, this has brought all of my school anxiety back to the forefront. I even had a dream about it last night. In my dream, I received the public school assignment letter, and it was a flyer for an event at Commodore Sloat. What? (My dreams never make sense.) The letter didn’t say anything about being assigned to the school so of course I was stressing out in my dream.

I’m posting this tour for main two reasons: 1) To keep you all updated on my school application process story, and 2) Let anyone who’s interested in a private school know that there is another GREAT school out there, that isn’t as expensive as most other private schools, and they’re still accepting applications. I realize that there is much public vs. private debate on this blog, and I may take some heat for this post, but that’s okay. When I started this, I promised myself that I would keep it real and honest so, for whatever it’s worth, that’s the latest.

107 comments:

  1. I don't know Statford at all, so can't comment on your specifics, except to say that it sounds very nice. I would point out that most of what you describe also happens in most of our public schools, including Commodore Sloat. Reading and writing short sentences and drawing--check. Taking turns to speak in front of class (telling short stories, saying a nursery rhyme, etc.)--check. ETC. However, the teacher ratio is obviously a difference.

    But yes, as a backup in case you don't get what you want in the lottery, it sounds right on target--good location, and relatively reasonable tuition for a 2-income, middle class family.

    I guess that's my question for you--you say your world was rocked. If you get Commodore Sloat, which is a lovely school with a great parent community, would you trade that option for Stratford @ $14,000/year? That's still a lot of dough (for me, anyway), especially X 6 years. And any other children you may have (sorry, can't remember if you do). How do you cost that out?

    I get the backup thing. Just wondering if you have a sense of how you balance it against your #1 public.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Isn't Stratford a for-profit chain that offers no scholarships (which is a potent tool for keeping out the riffraff), and with basically no reputation to speak of? At least your kids won't have to interact with any poor people!

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  3. Or any people of color.

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  4. Response to Anonymous 5:59 PM:

    I am a parent anxiously awaiting the results of the SFUSD placement process and have a strong preference for public. That said, Stratford is on our list depending on the results of that process.

    I toured Stratford along with a number of public schools. I noticed the racial diversity at Stratford was on par with the public schools I toured.

    It sounds like you have some direct knowledge into the racial diversity of Stratford that differs with my observation. I would appreciate your sharing this information. Perhaps others may find it helpful as well.

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  5. Synergy School, a K-8 private in the Mission, has tuition of $14,000, financial aid, small class sizes, a true commitment to diversity, and a track record. I think it's 35 years old. That being said. It's not easy to get into, so Stratford sounds attractive as a backup. Katherine Michels School also is a K-5 with plenty of room, I hear. But I don't know the tuition. Don't feel you have to take the heat for thinking about private. We all have to do what feels right for our family. Good luck!

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  6. 5:59 "or people of color"

    Why b/c all people of color are poor? huh?

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  7. FYI, many children are reading by the end of Kindergarten in the public schools, too.

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  8. Stratford School is a rapidly growing independent, for profit, private school with twelve campuses in the Bay Area serving thousands of preschool through middle school children each year. Stratford’s K-8 students score on average in the top 10% nationally. We have an entrepreneurial, team oriented culture and a dedicated staff committed to providing the best possible preparation for a lifetime of learning for our students. We offer a competitive salary based on candidate’s experience plus attractive vacation, benefits and bonus programs. Stratford’s head office is located in Saratoga, California.

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  9. We also toured Stratford last year and while it looked all clean and organized, we didn't find it as well rounded as any of the public schools we really liked or even some of the privates like Children's Day or Synergy and ultimately decided not to apply. At that time they only had one K class and it did look spick and span, but there was no library at the time and it didn't feel much of a community. It was almost, like the school was a few years away from where we would have liked it to be able to provide a well-rounded full enriched experience for our kids. We ended up in public school and we love where we are. A big chunk of what I love is that my kids see older children every day, some spend some time helping out in the K class rooms and function as role models for the little ones. I don't think this is to be underestimated.

    As far as the reading goes, it don't think it's exceptional. Both of my twins read fluently now half way through the K year. My son is reading at a second grade level but he already read well entering K, my doughter read phonetically when entering and has made great strides. She is also already moving on to chapter books. So, as the other poster says, many kids will read and write at the end of K.

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  10. I think you should consider the time differential between your public school tours and your tour of this school. By February, most Kindergartners are reading by decoding and use of sight words. They are definitely writing multiple sentences on a topic, again using sight words and invented spelling. The skill growth over a couple of months is incredible - students are consistently able to notice their growth over the months and take great pride in it.

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  11. Thanks for your review! We live very close to the school but didn't know about it and will now take a look

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  12. Debbie - I have read your other tours and it seems like this one is really where you see your daughter and the school that you are the most excited about. I think folks are right that the curriculum for public schools likely has a lot of similiarities but the smaller class size will give your kid more chance to read aloud, present in front of the class, etc. Ofcourse, $$ is an issue for most parents but go with your gut and if you can afford it,then go for it.

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  13. Hi Debbie,

    Just to let you know, I think your review is right on.

    My daughter attended this school for preschool. We switched to another school for K because we wanted language immersion, but we loved this school.

    The teachers are super warm, experienced and most have master's degrees in childhood education. Every one of the teachers loves what they do. The level of dedication of the teachers is exceptional.

    It is very well balanced, with tons of art and performance art. In addition to the reading program, I really liked their programs to teach arithmetic and science.

    I'd say that every one of the kids in my daughter's preschool class was starting to read by the end of pre-K.

    It is true that it is for profit. Core tuition is low. The afterschool care is more expensive than some schools, so have a look at that. The school is diverse, although there seem to be more Asian and Asian Indian kids and maybe a few fewer African American and Latino kids than Synergy, for example.

    It is true that the school is new, but for the incoming K class next year, there will be two grades ahead of them.

    Yes, it is a great school. Thanks for the review.

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  14. We are a private family but have many friends with kids in public school. We understand and respect their decisions, but I've noticed that almost any time we say, "We like X about our school," they'll invariably say, "So what, we have that in our public school!" Then you ask how much X their kids get, and it's 20, 30, maybe 40 minutes a week. In our private school, it's 45 minutes a day, two to five days a week, with classes of no more than 18 kids with a teacher and an aide in each class up through 4th grade. Often the public school only has X at all, or a little more X than usual, because the PTA fundraises for it.

    Of course you can get extra X if you want it by paying for classes outside public school, assuming you've got time to take your kids or money to pay someone else to take them for you. Each family makes its own cost-benefit decisions.

    But the mere fact that X exists at two schools is not a measure of the depth or quality of the experience your child will have with X. Public zealots please note, I'm not saying that X is NECESSARILY better at a private school that has 2 or 3 or 5 times as much of it as at public (a lot of mediocrity is just a lot of mediocrity). I am saying that parents should try to learn not only whether a school has X, but depth and quality of the instruction.

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  15. You are right, 1:07, that it is good to ask those questions about depth. It's true that people on both sides of the public / private debate are too quick to say "we have that too."

    It cuts both ways. I get tired of the assumption that privates always have it better and the main question to ask is the cost. It's not.

    The most obvious thing is the consistent defensive reaction to the diversity question on the part of private school parents. What is diversity, and are private schools diverse? Yes, they have some of X Y Z families. Do they have the depth of diversity of the public schools in terms of race, ethnicity, and above all, class? No, they really do not, not even Synergy which is probably the best of the bunch. I am amazed by the defensiveness on this issue. Objectively, our public schools are much more diverse. This does have an impact on the kids.

    Another one is language. One of the reasons we chose public was for language immersion. Several private schools tout their language classes, but most of them, other than CAIS, FAIS, and the other French immersion school, are 2x/week, or 45 minutes, etc. That is scratching the surface compared to what my children have received in their public schools--5 days a week, starting at 90% time in K and decreasing to 2 academic classes in middle school. They are fluent and bilingual at this point. SF Day, Friends, Marin Day, etc. may have X Y Z classes but they are not in the same ballpark.

    My kids' school's arts program is one of the best, and in terms of quality of teaching I would put it up against any private school, although my guess is it is a cut above most public schools.

    I would say too that academics, particularly in the honors programs in middle school, rival what we see our kids' friends getting at private school. We don't have a fancy science lab, that is true. But the level of science teaching (with portable lab projects), and the number of extensions in the other classes, has really been stellar. I've seen papers written by my daughter's private school friends, and my daughter's terms papers are more fully researched, better documented, and better written. Maybe that's my daughter. But she has felt that the level of competition is high in her honors classes.

    Also in middle school, they are getting PE and arts every day as a academic period. This is more spotty at the elementary level though.

    The biggest difference is the bells and whistles. The fancy science labs and new gymnasiums. Yes, that is a cost-benefit issue, since that stuff doesn't come free. But it is also true that many of our public schools have stuff to offer that most private schools don't. Asking questions has to go all ways! It's very easy to get blown away by the bells and whistles on a tour--I say that from my own experience. But that is the stuff at the surface. What matters is the teaching, the curriculum, and the community. That is what the kids will be soaking in.

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  16. "Anonymous said...
    Or any people of color."

    You are a big honking ignoramous. We didn't choose this school, but the glasses we saw had Asians, Indians and Hispanics in it. People don't go to private schools to "avoid people of color." They go to avoid poverty and it's associated problems. You can be angry about that if you enjoy being angry, but it's a class issue, not a race issue.

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  17. Well, thanks for being so straightforward, 2:24.

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  18. yup. can't stand those poor people.

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  19. Public school zealots just can't help themselves. It is class envy in its worst form.

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  20. Yes, we so wish we could afford to pay to keep our kids away from the unwashed masses like the private school parents we deeply envy. We're consumed with jealousy.

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  21. "Zealots" -- very constructive. Not defensive at all, are you? ;-)

    I don't know what motivates people to choose or avoid certain schools. It may very be class, not race, aversion. Although the two are intertwined in important ways in our society that it would hard to unpack anyway, wouldn't it? (Of course, there are significant exceptions, starting with our First Family, I know.) Anyway, I don't know how one would measure motivation.

    Whatever the motivations, the reality is that the private schools are significantly whiter and wealthier than the city around them. Kids notice these things. It has an impact on them. How much this is a consideration for a parent is of course very personal.

    Private schools have advantages, that is for sure. Diversity is not one of them. If diversity matters to you, you might take that into account. I don't think it is helpful to deny the issue, or be defensive about it, any more than it is helpful for public school parents to suggest that public schools offer exactly what some of the privates offer. Also, as the previous poster suggested, it is helpful to look deeper....there are differences between and among publics and the same with privates. In some cases (language immersion, certain arts-rich schools) the publics will have nicer offerings than some of the privates. And vice versa. Generalizations--and insults (like calling people zealots)--don't help parents make good and specific decisions for their kids. That's more heat than light.

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  22. I just read that Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground radical (now a mainstream college professor) whose acquaintance with Obama the right tried to make an issue in the campaign, sent HIS kids to the same private school (University of Chicago lab school) that the Obamas chose pre-Sidwell Friends. If Ayers had wanted to do something radical that would have really worked to change society for the better, he could have chosen public school!

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  23. I was at a private school in the Berkeley the other day. There was a nice bulletin board up with drawings of African American as depicted by the students for Black History Month. On another bulletin board was a photo of a class field trip. All the kids were white. I found it odd.

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  24. Sorry if the term "zealots" offended some people. Not all public school advocates are zealots of course. However, if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that whenever you post anything suggesting that any private school might have any sort of advantage over a public school, there are some people who will immediately respond by accusing you of racism, classism, and all manner of crimes against society.

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  25. Yeah, I wish we could afford private school. I admit it. Especially on days when you hear kids screaming the f word at eachother. It's depressing.

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  26. Private schools aren't all alike. I wonder how others would define the spectrum of private schools from unstructured to progressive to traditional.

    Are Cathedral and the school in Potrero the bookends? (can't remember the name.

    Where do the other schools fall?

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  27. Cathedral is actually pretty progressive in its curriculum, despite the uniforms and compulsory chapel. They're very attuned to teaching to different levels and different types of learners.

    I don't think there is a single continuum or spectrum of private schools at all.

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  28. I wish we could afford private, too, when I realize next year my kid will enter a 4th grade classroom with 30-35 kids.

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  29. Yup. Those class sizes are horrible.
    I admit to being jealous. People can yammer on about how Public Schools are just as good or better than private schools, but who are they kidding?

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  30. In some ways, all of these arguments are silly. The reality is, there are limited spaces in the privates. So people will be left out -- even those who are fully committed to going public. The publics have more space, so more people will fill those spots, and not all of those people will be zealots, but many of them will want to defend their own choices or situations. There is not enough financial aid money to go around, and there are lots of lovely people who both don't earn enough and for whatever reason didn't get their kids into private school. Let's stop slamming people! Some people have more choices than others. Some people love where their kids are -- public or private. Others have more complicated reactions/feelings. But it's not like there's room for everybody where everybody would like to be, so expect some frustration, and expend some tolerance, and belief that kids can thrive in multiple situations.

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  31. meant to say that even some of those fully committed to going private will be left out (of the privates)

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  32. And also don't discount the fact that many kids in private schools are a good year or more older than kids in the same grade in public school. So it's no wonder they'd be farther ahead, especially in the younger grades. But even factoring that in, it really depends on the school as to how deep they are going in each subject.

    I don't have a kid in either place (yet) but it would seem that the only people who can truly compare the two routes are those with kids in both, and teachers who have taught in both.

    The sparring is pretty entertaining, I must admit.

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  33. Finally, some reasonable sounding folks. We are all limited by the choices we receive - some we can influence and some we cannot. So, come March if you put down Commodore Sloat on the top of your list and you receive say John Muir or any other school that you do not see your child at, and then you go into Round 2 and again, none of your choices, you may be glad you went on that tour of Stratford and filled out the application. You may also be committed, for example, to a SS girl's private school but then wait listed at all of them and assigned your first choice public, Clarendon. We are all are just trying to do the best for our family and hopefully everyone gets a choice that works for their family.

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  34. My kids' school's arts program is one of the best, and in terms of quality of teaching I would put it up against any private school, although my guess is it is a cut above most public schools.

    Honestly, I think you underestimate the teaching staff in SFUSD. The majority of teachers I meet working in this district, at trophy school or not, are extremely good teachers.

    The discussion of the Obamas' school choices reminds me that we are quite lucky in San Francisco, despite the horrible state funding. Schools in Chicago have physical plant issues unlike anything here (try no heat in the middle of the Chicago winter, and chipping lead paint, and rats). Over 85 percent of students in CPS are living in poverty; despite the fact that Chicago is 42% white, only 8.2% of students in CPS are. Almost all of the schools are therefore entirely segregated.

    In short, it's nothing like SFUSD - and this is worth keeping in mind.

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  35. Debbie, loved your post. Is there any reason why the kids can't eat lunch on the sunny (empty) third floor while the school is still growing? Even tho' the built-for-purpose lunch room is in the basement, maybe they could be creative with empty space in other parts of the building in the meantime.

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  36. forget racial diversity...the issue is really on social economic diversity. Color of ones skin doesn't make for a very diverse bunch in this world class City. the focus need to be on the latter.

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  37. There's not going to be socioeconomic diversity in a school with no financial aid or scholarships.

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  38. Can we start a thread about Furry Bunny Eating Habits? I just want to see how long it takes the trolls to start pounding the table on private vs public.

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  39. Q - what does everyone pay for daycare? childcare? preschool now? I know I pay more than $14K.

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  40. I think the $14K you are paying for daycare is about the going rate, unless a family qualifies for a free or subsidized program. We paid $13K in our kid's last day care/preschool year, ending summer 2007. It was a fun program, all about the kids, but not fancy. I guess that's why with only one elementary-age kid and no possibility of more on the way, private school (we are in a mid-priced one, not $24K but not parochial either) did not seem like such a big financial leap, especially when we got John Muir in the lottery. But, when you could be saving $10,000 to $20,000 a year by going public, you can see why people who get adequate publics are pretty happy, unless money really is no object or the private of your choice offers something not available in public school.

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  41. "I know I pay more than $14K."

    Yep. That's about in the middle. I would add that when my daughter was three, we paid about 14K for a preschool that was vastly inferior to Stratford School.

    We switched to Stratford for Pre-K.
    It was like going from Hell to Heaven.

    I find it truly saddening that a school like Stratford comes to the city, offering a viable option for middle and upper middle class families, who will not have access to any of the publicly subsidized Childhood Development Programs, only to be greated with bitter complaints about the fact that it is not socioeconomically diverse.

    The Childhood Development Programs are also not socioeconomically diverse.

    The lack of good, affordable childcare in this city was a real hardship for us and our child. And yes, we would be considered to be "upper middle class."

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  42. just to preclude any of the spelling wonks:

    should be "only to be greeted with bitter complaints about the fact that it is not socioeconomically diverse."

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  43. I don't believe it is fair that we offer free childcare to our poor in this city. In my opinion, with free childcare, there is less of a boundry on how many children a couple will have.

    If you are middle class, you assess your childcare costs after one and you usually stop at two kids. It's not fair that the poor get free childcare and get more support to have more children.

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  44. I am sure there is a natural tendency not to think so hard about things for which you're not held responsible. However, there is a direct correlation between affluence and childbearing. Historically birth rates drop when affluence increases.

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  45. But, when you could be saving $10,000 to $20,000 a year by going public, you can see why people who get adequate publics are pretty happy, unless money really is no object or the private of your choice offers something not available in public school.

    That's the key for most middle class people--not the super-wealthy, not the ones who would never, ever consider public, not the poor who could never consider private. But the middle class and many upper-middle class families. If you get an adequate public school--and there are so many more now than there used to be, then you tend to cost out that $14K, or $18K or over $20K over the life of the school to make your decision. And if you get a great public, especially one with something not offered in most privates, like language immersion, it becomes a no-brainer for many of us. But if you get a not-adequate public, and you go through the waitpools and get nothing, then you easily want back-up.

    The point is, it is much more complicated than "public versus private" for a lot of us. There are several factors to consider. Efforts to demonize either categorically are therefore really unhelpful (although entertaining).

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  46. I don't think Stratford necessarily deserves bitter complaints for not being socioeconomically and ethnically diverse. But it's distasteful that parents prefer it BECAUSE it's not socioeconomically and ethnically diverse. It's surprising that people are still willing to be open about that in the 21st century, but I guess that beats pretending.

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  47. 10:50 AM:

    Not so fast on the hypothetical.

    There is a brass tacks issue here in that there is a lack of good childcare and full time preschool for the middle and upper middle class in this city.

    The new enrollment process, which will give priority to children who have been in a Child Development Program, will institutionalize and extend the disadvantage against families who do not qualify for this program.

    In light of disproportionate benefits to poor and immigrant families, and a dearth of benefits to middle income families, it is only too obvious that the private sector will respond with childcare and education options for the middle class. The public sector is not providing these.

    Inherit in this will be a socioeconomic segmentation, both in terms of services and political will.

    To my mind, these discussions about broad socioeconomic diversity belong to some halcyon bygone day that might of existed for a brief moment in the sixties and seventies or in a country with the political will and pragmatism to approach some kind of socioeconomic diversity.

    That is not the California of today.

    We have to live in the real world, not the hypothetical world. We have to find real, available care and education for our children.

    It would be nice if the SFUSD would help the middle class out with this, but for the time being, they seem to have their mind elsewhere.

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  48. "I don't think Stratford necessarily deserves bitter complaints for not being socioeconomically and ethnically diverse. But it's distasteful that parents prefer it BECAUSE it's not socioeconomically and ethnically diverse."

    As my daughter attended this school, and as I talked to a number of parents at this school, I would say that in the preschool, almost all the families there were enrolled because Stratford was the best preschool they could find. There was NO public school preschool program available to them.

    As to kindergarten, like us, many of the families had gone all the way through the public enrollment process only to be assigned to extremely challenged schools.

    I know that Caroline, the journalist, states that she has never met a family that went all the way through the enrollment process who didn't get a school they weren't satisfied with.

    Well, I have to say that I've met many, many parents in the last several years who live in Bernal, the Excelsior and Ingleside who did the whole school application routine and ended up with a school with CST scores below 30%.

    Schools like Stratford are great options for these parents.

    I'm really not interested in getting into another public vs private debate. There simply aren't enough slots in good public schools in this city for middle class families. That's the long and the short of it.

    Most people can see this and they are making decisions accordingly.

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  49. Part of the main has hit the nail right on the head. It is no secret that San Francisco is a city that serves the very rich and the very poor. What passes for middle-class in this town is left to flounder.

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  50. 11:32, yes, and that is precisely why so many middle class families (upper middle class just about anywhere but SF) move away just as their first child is about to turn five. In our preschool class of 27 kids, I'd say at least half if not more will be on their way out of the city over the summer - to the Peninsula, Marin, the East Coast and beyond.

    It reminds me of a dinner party where, just after the appetizer, many at the table grab their coats to leave because they're not confident they want to try what is being served for the second course. It's sad, but true.

    It's not only the schools, of course. It's the price of housing, the lack of green space, the homeless guy on your doorstep, the lack of parking. But you can't underestimate the uncertainty of not having a clue where you kid will be going to school in six short months - public or private.

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  51. Only in America do people pretend there is anything good about sending you child to school with poor people. And even that is only in polite conversation. Very few with option will ever make that choice.

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  52. I have a child in Stratford's pre-K program. I am very happy with the school and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a structured, academic program. It is very low-key and personal, perhaps becuase it is still really small.

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  53. "It reminds me of a dinner party where, just after the appetizer, many at the table grab their coats to leave because they're not confident they want to try what is being served for the second course. It's sad, but true."

    I'm not hot on oft used internet abbreviations, but the above is a true LOL!

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  54. "I have a child in Stratford's pre-K program. I am very happy with the school and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a structured, academic program. It is very low-key and personal, perhaps becuase it is still really small."

    Yes, its lovely, isn't it. We felt the same way. The teachers and staff are amazing. Josie is a treasure.

    Don't forget the awesome easy parking.

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  55. So poor children = lepers around here?

    Having grown up poor I am having trouble stomaching this conversation. But at least it is honest. I hope anyone who really thinks this way will indeed send their children to private school and stay the hell away from my child and her friends, some of whom are (materially and financially) poor.

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  56. Some of these issues are beyond challenging, and are really societal issues rather than limited to just education. Avoiding the many negative things that come with extreme poverty is understandable in my mind. I do not believe that I am classist because I do not want my young child to attend a school where the issues that come with poverty in the United States are intensely concentrated. I have, and will, continue to vote and organize to decrease the disparities in this society. However, throwing my young child in a school that does not have the resources to deal with an extremely impoverished population does not seem to make sense.

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  57. "Only in America do people pretend there is anything good about sending you child to school with poor people. And even that is only in polite conversation. Very few with option will ever make that choice."

    Well, there are many parts of this country still were the schools are good and people come from all walks of life to succeed.


    I went to school as a child (in Africa) with some of the poorest children on Earth. However, the school had a very tough academic curriculum and the parents of all the kids were very invested in getting their kids to learn.

    So I'm not sure that parents are avoiding poverty in sending their kids to an academically focused school. There are avoiding having the academic focus nulled out by kids and parents who are unwilling to "get with the program" of an academic focus.

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  58. 12:12 PM

    I understand your feelings. However, I am a product of a high school that turned itself around by attracting priveleged kids through a magnet program. Those kids were total snobs and looked down on me. But, being around them forced me to push myself beyond the expectations of my own (much less priveleged) class.

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  59. hey 12:12 PM:

    I hope you just caught what I said.

    At least for us, the problem isn't poverty. I've often thought that I would love to return to Ghana, where I lived as a child, so that my daughter could live among these driven, innovative, funny, warm people.


    You do see that here in public some of the better public schools.
    But not often.

    Several years ago, I tried to have a conversation with Kim-Shree Maufas about the lack of math and science teaching in Bernal public schools. Her response to me was "We have to teach them to read."

    I found this comment to be telling. As if poor children were only capable of reading and not something greater. (Especially as mathematical development starts earlier than reading development.) As if the teaching of science might not inspire poor children.

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  60. part of the main, once again, I appreciate your perspective.

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  61. hi Betty Westbrook,

    Nice catching you here again. I'll be quiet now. I've probably said enough.

    Best!

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  62. I find the KSM comment telling, as well. People live up or down to expectations. Set the bar higher.

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  63. Some but not all SFUSD schools have a high percentage of families who are fully committed to their kids' education. People in this town who send their kids to private schools without being motivated by religion or specialty curricula are not looking to avoid poor people or brown people. They are looking for an educational environment that is not overwhelmed by poverty and where the vast majority of parents are highly committed to their kids' education. Stratford School seems to fill, at a cost comparable to day care, a need for such a school in a part of the city that has a disproportionate number schools that are low-performing and overwhelmed by poverty. Good for them. Who cares if they are for-profit? They are accredited by WASC, their tuition is lower than most independent nonprofit schools, and the parents seem to feel that their kids are in clean, safe, pleasant, focused learning environment. It's interesting that Debbie, who wrote the original post, thought she'd never consider a private school.

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  64. aghh, can't read all these comments, too upsetting. Public vs private: who is making the better decisions, who is making the right decisions.. Honestly, if all schools were FREE.. which would you choose for your child? (I'll take Miraloma)

    Just want to add: Debbie, I feel your pain! I too felt that the public's tours paled in comparison to the private (Stratford and Hilldale) but looking back, I'm fairly certain my son would be learning the same at any of the options.

    We looked at Stratford for pre-k but ended up at Hilldale in Daly City. If you are looking for a reasonably priced private, check out hilldaleschool.org
    They go pre-K to 8th with very small class sizes (in the upper grades, there are currently 16 kindergartners, ~60 students total).

    My son is reading, he writes in a journal everyday (with pictures and inventive spelling), and they have math, science fair, spanish, music and PE. They did a wonderful fall play of Peter Pan and they have a pool so he has swim lessons as well.

    Why did we choose this over stratford? Well its a few thousand dollars a year cheaper, though they do ask for fundraising (its all optional). It was more established, though I'm not sure what my son has learned from the upper grades at his scholl is 100% a benefit (he is now obsessed with Star Wars). What it does have is community and caring teachers. The teachers do not have master's degrees.

    I'd conisider it a good backup option though I must be honest and admit that we are taking our son out and opting for public school because we just can't afford private. The upcoming budget cuts scare the crap out of me, but I'm confident that if my son isn't getting enough attention, he'll find a way to fix that!

    I want the best for my children, and I would sacrafice a remodeled bathroom (where last years tuition came from) if I thought it would give him a better foundation for his future.

    PS anyone want to rent out their bathtub, I'd love to take a nice hot bath.

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  65. lol, best post in the thread. If they were free I'd stay where we are; Town. Fortunately, the cost isn't an issue. Sure I'd like to see more color but would I trade it for p/e, music, art, food and an environment where I don't worry about the same problems facing public system? No. Best of luck next year and I'd lend you the bathroom anytime!

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  66. We don't have a bathtub either. Our kid still has his bath in the kitchen sink, and at age 7, it's getting to be a problem. Fun with private school tuition. But gotta say, we do love our school, and the program is truly different--not just more or supposedly better--than anything available in public.

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  67. No beef with Stratford or Debbie. I just hate how folks on this thread are talking about poor people like they are contaminated. And that is how it sounds.

    I grew up poor. I know the problems. My school was more overwhelmed than the ones deemed unacceptable by middle class folks here, so I get it, probably more than almost anyone writing here. I gew up in a neighborhood of tenements and public housing and so-called welfare moms.

    The thing is that just like rich folks and middle class people, poor parents care about their kids. The difference is they don't have the tools for education. You all got the tools because you were raised middle class (or above), right? You got them through no particular merit of your own. It doesn't make you better. It means you were lucky, born with a silver spoon in your mouth or at least a book in your hand.

    I know a teacher in one of SF's poorer schools who spent one of her parent-tacher conference sets focusing on telling the parents to read with the kids. In the case of the parents being illiterate, she suggested having the kids read to them (she also provided information on ESL and literacy classes). She made a rule that all kids had to have library cards. And you know what? It was a succesful campaign. Parents were GLAD to learn of a way they could help their kids. The kids gained on their reading and writing and 'rithmetic skills. Why do parents here read to their kids, probably every day? Because you were taught. This teacher taught these parents.

    Several recent studies show that mixed schools--with middle class and poor--can work very well, with strong benefits for the poor kids and benefits too, with no academic loss for the middle class ones. Most of our SFUSD schools are actually not overwhelmed. Some are. I get the issue with that. But 50% free lunch? 55%? That can really work. And for various reasons I won't go into here, when a school is high free lunch but with lots of Chinese immigrant kids, it can work very well in terms of academic achievement, because that community comes *equipped* for learning despite the low income.

    My kids attend a diverse school that is about 55% free lunch, including significant populations of Latino and AA kids. My kids' academic outcomes have been good, and they have also learned to be comfortable with kids from all backgrounds, including class backgrounds--this is good thing in this world. It's an actual skill set. My kids don't see a "them" over there. They see faces and real people.

    There's such an atmosphere of smug around here. You have no idea the odds faced by these families. How dare you say they don't care about their kids' schooling?

    It's so short-sighted, this idea that we can just gate our kids off from these contaminating influences, and then, what, complain about paying taxes to educate these stupid, uncaring, lazy people over there? That's the low road to decline for this country.

    Some of you complain about subsidizing child care. How do you think the parents can work and get out of poverty without that help? And do you not know that preschool subsidies and Head Start and CDCs are supposed to be giving these kids and their families some of the educational tools you take for granted--early enough to close the gap before kindergarten?

    I'm sorry for ranting. I suppose this hits close to home. I think I am mainly trying to say, please don't talk about poor folks like this (I mean financially poor--there are other riches....). I don't think you could say these things if you were in a school community that was diverse, where you knew people by name. Would you say these things to an actual person, to someone's face? Or would you just think them (and be oh-so-middle-class-polite)? Or is it possible they might actually change your worldview through the experience of working together with you to build up a school that can enfold their children and yours?

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  68. 5:13 Get over yourself. Immediately. Everyone has their own stories of personal struggle. You are not the only one qualified to talk about this very complex issue and I resent your attempt to shut down the conversation just because you feel uncomfortable and/or insulted. I am waiting to hear your intellectual discussion and not your emotional one.

    No one is saying poor people are contaminated, stupid or lazy. These are your terms. People are saying that there are real anxieties about sending their children to school with a high number of poor and high needs students... Especially when the district has NO RESOURCES to serve the needs of these students.

    There are real problems that follow poverty - There are higher incidence of crime and lowered expectations. There is family instability that leads to disruptive behavior at school. What parent wouldn't be thinking through these issues and how their children's academic success would or would not suffer as a result?

    Are we supposed to believe that these problems only affect the poor in other urban cities and not San Francisco?

    "Some of you complain about subsidizing child care. How do you think the parents can work and get out of poverty without that help?" Show me that these programs help poor people get out of poverty (instead of enabling them to have more poor children) and I will gladly write a check towards these programs. What I have seen, first hand, is poor families having large families, while middle class families struggle to make ends meet with 1-2 children.

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  69. Only in America do people pretend there is anything good about sending you child to school with poor people. And even that is only in polite conversation. Very few with option will ever make that choice.

    Um, the above quotation suggests to me that at least someone feels comfortable posting here that poor children are somehow contaminated (educationally speaking). The suggestion that people who get access to subsidized childcare will take it as an opportunity to reproduce like rabbits was also offensive.

    I didn't take 5:13's post as being devoid of experience or intellectual argument at all. But it seems to me the emotional part of it was not unwarranted either.

    Just saying.

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  70. 5:13. I thought your post was honest and helpful. Thanks for the perspective. I needed it.

    5:47. Yours was valuable as well.

    You both make valid points. I appreciate the dialogue.

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  71. Oh please, 5:47. That's just obnoxious. Person said was apologetic about being emotional on the subject and truth be told is not wrong that the tone around here is smug and unbearable on this topic. Plus, you are full of s**t on the merits.

    There is plenty of evidence that access to good preschool programs is beneficial for low SES kids and their families. Probably more beneficial than for middle or high SES kids. There is also plenty of evidence, as noted by 5:13, that mixing poor kids in with higher SES kids is beneficial. It's the isolation of low SES kids in highly concentrated schools that is the problem. Hence SFUSD's focus on SES integration. Look at the evidence.

    It's true that there are a lot of problems that follow poverty in America. I don't read 5:13 as denying that. I saw it more of a plea to stop thinking of poor kids as a "them" out there rather than as human beings and members of our community.

    There's no one magic pill to solve the issues of poverty and education. There are a number of approaches that taken together can make a big difference. This article (with study links) affirms the high value of good-quality preschool for our poorest kids, but also asserts that is primarily effective when followed by quality elementary and middle schools--especially when education is offered in mixed or high SES settings. What really does NOT work is concentrating low-income kids in high numbers.

    http://earlyed.newamerica.net/
    blogposts/2009
    /new_findings_
    link_the_fade_out_phenomenon
    _to_high_poverty_schools-18564

    Here in San Francisco we have people of low, middle and high SES. We should be able to provide schools that integrate kids from all backgrounds, and there is evidence to suggest that that would be a win-win for all the groups. But middle and high SES parents are very afraid of low SES kids, so it's hard to pull off. I for one would not suggest that people here should send their kids to schools with very high concentrations of poverty. But I would suggest that parents consider schools that are integrated. It doesn't have to be a sacrifice; it can be good for all the kids (the fearful tone of comments here notwithstanding).

    5:47, you are wrong that the district has "NO RESOURCES" to serve our children. It's true that the budget cuts are scary this year. There are plenty of issues and problems, as with any large urban district. It's also true that we have a highly effective and professional group of teachers and many fine schools. A large number of schools have improved over the last 10 years, in part through greater SES integration. And while the achievement gap has persisted, scores have risen for all groups. Not problem-free, to be sure, but lots of our schools are quite acceptable and should be good models of how a system can well educate rich and middle and poor together effectively.

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  72. It would be nice if the SFUSD would help the middle class out with this, but for the time being, they seem to have their mind elsewhere.

    Would that this were true. Then schools in high-needs communities would not be looking at 75% of their lower-seniority, want-to-be-here teachers being laid off. Then SFUSD would work - really work - to close the opportunity gap. SFUSD would be going door to door in the Bayview and at Sunnydale right now to make sure poor African American parents know about school registration. Maybe Head Start would be able to serve more than one in five eligible children - because from where I'm at, exactly THREE of the children in my Kindergarten - all of whom live in extreme poverty - would have been able to go to this wonderful, readily available preschool that we offer the poor.

    Reality check: discrimination against middle class people because of the money we spend on the poor is HOGWASH. We waste money on tax breaks and tax loopholes, on wars, on refusing to pay the full car registration fee. It's not going to the poor. It is offensive and frankly, unthought and selfish of you to claim that it is.

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  73. There are avoiding having the academic focus nulled out by kids and parents who are unwilling to "get with the program" of an academic focus.

    FULL DISCLOSURE: I am very personally offended by this thread, both as a person who grew up in extreme poverty and as a high-performing, widely praised teacher at one of those anti-trophy schools. So my tone won't be polite.

    So, you may not be aware of this, but poverty in Africa (where I've also lived) is very, very different from urban American poverty - unless we're talking about South Africa.

    What an offensive statement you are making here! I teach at a high-needs school. I am sure that you would never, ever send your child there. And it is certainly true that we have many children and families in crisis.

    They are NOT refusing to "get with the program". They are dealing with the predictable effects of crushing generational poverty and institutional racism. They are on the outs in a society that tells poor women to go to work for lousy pay and tells wealthier women that all good moms stay at home with their kids. They are trying to go to college themselves. They have sick children, relatives, high-risk pregnancies, are incarcerated...

    It's fine with me that you don't want to send your child to our school - goodness knows we have enough going on without worrying about your delicate sensibilities. But do us the great good favor of treating the real lives of your fellow San Franciscans with respect.

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  74. Thank you, thank you, y mil gracias to 5:13, 6:08, 6:57, and most especially to the teachers at 7:25 and 7:32.

    I was beginning to despair.

    This is not directed at Debbie but at all the offensive and disrespectful postings that followed.

    I won't add my own rant, but again, especially thank you to the teachers who wrote in. Keepin' it real. Thanks.

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  75. Just so ya know - "poor" people haven't cornered the market on producing messed up kids in need of help. There are crappy neglectful parents at every socio-economic level and at some point, no amount of money can rectify that.

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  76. Would you send your kid to Princeton over UCLA? I would, if $$ was not an issue. Both offer great educations and are competitive. The fact is, however, that for most of us $$ is an issue and so instead of taking on debt because you didn't get FA at Princeton, your kid goes to UCLA. Does that mean all the Princeton kids are better off or smarter or should be disparaged because they went to Princeton? No. Does that mean that the UCLA kid won't be later working side by side with the kid from Princeton? No. I am a public school parent but I really tired of people bashing on private schools for contrived reasons -- it makes private school look even better to many. If you are committed to public school - great, keep up the work but do not be so quick to judge. There are kids who do better with smaller, more controlled enironments, which from what I have seen is reflected in private schools, it is simply a fact.

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  77. 11:23 says: "Caroline, the journalist, states that she has never met a family that went all the way through the enrollment process who didn't get a school they weren't satisfied with."

    And the poster continues that he/she has met many parents "who did the whole school application routine and ended up with a school with CST scores below 30%."

    But that doesn't in itself contradict my point -- I know lots of parents (parents with high expectations for education) who are happy with schools that are overall low-performing. I know many middle-class parents with high expectations who picked low-performing schools as their first choice and worked hard to get their kids into them. So the question is -- were these families assigned to those schools against their will and dissatisfied with them? And how far did they continue to pursue a more satisfactory public school?

    Also, I haven't been quite so flip as the original comment implies. I have searched for families who stuck it out throughout the process and were not able to get schools they were happy with.

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  78. I've followed this blog for awhile--I find it fascinating even though we live in the East Bay. My son is in kindergarten in a public school in Richmond. I think that the public vs. private conversation is especially contentious in SF because of the lottery system. It sounds INCREDIBLY stressful. Our schools may so-so (on paper, especially), but at least they're neighborhood so-so schools. All we had to do was walk over and sign him up. I really feel for you guys--the lottery would make me insane.

    Anyway, Debbie, Stratford sounds lovely, and I understand why it's at the top of your list. Not having to fundraise sounds very appealing ... that is rare. But, my concern would be that the school has absolutely nothing to offer families who experience financial hardship. More traditional private schools can at least try, through their tuition assistance funds, to retain families who are having trouble paying full tuition because of job loss, furloughs, etc.

    Best of luck to everyone facing tough decisions, and awful budget cuts.

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  79. 7:32 PM:

    "They are NOT refusing to "get with the program". They are dealing with the predictable effects of crushing generational poverty and institutional racism. They are on the outs in a society that tells poor women to go to work for lousy pay and tells wealthier women that all good moms stay at home with their kids. They are trying to go to college themselves. They have sick children, relatives, high-risk pregnancies, are incarcerated..."

    I wasn't referring to people struggling with these issues as those who need to "get with the program."

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  80. I would love it if the non-trophy public school teachers would talk about what there day is really like. Are the behavioral problems manageable? Are you able to control a class of 22 without an aide. Are you able to cover all the material you need to cover?

    What resources are available to you to deal with some of the problems that come with students whose families are higher need? I guess I am asking - what is it really like?

    I guess I get frustrated when others try to shut the conversation down when they feel the conversation offends their understanding of what is politically correct. I feel like the discussions surrounding socioeconomic fears and anxieties are some of the most productive and thought-provoking discussions.

    For what it's worth - I am heading to SFUSD in the fall with my first child. We can't afford private and aren't in a position to move.

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  81. 8:54, who asked the question about Princeton vs. UCLA, assuming no money issues (which you have to know is NOT a fair assumption for 98% of us).

    Knowing what I know about Princeton, I'd choose UCLA--or Cal, or Rutgers for that matter--in a heartbeat.

    Disclosure: I attended a deeply underfunded public elementary in an very poor neighborhood in a mid-size dying city. For middle school I was a scholarship kid at a country day school (read: country club school). For high school I attended a decent, diverse, large public. For college I went to an elite private university that is frequently ranked with Princeton on the US News & World Report rankings and the like. For graduate school I went to a large public university. I now work at a large public university (UC).

    I am not a denier of the problems facing public schools on all levels, particularly with the systematic de-funding of the last generation. I do not deny the problems faced by schools with large populations of kids facing poverty. I also do not deny the many advantages provided by good private schools, including small class size and student/teacher ratios, bells and whistles, extra programs (I'd never heard of Friday ski trips till I went to that middle school), and amazing facilities. I am grateful for many of the teachers I had in middle school and in college. I am grateful for a small group of close friends. I am particularly grateful to two particular friends in middle school who got me through the difficulties of being the scholarship kid who didn't have the right clothes or the money for the ski tickets.

    The thing is that I was miserable and alienated a lot of the time at that school, and at my elite college too. When I left the private middle school to return to public, the headmaster and asst. headmistress could not believe it. I had a full scholarship! They told me they were sure I would return, and even gave me a grace period to decide. I didn't return.

    Much later, my husband and I had a little money and young kids and we were courted by a friend of a friend who was starting up a private school. The (unstated as such) implication was that if we made a significant donation, we'd have an in with admissions. I said something about probably sending our kids to public. "No, you won't," he said, so confidently arrogant about that point that we didn't consider making donation after all ;-).

    I have found that many who only know private schools really don't believe that many of us *choose* public schools even if we have the means to do otherwise. That may explain some of the so-called "zealotry" on the public side--I have found at least that people don't actually believe what I say about public schools, so I have to say it again and again.

    My kids don't have all the above-mentioned advantages at their public. But they do have good, professional, sometimes excellent, and almost always devoted teaching. They have a solid curriculum. Even at a school that was around 30% CST when we started, we built up an arts program and that was further supplemented with Prop H. I have no worries about my children's academic achievements or preparation for college.

    But there is more than that. I'm sure this will be pooh-poohed, but it has turned out to be important to me as a student and as a parent. In addition to the obvious diversity advantage at public school, which is an educational opportunity and life experience in itself, the publics simply have a sense of being a civic institution, widely community-based in a way that privates by definition can't match. Yes, private school has community, but it is always exclusive. I don't mean that in a snarky way, but as a statement of fact. As a place to help raise my children, I am just happier in the more civic setting. It has become part of who they are.

    [To be clear. I make no claims or judgments for others on this point, just offering my point of view. I know this is a complex issue for many.]

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  82. Part of the Main @ 9:55: You wrote earlier:

    So I'm not sure that parents are avoiding poverty in sending their kids to an academically focused school. There are avoiding having the academic focus nulled out by kids and parents who are unwilling to "get with the program" of an academic focus.

    So to whom *were* you referring? No offense, but sometimes it seems as though you change your terms of debate when challenged on the facts. Your phrasing sure seemed like code for poor people. How would you ever know that a school had kids and parents who were unwilling to get with the program of academic focus? FWIW, I have a friend who moved to the 'burbs whose teen daughter is going through some troubled times and is definitely "not with the program" of an academic focus. Should her classmates have known to avoid her ahead of time?

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  83. 9:56

    Not being a teacher I won't try to answer your question.

    But I did want to respond to the other part of what you said. I agree with you that the conversations about socio-economic fears and anxieties are among the most interesting here. As one who wrote that I was offended by the rhetoric about poor people on this thread, I would like to be clear that I don't see it as shouting down that conversation. I also don't think this was about political correctness.

    There is a difference between shutting people down for saying the wrong word or phrase and calling them out for being disrespectful. Saying that no one would want their kids to go to school with poor kids; saying they'll just have more kids if we subsidize child care (the old fear-mongering they they will take us over!); saying that people are unwilling to "get with the program" of educating their kids; I believe this is disrespectful. Apparently I'm not the only person here to think so.

    By all means, let's have the conversation about the elephant in the room. But to quote the eloquent teacher who posted a few hours ago: "Do us the great good favor of treating the real lives of your fellow San Franciscans with respect." In advance, thanks.

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  84. "
    So to whom *were* you referring? No offense, but sometimes it seems as though you change your terms of debate when challenged on the facts. "

    Parents want to send their kids to school with other families and kids who are academically "in gear." As you have pointed out, there certainly are some kids facing formidable challenges when it comes to being able to function.

    However, there must be a way to surmount many of these problems and create a school that is academically focused and produces positive outcomes, even where many kids are poor. If it were not so, E R Taylor school would not exist.

    If all the schools in the city could reproduce what E
    R Taylor School has accomplished, there would be greater enrollment in public schools. It would take some time, but we would build confidence that a San Francisco public school education is a College Bound education. (I believe that "College Bound" is an E R Taylor motto.)

    "Your phrasing sure seemed like code for poor people."

    It's not. I've never valued people based on their financial wealth. Some of the most interesting people I have known in my life would not by any standard be considered to be wealthy.

    "How would you ever know that a school had kids and parents who were unwilling to get with the program of academic focus? FWIW, I have a friend who moved to the 'burbs whose teen daughter is going through some troubled times and is definitely "not with the program" of an academic focus. Should her classmates have known to avoid her ahead of time?"

    Well, you could just as well be talking about me at some point in my life.

    To be sure, kids and their parents will have their ups and downs. However, no child is helped by a school environment that is overwhelmed by kids who are unfocused and teachers who are overwhelmed and unable to teach.

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  85. However, no child is helped by a school environment that is overwhelmed by kids who are unfocused and teachers who are overwhelmed and unable to teach.

    Sure. But that is not the reality at my kids' SF public school, nor the SF public schools of my kids' friends. It's easy to make blanket statements like this, and we all nod our heads, but it is not reflective of the experience of most. Teachers "unable to teach?" That's a very big and wrong generalization if you are applying it to most SF schools. There are a few in this category, but not most. And as you point out, we have some rock star schools that happen to focus low-SES children, including ER Taylor and also Moscone. Yes, there needs to be more replication of their success. It would help if all schools had the funding base of ER Taylor (which is supported by a philanthropist) because those extra funds do make a difference.

    I think we do agree that the district needs to focus on building quality schools for all, that focus on positive outcomes and academic achievement with high standards.

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  86. 12:33:

    I'm sorry, but I think you are on a fault finding mission.

    I'm glad you are happy with your school.

    Best!

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  87. Part of the Main: No, I'm not on a fault-finding mission. I've just been following the evolution of your argument and trying to understand it.

    I do think we agree that we all want schools that are "academically in gear." I think we agree that it is possible even for low-SES schools, such as ER Taylor (albeit Taylor has lots of extra funding) to provide that.

    However, it also seems from what you write, and I apologize if I am misunderstanding you, that large numbers of our low-SES families don't care or are unwilling to be in gear, and other times you seem to be making statements about the majority of our schools being overwhelmed or teachers being unable to teach. And, importantly, that these "facts" are the reason why middle class+ families avoid public schools in this town. While it is true at some schools, it's just not true at most of our schools. So either I misunderstand you, or we have a real disagreement about that.

    Good night to you....

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  88. All the complaints about some posters showing a lack of respect come from people who show no respect whatsoever to those same posters they are complaining about. Its impossible to discuss the private v public debate (and the poster from Richmond is absolutely right that the lottery exacerbates this problem) before the public school advocates come out of the woodwork and accuse people who are even considering going private of disrespecting poor people, classism, racism, and whatever other negative "ism" they can conjure up.

    Bottom line there are many schools in the SFUSD that are poor performers and any reasonably aware parent who can place their child elsewhere will do so. I'm a public school kid but my child goes private because the SFUSD tried to send my child to a horrid school. This fact doesn't make me hate poor people, a racist, or an aristocrat. The public school advocates and teachers who police this blog via accusations of racism etc. really sicken me

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  89. I, for one, have looked at over a dozen publics. And I will look at probably a half-dozen privates. And when the actual SFUSD assignment, and/or private acceptance(s) + aid (or lack thereof) all come in, I will choose what's best for my kid. If none are, I will move temporarily to the burbs and try again the following year. It's not about ideology to me. It's about my kid.

    Meanwhile, wherever I send my own child, I will defend and support public education to the best of my abilities. Public education is a common good, and none of us except the most corrupt of politicians and corporate interests will benefit from this massive deskilling and dumbing down of the citizenry. Do we really and truly think that the greatest economic downturn since the Depression has nothing to do with the destruction of public education, secondary and higher, in the past 30 years? Come visit my college classroom someday: see how the majority of them don't know what the Civil War is, can't name the past 3 vice presidents, can't write a subject-verb-object sentence, can't figure out what it means that an exam is 15% of their grade, can't read a 19th century novel, can't summarize an argument they read. And then remember that these kids are going to be (not) getting the jobs that will (not) be paying your social security, (not) voting for the leaders who will (not) protect your well-being as you age.

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  90. Well, 6:16, it was your fellow private-schoolers who stated on this thread that they go private so their kids don't have to go to school with those distasteful po' folks.

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  91. Thanks to all who have participated in this very lively and interesting discussion.

    This is my continued concern about ANY school with a high concentration of kids from troubled backgrounds, whether it's poverty in a school in the Bayview, neuroses at a private school for gifted kids in Silicon Valley, or whatever: What happens to middle of the pack kids like ours, especially if class sizes are increased? At least one teacher from another district posted on another thread saying that independent learners succeed on their own and kids with the highest needs get the lion's share of attention. The teacher said it's not planned that way, it's just the reality of teaching in a large classroom. It would be great to hear from more teachers on this point.

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  92. Desiderata

    Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

    As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

    If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

    Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

    Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

    Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

    With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

    Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

    Max Ehrmann c.1920

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  93. Well, 6:16, it was your fellow private-schoolers who stated on this thread that they go private so their kids don't have to go to school with those distasteful po' folks.

    Exactly. I had no complaints about Debbie's original post. I complained only after the disrespectful comments appeared. I respect and understand the hard choices parents have to make. I just can't let comments fly by about how there's never any good in sending your kid to school with poor kids or how poor families will take public money as a chance to have lots of babies, or how they are unwilling to support their kids' education. These were *actual comments* and I called them out. Not all private school parents, or those considering private school, but those comments and attitudes. Please note that there is a difference.

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  94. 8:24am

    Thank you. You are well-reasoned. I especially appreciate your saying that matter where you child ends up--and we all know there are many wrinkles to that decision, not all of which are in your hands--that you will continue to advocate for public education. Because this is not only about our own kids! It is about the well-being of all of us.

    February 25 community meeting at Marina Middle School.

    March 4 rally -- march from various parts of town to Civic Center rally @ 5pm (UESF rally at 4pm). We will be joined by SF State, community colleges, and other Bay Area school districts. There will be actions for public education throughout the day all around the state and on college campuses.

    Be there.

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  95. I've heard that the Stratford School is very, very academic. It's also self-selecting, because they test the preschoolers with flashcards before admitting them. If they can't already almost read, and identify things like long and short vowels, and lower-case letters, they don't get in. I find this appalling. There are some kids who don't really "get" reading until they're six or seven, but may nonetheless be brilliant people. In Sweden, I hear they don't teach reading till age seven, and yet Sweden has the highest literacy rate in the world. I thought this was common knowledge today. Testing for kindergarten admittance with flashcards seems rather limiting and old-fashioned. Does Stratford think otherwise? I really do not want to send my kids to a mini prep school (at least not for elementary school), but perhaps some people do, and I suppose I shouldn't have a problem with that.

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  96. 1:14, not my cup of tea either, although one of my children would have passed that test. And I'm not wild about the "everyone pays, no scholarships" rule--although the no fundraising thing that follows that rule is attractive. But then, that's the thing about private, especially a for-profit one: they can do whatever they want and don't have to be accountable other than getting applicants. I guess they are getting applicants. I think they have the right price point, anyway.

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  97. Late to the discussion. I just want to say I am sad to see a middle class versus poor people debate. I do think the middle class is being squeezed like crazy, but I don't think it is because of benefits to poor folks, who have also been squeezed: other than medical benefits to uninsured poor kids (SCHIP), where is the expansion of benefits for them in the last generation?

    Income and wealth share has headed up the scale. The top 10% and especially the top 1-2% have received the lion's share of economic growth of the last generation. Yet we have a middle class that resents paying taxes to benefit the poor--and this resentment has been fomented by the very people (Repubs yes, but also Democrats) who have pushed through tax breaks for the very wealthy.

    Think about Bush's unfunded tax cuts, which along with the two wars and the unfunded (and unnegotiated corporate giveaway) prescription drug mandate were hugely responsible for our nation's growing deficit even before the great recession of the present day. These tax cuts hugely benefited the wealthy, not the middle class. The estate tax, aka death tax, affects a tiny, miniscule % of people, yet the middle class supported rolling it back. Middle class people benefit from taxes through schools and other social services, but we have participated in our own demise. Have we seen our salaries go up along with corporate profits? No, we have seen off-shoring and outsourcing and now layoffs. We added an income with women in the workforce, and then big personal debt, but we have reached the end of that road now too.

    How did the middle class get pulled into this worldview where taxes are bad? In part through the demonization of poor people and especially poor people of color. Think: welfare cheats, welfare queens, illegal aliens, "they" have more babies so they can live on the dole, "they" are lazy, shiftless, gangbangers, dopers, etc etc etc.

    I'm a middle class single parent. My interests do not lie with Bush's tax cuts or attempts to stall out health care reform or stymie Prop 13 reform. I am not poor, so I don't face the same challenges as my low-income neighbors down the block, but our interests are greatly aligned. We will be marching together on March 4 to the civic center to demand that the state refocus on public education and find a way back to funding it.

    Note, I find that the terms poor, middle class, upper-middle class, wealthy are somewhat nebulous and often are a state of mind. I'm in the social sciences so I like definitions. Class is education and networks as well as income, but I tend to think that:

    Poor = up to 200% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) or $42,000/family of four; some say it is lower or more like $32,000/family of four.

    Middle class for me is 200-500% FPL, or up to $105,000/family of four; some would say it is lower than that, but in SF that is probably not the case and anyway, the Obama health plan looks at it that way.

    Upper middle is $105,000 to $250,000/family of four

    Wealthy is $250,000/family of four, again following Obama.

    We have all of these categories in our public schools, of course, but the majority, like the population at large, is in the first two categories. I am also aware the the third category, "upper middle," also feels squeezed even though this group has somewhat benefited from the policies of the last generation (they are in the top 10% of income). But it is the top 1-2% that has really benefited.

    Anyway, we need to stick together when it comes to standing up for social services and reversing the transfer of wealth. We built this country on the middle class--including access to the middle class through education--and we are in danger of losing it.

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  98. Do you think people in Africa or Mexico who have money and opportunities send their children to school with poor families? Of course not. It is not racism. And here in the U.S. when a family works hard and succeeds enough to leave poverty (as my own did), what is the first thing we want to do? Get the heck out of the poor neighborhood amd schools. And isn't that what anyone would advise a poor family? The SF school board can try to engineer mixing of families as hard as they want to, but all the will do is drive people to to go private schools (as my family was forced to do by the 'lottery' system). Feel free to judge me all you want!

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  99. You think there is no racism in Mexico or Africa? Really? I assure you that there is, and it interacts with SES just as it does here. It takes different forms in those places as they have their own particular histories, but it is there.

    Sure, people flee poor neighborhoods when they can. And I don't judge anyone who is reluctant to put a child into a highly challenged situation.

    However, we have a chance in our very diverse and compact city to create schools that are integrated in socio-economic terms. In the lottery model we showed that with the right combination of factors this can be a successful model for ALL the kids involved. We have also shown that we can build successful schools that are mostly low-SES--if they have a good amount and a good mix of resources, like ER Taylor. We can provide a place, through our schools, where we meet our San Francisco neighbors of all backgrounds and work together. This isn't a dream. I see it every day. Not without its problems. But it is there. For all the complaining, think for a minute about what we HAVE. Amazing teachers, a decent if frayed infrastructure, an active parent community, diversity to kill for. What if the public schools disappeared tomorrow? What a loss that would be. It is a gift.

    You keep saying you were "forced out" by the lottery system. I'm sorry, but is simply more accurate to say that you chose to leave. Private schools exclude all the time, but publics do not. Now, I don't know which school or schools you were offered. It may be that they were among the low scorers and highly challenged. Those do exist. I don't judge your particular choice. Just noting that it was a choice.

    And beyond judgments, I urge prospective parents to check out the many schools--many, many more than there used to be--that are doing well or are on a trajectory of improvement, with increased parental involvement, strong leadership, etc. The vast majority of us find acceptable spots eventually (yes, the process is a bear, though I guess the new process is supposed to help with that).

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  100. Yes, the schools I was so kindly offered were not schools where I was willing to risk having my child. I do consider that forced out.

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  101. You were not *willing* as you say. Therefore, you chose. I don't judge your choice, especially as you don't share what the offerings were.

    Look, I'm only harping on this because it I think the level of emotion you consistently put into your posts undermines your argument. I actually think you are right to point out that there are some schools in our district that are failing, that no one should have to choose to keep. It's actually worse that those who really don't have a choice are those who are most ill-served by these schools. The district doesn't like to say this directly, though, so we end up talking around each other a lot. It would be good if we could not talk in circles but rather face the issue.

    But you don't help matters when you say you were "forced out." Then the district can say, correctly, no you were not. You were offered a legitimate spot. It also doesn't help when you toss in sarcastic phrasings like "so kindly." C'mon, it's a large system enrolling thousands of new families each year. No one expects personal kindness, just a fair shake.

    As schools have improved, there are more and more "acceptable" spots to go around. I think we all know there are way not enough "trophy" spots. And it seems that some families each year can't find either one and end up bailing. And there are families without the resources to bail who end up in the failing schools (which are not the majority, but they exist).

    I'm just saying--you have a story to tell. I don't know which schools you chose to reject for your child. But it is legitimate for you to tell that story. It would just be more compelling if you didn't make it sound like sour grapes--"I was forced out by the lottery." I'm afraid that a lot of us think immediately, yeah yeah, she didn't get her kid into Clarendon, join the club, but why not give Revere or Sunnyside a try.... I mean, we all know what happens to the folks that put only the notorious 11 schools at the top of the list, right? Hello, people, not everyone gets those schools.

    If you said, more accurately that you were offered several different schools, but chose not to accept any of them for X Y Z specific reasons, and couldn't get an offer among the several non-trophies, that you found okay, then it would be easier to hear what you are saying about the schools that are truly risky. And I do mean specifics, because another rant about 30% CST--when those schools vary by demographics and some are improving and they are all over the map--or another rant about poor kids in general--will not fly.

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  102. I wasn't referring to people struggling with these issues as those who need to "get with the program."

    As the person to whom you are responding, I need to ask you: then to whom are you referring?

    Let me make this very, very clear. At my anti-trophy location, we work together with many families having significant problems that preclude the kind of engagement with a school that one might find ideal. We also work collaboratively with families whose own experiences with SFUSD have been overwhelmingly negative and whose orientation toward us is therefore pretty poor.

    NONE of these families are refusing to "get with the program". They may be challenging us to define what we think "the program" is. They may inspire us to question that very "program" and make the modifications that serve our students both as members of their communities and as college-bound intellectuals. They may be unwilling to engage with us until we build a relationship that shows we cherish their children and are awed by their brilliance.

    I'm not sure who these mythical program-avoidant people are. But I spend a great deal of time with these families, much more than you. So I hope that you will question your insistence that high-needs schools are overrun by families who are opposed to their children's education.

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  103. We had friends who's daughter went to Stratford preschool, not in SF. This girl's first language was not English, however she was reading at 3, sounding out the words. At first, I don't think she understood what she was reading. She made no friends, because there was so little free time, and she was shy because of her imperfect English. She was talked TO more than allowed to speak herself. At first the parents thought it was great she was reading so young. Then 2 years later they realized at what expense.

    I toured the one in SF when they first opened. My impression, based on the tour and my friend's experience - Stratford is extremely academic, little to no emphasis on social, time limit at each activity - everything is scheduled to the minute. Granted, I'm talking about the preschool. But I can't imagine the K-8 has a very different feel. Definitely not for us.

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  104. THe reason there's no fundraising is that there's no financial aid

    ;-)

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  105. If you only let in those who can afford the tuition, you can make sure your kids score well on standardized tests.

    It is when you let in poor kids == especially English Language Learners -- that your scores suffer.

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  106. 9:46 I don't know if that was "very very clear". I don't even see a premise here. Then reading over the post you are referring to, I also don't see where she wrote that poor families "are opposed to their children's education". I'm also confused how you know you spend more time with those families then someone who has the name "anonymous".

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  107. 11:19 PM, I had the same impressions of Stratford. Thanks for sharing. I can see that it would work well for kids who like structure, though. My kid is too all-over-the-place.

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