Ask the grumpies: Private vs. public colleges

Sandy L. asks

Cost benefit of public vs private college. What is the value of the network, etc.

The question isn’t really about public vs. private.  Berkeley is going to open a lot more doors and have a much more impressive network than the expensive small regional private liberal arts college one of my sisters-in-law went to.  The question is really about the prestige of the school.  There’s a lot of interesting new research on that topic.  And the answer is that, first off, we don’t really know, and second off, it is nuanced.

In general, for your white upper-class/upper-middle-class kid, it doesn’t really matter where they go.  Harvard, top flagship, regional state school– it just doesn’t matter.

For your lower income family, minority, etc. etc. etc. student, it can matter quite a bit.

But even with that mattering, some schools are better than others at elevating kids into higher socioeconomic status.  And some schools (like Harvey Mudd) are phenomenal at elevating low SES kids, but don’t actually admit very many of them (that $72K/year sticker fee and all).

I’m too lazy to source and cite this, but if you’re interested in finding out more, flip through the NBER working papers abstracts for the education group.  If you need to narrow your search window down, Carolyn Hoxby is a good place to start– she’s written extensively on this topic and cites a lot of the other work that has been and is being done.

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Ask the grumpies: How do you pick a preschool?

Leah asks:

How do you pick preschool? Our best options are the Catholic school ($6,300 tuition, and that includes lunch and the before/after care, but Catholic school), public school ($6,300 tuition and does NOT include those things, so we’d pay an extra $2k for lunch and care), or staying at our current daycare/preschool that our daughter seems to be aging out of (~$5,500ish, includes full day, breakfast, lunch, all snacks and no random vacation days). The other two preschools have random vacation days. We’d have to send in snack about once a month at the Catholic school, but at least they have snacks.

We are just so torn and are not sure what’s the most important and whether it’s worth it to pay $2k more for public school. That’s a lot of money for us.

Here’s our answer to a more general question 4 years ago on how to pick a daycare .  The fundamentals are still the same– visit the schools and look for teacher/student interactions and student/teacher happiness.  What’s slightly different for older kids is first that your child will be better able to tell you if something is going wrong, and second, intellectual stimulation may be more important.  So ask about differentiation if applicable.  (I also have to say I am in love with the way Montessori gets kids to clean up after themselves– a huge benefit, so keep an eye out for who cleans up after activities when you visit.)

Given that your current daycare is cheaper and less of a hassle (those random vacation days are no joke, also remembering snack once a month is non-trivial for us, though at least it’s just once a month), have you talked to their administration about getting more intellectual stimulation for your kid?  It may cost less than 1-3K to provide materials.  On the other hand, if the school just isn’t set up for that, it isn’t set up for that.

What is most important to us:

  1. Happiness
  2. Hassle
  3. Intellectual and physical exhaustion by the end of the day
  4. Actual learning

But YMMV.  Happiness is non-negotiable for us.  There are tradeoffs with hassle and learning that we’re willing to make, and indeed, getting DC1 to start K early was significantly more hassle than just keeping hir at preschool another year.  DC2’s public school isn’t leaving hir exhausted at the end of the day (zie still misses hir Montessori director’s math classes), but zie is learning Spanish so that’s pretty cool.  Thankfully we have paid care options for the random days off.

Regarding the religious aspect– ask them how they handle the Easter story.  That’s a good test for if they’re creepy religious or story-based religious at these ages.  I want to say that most Catholic preschools are story-religious, but I was a little traumatized by the Easter story in my Catholic kindergarten– how they handle these things really varies, even among preschools with the same denomination (as we found out with two different Missouri Synod Lutheran preschools).

Grumpy Nation:  What advice would you give Leah when making this decision?

 

How do you deal with dinner when everybody is scattered all over the place?

I asked this question in the Frugal Girl’s comment section on a post where she mentioned several nights where her kids weren’t there for dinner.

What do people eat when they’re out and about? That’s getting to be an increasing occurrence with us as DC1 gets older and has more after-school activities. Occasionally zie’ll be at one where food is provided, but most of the time they assume meals before or after (but there’s no time before and after is pretty late!). I am embarrassed to say that my kids had trailmix (emergency snack in the car) for dinner at least once this week (after that they weren’t hungry for dinner when they finally got home).

The comments were mostly that trail-mix is fine– maybe add a banana.

I guess I shouldn’t be implicitly shaming trail-mix meals!  And I know nuts are fine, but I’m not 100% sold on the merits of so much chocolate or sugary dried cranberries or the lack of anything green (other than pistachos).  A great snack, but maybe not a regular dinner plan… Plus there’s always the worry that kids will (gasp) get tired of it or that we’ll run out before making it into the city for more.  We’re at the point now where 3-4 days of the week are in this weird spot where one or both of the kids don’t get home until ~6:30 or later, sometimes with some downtime (sometimes briefly at home after bus dropoff, sometimes only in the car) sometime between 4:30 and 5.

What do you do for meals, or to stave off the low blood-sugar grumpies, on days where your “regular” routine is disrupted?

 

Ask the grumpies: Things to help a kid get into the college of hir choice

Sandy L. asks

If a kid has his heart set on a college, what things could help them get in besides academics. For example, MIT has these science camps for kids that are expensive but could they also help with admissions later on?

We truly don’t know.  Take everything we say with a HUGE grain of salt.  I mean, we know people who got into Stanford but not Harvard and vice versa.  It really seems to be a crapshoot at a certain level, even if you’re your state’s math champion and have straight As, etc.  I don’t actually think it’s that hard to get into MIT if your grades and testscores are good and you have a true love of math and science compared to getting into Harvard (at least, I know a lot of people who got into MIT as undergrads who didn’t get into any ivies to which they applied).  It’s more difficult than getting into your state’s flagship, but there’s a lot less competition for those slots.  So I wouldn’t think that the science camps would be necessary.  Whether or not they help, I don’t know.

Back when it was called the Westinghouse science award, it helped to have won the Regeneron Science Talent Search.

It helps to have top scores and grades at a known-name school and to have come from nothing.  If you’re first gen, low income, and have fought your way to the top, that makes it easier for colleges to decide.  Particularly if you’re a scholarship kid at Eaton or at one of the state public boarding schools for GT kids.

One of my colleagues’ kids got in to our (state flagship) school (for engineering/CS) late admissions despite being low on grades and testscores because he did an after school club with a professor in the computer science department and did a very good job at said club, and the professor was able to pull strings.  I don’t know how universal that is– certainly I have never had any contact with undergraduate admissions– but some professors at some schools might have some pull.

If Caltech has the same application it had 15 years ago, you’re more likely to get in if you take it seriously.  Fill out that page that says, “put something interesting here” with something interesting!  I filled the entire thing in very tiny writing with math jokes.  My ex-boyfriend drew a comic showing the path of his life complete with adorable stick figures interacting with the line representing the timeline of his life.  I forget what my sister put in there but I’m sure it was interesting and entertaining.  We all got in.

On the application, if there’s a place for it, have an interesting story to tell that illustrates your interests and your academic path.  One of my college ex-boyfriends got in everywhere (he picked our SLAC over Stanford) partly because his admissions essay was a delightful story about how he built a trebuchet.  My sister got in everywhere she applied (including ivies) probably partly because she talked about how physics informed her dancing.  It probably also helps to be focused and to pretend you know what you’re going to do with your life and why and you have a path mapped out to get there.  Extra points if you are unusual– a young woman in an award winning Poms squad and an all-girls math team who has taken as much math and hard science as she can who really wants to design more energy efficient engines.  (Again, that was my sister.)

Many schools will make their final waitlist/admit decisions for people on that margin based on who has visited the campus/had an alumni interview.  I think this is unfair to low income kids who CAN’T just hop on a plane or spend two weeks in the summer driving up and down the East Coast from the Midwest, but it’s policy at many schools.

Applying early action, particularly the kind where you swear to go if you get in helps, though it decreases your financial aid offer many places.

Playing (and being really good at) the right instrument/sport can help.  But it is hard to predict what the school of your choice will need the year you’re applying.  (And this probably doesn’t matter at MIT, but I don’t actually know.)

Not needing financial aid can help at some schools.  I don’t know if MIT is one of them, but MIT is notoriously stingy when it comes to financial aid.  (Harvard is exceedingly generous!)

Being a member of an Olympic team or the child of a celebrity or owning your own profitable business or app or nonprofit that you started as a teen can make you more attractive.   So can having published a scholarly paper in an academic journal.  Or having a patent.  Or a parent who gives a multi-million dollar donation.

Passing the AMC 10 or 12 and doing well on the AIME can help.  Taking college classes and doing well in them doesn’t hurt (though as this becomes more common, it may no longer be as strong a signal as it once was).

We’re told that leadership experience, state and national awards, and volunteering can help, but I’m skeptical.  I don’t know if these are necessary, but they’re definitely not sufficient.  There’s just too many people each year who have these things.

Some people swear by college coaches.  I don’t know how to find a good one or what kind of value they add to someone who is already doing well.

I don’t know what we’re going to encourage our kids to do.  This is more timely for DC1 who starts high school in a year and a half.  Zie is really into math, but not competitions.  Zie like robotics, but not competitions.  Zie loves computers and games and likes programming but needs more formal training in programming.  Zie loves music but although better than I was at that age, is not at competition level either in piano or violin (the piano teacher is pretty lax and zie just started violin a year ago), and again, is not crazy about competition.  We might be able to get hir an unpaid summer internship with a professor at my school, or zie can do more work for me, possibly even something publishable.  Zie could take summer classes at the community college or the university (I still haven’t figured out how to do summer student-at-large classes, though it’s pretty easy for high school students to take college classes during the school year).  It is hard to say what’s best.  Most likely we’ll just let hir interests guide hir and focus on learning rather than on getting into a specific school.  Because for high income kids of educated parents, the specific school isn’t that important for earnings.

Anybody know more about what undergraduate admissions offices are looking for?

A new lunch plan for DC1

Getting DC1 to make hir lunch last year was an exercise in unpleasantness, so in the end we gave in and just had hir do cafeteria lunches.  It worked out relatively well.  This year at the middle school has been a bit worse– DC1 has been enjoying cafeteria lunches, BUT the cafeteria lunches are no longer healthy.  Basically DC1 gets cheese, pepperoni, or sausage pizza and fries, unless zie remembers to specifically request something other than fries.  Fries are the cafeteria server’s default.  In THEORY there are three different lunch stations, and in theory one of those stations is entirely salads (the third station has more traditional not-that-healthy cafeteria fare).  DC1 promised to try to choose healthier food options, but in the end just ended up eating cheese pizza and fries and the occasional fruit cup or carrot sticks for lunch 5 days a week.  Zie says zie doesn’t want the traditional cafeteria food (which usually isn’t any healthier than pizza– think chicken patty sandwiches without condiments, corndogs, or breadsticks and baked potato) and zie hasn’t been able to find the salad station.

Since school started, DC1 has become much more picky about not eating healthy food at home as well.  Which is annoying.  DH and I suspect the monochrome meals at school are contributing to skipping the vegetable portion of dinner.  We don’t like it.

So we’re trying something new.  Since we’re now higher income and pre-made healthy things are “in”, we’re letting DC1 pick out a bunch of overpriced healthy meals like pre-made salads, guacamole packs (which are like fruit cups, but with guacamole instead), and, of course, our standard applesauce/fruitcup/crunchy legume sides.  We also have a bunch more adorable lunch containers because I put a bunch on the amazon wishlist after writing this post and my mom came through with them at Christmas.   The hope is that this will produce less lunch-making angst than did actually making zir own salad/sandwich/etc.

I vaguely recall when I was in middle school, the lunches I made were mostly packaged orange-colored crackers with peanut butter (or better, the packaged sticks with dipping cheese), Doritos, and an apple.  Sometimes I would even get a Little Debbie snack-cake.  There are a lot healthier packaged options these days for those willing and able to pay for them.

How do/did you deal with middle schooler lunches?  How healthy are/were the school lunches you know or remember?

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Ask the grumpies: Math for ages 0-5 for kids who love math

Leah asks:

How did DC2 learn so much math? And when did you start? We’ve started discussing addition using finger counting or counting treats, but I’m not sure my little gal is picking it up yet. I sometimes wonder if I should be doing something more formal (or trying more) or if it’s fine to just chill. I do fractions and percentages when we cut nails (1 nail done, that’s one out of ten, or 1/10th, or 10%, etc).

So, this is based on a comment from a post about how my DC2 is age 5 in kindergarten and is doing multiple digit addition and subtraction with carrying and borrowing as well as some simple multiplication (no times tables memorization yet).

First off– I can’t take much credit for the multiplication.  DC2’s Montessori taught all the “big” kids multiplication.  This is pretty standard in a lot of Montessoris and I think it is part of the curriculum, though I do not actually know how it is taught.

Here’s some suggestions from people in the comments:

Becca says:

If you don’t know about Bedtime Math yet, get the app or the books :-)

A big part of very early math is pattern recognition. Grouping items according to different criteria, making designs with blocks or beads are good things to do.
The vocabulary of positions (over/under) and sizes (bigger/littler) and so on can also be good to get down early.
Other stuff, from a pretty evidenced-based group: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/299-help-your-child-develop-early-math-skills

I’m also a firm believer in counting during swing pushing at the park. It gave me something to do, and gave Roo exposure to numbers bigger than 100 (ok, so we may have both had an inordinate patience for swinging).

I have to admit that we own the first Bedtime Math book (on Laura Vanderkam’s recommendation, along with Family Math, if I recall correctly), but we haven’t really used it.  DC1 already owned Aha! and Gotcha! (and had kind of outgrown Math for Smarty Pants), so we briefly looked through it but really had outgrown it.  I haven’t dug it out of DC1’s bookcase to try with DC2.  Maybe I should.

We have two different sets of brightly colored manipulables that I will dig out to play math with the kids with.  One set is a set of pixel-blocks that DC1 loved to play with.  Zie has always been into small things (and not into putting things into hir mouth), so pixel blocks work well for that (not safe for many small children!).  DC2 prefers a set of bigger circular pieces that DH initially bought to use as game pieces for game design (I can’t easily find them on amazon, but there are a lot of reasonably priced options if you search for manipulatives).  We also have lots of fun toddler sorting games because apparently I never grew out of them.  (I may be messy and disorganized in most of my life, but I find sorting to be extremely soothing.  This is part of why my bookcases and spice cabinet are beautifully alphabetized.)  Back when we had access to swing sets (our town has removed them all for “safety”/lawsuit reasons), we definitely counted pushes.  Once my kids were able to talk, I would ask, “How many pushes do you want this time?” and then I’d count out that many pushes and ask again.

omgd says:

I started trying to introduce fractions by talking about sharing. As in, “There are 6 apples and your friend takes half. How many do you have left?” She doesn’t really get thirds or quarters yet, but I think it’s because of the vocabulary.

I have to admit, I haven’t really thought about teaching fractions other than what DC2 is getting in hir brainquest book.  They will become more prevalent in the Singapore book a book or three from where DC1 is right now [Update:  the day after I typed this, DC2 had to color in halves and quarters in hir Singapore Math 1b book, but only for a couple of pages].

Ok, now back to me:

When my kids are bouncing off the walls someplace that they shouldn’t be bouncing off the walls, we practice counting.  When counting is too easy, we practice skip counting.  When skip counting becomes too easy, we will practice multiplication.  Then division.  I use this technique with my brilliant but overly energetic nieces and nephews who are too excited at being with extended family to be controlled by their parents.  (Back when I flew Southwest, I would keep the small children I invariably ended up sitting next to given my need for a window seat occupied by figuring out what their math level was and teaching them the next thing.  There are kids who learned long division from me because I wanted them to stay still!)

I LOVE Singapore math SO much.  It’s really great because it sneakily builds up to future concepts.  Examples are chosen specifically to help the subconscious pattern-match to figure out new things that won’t be introduced for chapters.  It is lovely.  Plus they teach a lot of really great mental math techniques that those of us who are really comfortable with use automatically (things like realizing that 10-1 = 9, so sometimes it’s easier to mentally add 10 and subtract 1 than it is to add 9 directly).  I am extremely impressed at how much facility DC2 has with numbers right now. Here’s me talking more about the workbooks the kids do.

DC2 had learned the borrowing and carrying from Brainquest (and me)– we spent about a month slowly cranking through double and triple digit addition and subtraction.  There are a lot of problems on a page and I would have hir just do 3 a day once we got to carrying and borrowing.   But zie wasn’t really facile with it until we got Dragonbox Big Numbers which is an enormously fun and addicting game (I finished it, but I still sort of wish I could be picking apples now.  It is a really great game.)  DC2 sped through it (as did DC1 and I– I finished first, then DC2, then finally DC1 sometime after that English project finished [for those who are curious, it wasn’t interpretive dance next… they’re doing another powerpoint (or, she suggests, PREZI UGH) use MOTION!… and a bunch of other suggestions that are super bad powerpoint etiquette].)   By the end of Big Numbers, DC2 was a multiple digit addition and subtraction wizard.

DC2 is mostly through DragonBox Numbers right now and is really good at it, but it’s not really as much fun as Big Numbers was, and it’s got some bugs which are irritating.

And, as I said earlier, I do break out the manipulables a lot.  Sometimes we use them to illustrate a particularly tricky workbook problem, but sometimes we just have fun doing number patterns.  We’ll also do patterns with fingers.  I really like playing games with these and making 10s.  So you start associating 3 and 7, 4 and 6, and so on.  We can also do grids of squares and rectangles with the manipulables to get used to multiplication (which I did more with DC1 than with DC2 because DC2 came home from preschool one day completely understanding multiplication).  There are a lot of fun ways to mix and match numbers and different colors to get an understanding of the patterns (and the beauty) of mathematics.

We also give the kids an allowance at a pretty early age, at first so they can get familiar with money and learn the denominations of coins and dollars.  (After the sticking random things in mouths stage though!)

Later on, I will introduce Hard Math for Elementary Students, but DC2 isn’t ready for that yet.  DC1 is really enjoying Hard Math for Middle School right now, as well as Saturday Math Circle, and zie just started doing every other week competition-based Math Club once a week after school, though zie is skipping the competitions this year/semester.  (Mainly because the first qualifying one is at the same time as a birthday party!  But also partly because zie does math for fun, not to compete.)

Later on, DC2 will also get introduced to Martin Gardner and Aha!  and Gotcha!  But not yet.

Should you be doing more or is it fine to chill?  I’m sure it is fine to chill.  But I can’t not teach math anymore than I can not drink water or keep from breathing.  It’s my nature.  It’s what I do.  And I gotta say that counting/practicing tables is the best for getting kids to behave while waiting for food at a restaurant, though occasionally it does get you dirty looks from other people who think you’re somehow harming your precious child or doing this to show off and don’t realize how much the alternative would interfere with their dining experience.  (Pro-tip:  It is often more fun when you trade off saying the next number, especially when sometimes you get it right away and sometimes you pause dramatically to think for a bit.  This also helps them to notice that skip counting by 2 is literally skipping every other one, and that skip counting by 10 is the same as every other 5.  It’s pretty amazing when they make that Aha! on their own.)

Oh man, I love math so much.

Grumpy Nation:  What are your math teaching tips?

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Facts and Opinions are not the same thing: Part 2

Part one from five years ago at the private school where they do not teach untruths about the civil war but still do not understand the difference between objective statements and opinions.

As promised, DC1 ended the semester being tested on the idea that the cause of the civil war was not reaaaaalllly slavery, but state rights.

I read out the reasons for the civil war given by the southerners who withdrew from the union.  They are PRETTY CLEAR that it was about slavery.  On top of that, South Carolina was pretty pissed off about NY getting to keep its state right of not allowing people to be property in its borders so that Southerners couldn’t take slaves with them to do business in NY.

Then DC1 said, “people have a lot of different opinions”.

And that led to a really lengthy discussion about what is an opinion and what is an untrue statement of fact.  DH and I threw around a lot of terms like “subjective” and “objective”.  Also “hypothesis”.  We talked about climate change.

It drives me nuts that people label incorrect statements as “opinions” and don’t seem to understand the difference between objective truths (which are true no matter what we believe, but sadly cannot always be tested) and subjective opinions.  (“Can an opinion ever be wrong?” DC1 asked. “Sure,” I said, “Saying ‘Eggnog is the best drink in the world’ is an example of a wrong opinion.”)  And this is codified in the South through the K-12 system and reinforced by Fox News.  It is in the airwaves.  I hate it.  And I don’t want to have to add it to my stats class, but maybe I should.

Last year I asked my grad students if we should spend some time on what is “fake news” and they all said no, they understood.  This year they’re not as sure.  Last year “fake news” really was fake– spewed out by what we now know were Russian bots.  This year Republicans have labeled reputable news organizations as “fake news” so it’s more confusing.  On top of that, even formerly reputable news organizations like WSJ have been taken over by ideologues so there’s a lot of crud coming out.  (NYTimes has always had a contingent of crud, and NPR started to kind of suck a couple of years ago.)

How do you all deal with the difference?