Ask the grumpies: Private vs. Public school, why did #1 switch DC1?

The frugal ecologist asks:

Curious (read nosy) about your kiddo #1 switch to public school. Why did you decide to switch? What do you miss about private? What are you happy about with public (I remember you already mentioned aftercare / extracurriculars being much more extensive).

The main reason we switched DC1 when we did was because we were going to Paradise for a year and private school would be 40K instead of 8K PLUS the public schools are really good in Paradise.  But when we came back, we kept DC1 in public school instead of coming back to private.  The main reason for that is, like you say, our public schools have a lot more options starting in middle school.  (The after-care was more extensive in Paradise, but isn’t so much here unless you’re into sports, which DC1 is not.)

So, we mainly remained switched when we came back so DC1 could take an instrument and advanced-level math and because DC1 is a lot older now and can (mostly) handle the larger classes etc.  Zie has had a good year after some initial growing pains and has friends etc.

I do still miss the smaller class sizes and knowing everything that was going on at school.  DC1 probably wouldn’t have fallen quite as far behind in the second to last grading period before we noticed at private school (I can’t remember if I mentioned hir series of forgetting to bring homework home or to turn completed homework in), but I don’t know.  I also miss Spanish and French (and zie would be starting Latin if zie had remained).  And I miss a bit the college level science they were doing because the science teachers they hired had only taught university courses before.

With public we’re happy about… orchestra and math.  We’re unhappy with writing and science.  We’re meh on social studies, PE, and study hall.  Next year zie will have Spanish and fortunately the teacher that everybody said was terrible has moved on, so there will be a new person teaching that course.  Zie will also have Robotics, but the class is supposed to be pretty bad since the person teaching it doesn’t understand programming.  DH may step in there.  We also really like that there is a bus (DC1’s stop is literally on our house corner, DC2’s will be across the street).  In paradise we liked that DC1 could walk/bike to and from school.

DC2 is also starting in public next year instead of private because zie got into the Dual-Language program.  The reason we’re doing dual-language for DC2 but didn’t for DC1 is that, unlike DC1, DC2 didn’t need to start K early, partly because zie is 6 months offset from DC1 (hir birthday is right before the cutoff) and partly because hir Montessori has higher-level materials than DC1’s did at this age so zie hasn’t run out.  If zie hadn’t gotten into dual-language we would have gone straight to 1st with DC2 and skipped K entirely.  (That’s not an option in the dual-language program.  But zie will be able to test out of a grade in the future if need be.)  I’m concerned about class size, lack of attention from the teachers, lack of differentiation, bullying, etc. etc. etc.  But we take things one year at a time.

Moving forward, I will also be concerned about the required state legislature disinformation.   DC1 doesn’t bring textbooks home, but I know that the state uses TX-standard textbooks, which means they are full of information that is biased in ways that do not fit with our family values.  (Unlike the CA-standard textbooks we grew up with!  Those are biased in ways that do fit with our family values.)  So we’ll have to provide information on evolution and the Holocaust etc.  DC1’s social studies teacher this year was a bit of a hippie and probably skirted the line closer to love and understanding of different cultures and religions than what our state legislature wants and hopefully did not get in trouble for it.  Sadly, the class was mostly crafts and not a whole lot of actual academics.  The science teacher was not that great, but not biased about it.  So maybe this worry is overblown in our blue-dot college town.  It would be easier if the school’s indoctrination matched our values rather than being in opposition to them, but there may be benefits there to critical thinking and not kow-towing to authority, even though authority is so highly stressed in this hierarchical former plantation state.

I will give them a lot of books and force critical thinking skills at home!

Minor schooling freakout

We got DC1’s standardized test scores and zie had only gotten an 83% in 7th grade math (DC1 is currently in 6th grade, but because zie is in 7th grade math, zie took the 7th grade standardized math test).  This wouldn’t be a big deal, except one of their online pieces of material says that kids need at least 90% on the 7th grade standardized test to get into Algebra Honors (along with some other requirements that DC1 has), and if they don’t have that then they go into regular Algebra.  Also, Algebra will show up on their high school transcript and be included in their high school GPA no matter when they take it.

On top of that, we just found out that there was an advanced 6th grade Language Arts class that we’d had no idea about when we moved back from paradise.  DC1 has been in regular Language Arts which might partly explain why zie has been learning so little and never had homework.  Plus the last two grading periods (out of 10 grading periods), DC1’s Language Arts grades dropped just below 90 because zie had a brief period of time where zie was completely disorganized and had been having trouble getting things to the places they needed to be (this also showed up for one grading period in math and would have shown up in Orchestra except the teachers emailed us before it became a big enough problem to affect hir grade).   The problem here is that the online sheet talking about tracking into 7th grade basically said if you were in 6th grade advanced, then you’d be in 7th and if you were in 7th, then you would be in 8th.

So I freaked out and started worrying about the perils of acceleration potentially keeping my child from excelling later on (something I have never worried about before with DC1 because we’ve never had cause to worry– and in hir defense, at 10 zie is no more disorganized than most 12 year olds).  DH contacted the counselor to set up an appointment and he called back while we were out for a walk.

It turns out that all 6th graders in 7th grade advanced math get moved up to Algebra Honors regardless of their standardized test scores.  The requirement list is only for students going to Algebra in 8th grade or later.  Whew.

And the counselor looked at DC1’s transcript and said if those last two grading periods had been higher DC1 would have automatically been moved up to advanced 7th grade Language Arts, but since they were below 90, the automatic move wasn’t tripped.  (Though if zie had had those grades in advanced 6th grade Language Arts, then zie would have stayed in the advanced Language Arts track.)  He asked why DC1 wasn’t in 6th grade advanced Language Arts and DH said we’d moved back from out of state and we didn’t know to ask about it.  So the counselor said that because DC1 is in the G/T program and has high grades in advanced 7th grade math and has As in all of hir other classes for all of the grading periods and had high standardized test scores for reading that putting hir in advanced 7th grade Language Arts should not be a problem at all, scheduling conflicts permitting. (Since DC1’s requested schedule probably looks identical to a bunch of other students with academically-minded parents, it probably won’t be a problem.)

So… no reason to freak out at all.

Still, I was not thinking that things DC1 did at age 10 could end up on hir permanent transcript!  I hope Algebra goes well!  The math teacher for the honors classes is supposed to be awesome, so that’s hopeful.  Keyboarding and Spanish will also show up on the high school transcript.  It’s a strange new world we live in.

What’s the moral?  When you’re concerned about something, talk to the school!  They’re there to help (usually).  The other moral is that sometimes you have to ask about things you didn’t know you needed to ask about (like advanced classes… or the fact that there’s an online website where you can track your kids’ turned in home works that everyone else knew about because they were told in 5th grade).

And yes, I still think we made the right decision letting DC1 skip two grades.  But we’re also taking it a year at a time.


Ask the grumpies: Dual-language neighborhood school vs. Gifted school

Azma asks:

I’m curious to know what you’d do in my situation. I live in the outer boroughs of NYC in a diverse, urban neighborhood with decent (but not great) public schools. My 5 year old got a spot in a dual language program (Spanish/ English) at our zoned school. He also tested very highly on the city gifted and talented test with minimal prep and got into an excellent program several neighborhoods away (he’d take a school bus to get there). There’s been a huge push in our neighborhood to convince educated, middle class families (like us) to keep their kids in the neighborhood schools. Many have historically sent their kids to charters, g&t programs, or private schools. We love the g&t program our kid has a spot in, but we also love our neighborhood and worry that we’re contributing to NYC’s problematic school segregation problems. What would you do in our place?

Right or wrong, I always put my kids ahead of general social spillovers.  So I try to decide what is best for them first, and worry about the ripple effects as a secondary concern.  Not that I ignore spillovers, but the spillovers would have to be larger than they are in this case and I would have to know for certain that the spillovers from removing my child from the district were negative.

What I mean by knowing for certain that they are negative– while we do know that having higher SES kids is good for schools (and having kids whose families have domestic violence is bad for schools) and many other network effects, the benefits to having gifted kids are not as clear-cut.  That is, it isn’t always clear that keeping a gifted kid in a non-gifted school is actually better for the school. Gifted kids are special needs and as such tend to draw resources, act up if their intellectual needs aren’t being met, etc.  The same isn’t true of kids who are high achieving but not gifted– they are more likely to provide positive spillovers. So most of the studies that find beneficial effects of, for example, cooperative learning, remove gifted kids from their experiments.

Still, worrying about neighborhood schools is still a really valid concern, and there are things you can do about that even if you don’t send your child there, *even if you don’t have kids*.  Personally, I donate a lot of money to education-related charities.  Donors Choose is a big favorite of mine. Using Donors Choose, I can also pick districts that have greater needs than the one we’re zoned in, which has even more positive effects than would donating to our relatively well-off district.  Before I had children, I supported schools more than I do now because I had lots of time to volunteer and could tutor in low income urban districts.

All of this is an argument to say, take that spillover concern out of your calculus right now.  If you’re worried about the school, there are ways you can have a bigger more positive impact than you would by sending your child there.

That doesn’t mean that you should automatically choose the G/T school, of course.  There are lots of things to think about when making your decision that only you and your family can place weights on.

  • If you feel you’ve made a mistake with either choice, how easy it is to switch?
  • How do you feel about the administration and teaching at both schools?  Do they seem willing to work with parents?
  • If you’ve visited the schools, do the kids seem happy and not acting up?
  • How will the school schedule work with your work-life?  Are there after school programs?  What happens if your child misses the bus or wants to do an after school activity?
  • How strongly do you feel about foreign language acquisition and are there other ways to get it?
  • How do you feel about the curriculum at both scohols?

If you love the G/T school I would be very tempted to stay with it.  From folks I’ve talked with, dual-language is great for keeping GT kids occupied until 2nd or 3rd grade and then they start needing more acceleration.  Hopefully that would not be a problem at the G/T school.  On the other hand, the G/T schools in the city closest to us have a reputation for not actually being very good for G/T– their main purposes is for white parents to segregate their kids without paying 40K/year for private school, which means that they’re not actually geared towards G/T.  That’s not true everywhere, and is probably not true in NYC given how competitive the testing is, but I don’t know for sure.

Here’s a related question from jlp back in 2014!  And here’s one from Sarah back in 2015.

Grumpy Nation, what have we missed?  What elements would you put on your list to help with decision-making?


A mother’s day rant

1.  If you’re a full-time daycare, don’t have “Muffins with Mom”.

2.  If you decide to have “Muffins with Mom” anyway, don’t put a sign-up sheet in the lobby where everyone can see which moms obviously don’t love their children enough to leave work to spent 30 min eating store-bought muffins with them at daycare.

3.  Also, the next day don’t ask the moms who weren’t there why they weren’t there and then tell them that they were the only mom who wasn’t there and little DC was so upset.  (Especially if the reason according to DC that ze was upset was because ze had to have grapes instead of muffins like all the other kids because ze’s allergic to wheat.  Or maybe especially if that’s not the reason.)

I wonder how many moms are going to show up in Dad’s place for Donuts with Dad, which I assume they’re also having.  Of course, little DC2 won’t have dad there either because he’s traveling for work that week.

I’m actually only slightly irritated, and mainly at the patriarchy.  And to be honest, I would have checked the no box even if I hadn’t had a P&T meeting scheduled a month and a half in advance at exactly that time.  I am willing to sacrifice DC a little bit so that other mothers can also feel free to check the “no” box if they need to or want to.  (And at the time I checked “No” there were two other “No”s, one with a written “I’m out of town” excuse.)  I suppose that makes me a terrible mother, but I don’t want hir to feel like this is a big deal, and based on conversations with hir the evening of the event, ze was indeed upset by the lack of muffin and not at all by the lack of mommy.  (And yes, a “better” set of parents would have brought gluten-free muffins, but DC2 has gf cookies provided specifically for these kinds of events, and I didn’t really realize that it was Thursday until I got to daycare and saw the ladies setting up for the party, because the end of the semester is busy.)

I have the solace that deep down I believe that these little upsets truly are character building and learning to weather having to eat grapes when the other kids have muffins so as to avoid getting a rash is just one of those things that makes a person stronger.  Obviously we shouldn’t try to create character building incidents because that’s sadistic, but it’s not such a big deal when they happen.  Especially when grapes are actually better than grocery store muffins.

or with music

Ask the grumpies: gifted schools

jlp asks:

We’re on the cusp of being able to send our older child to public school (free! school!) and are debating what to do. We believe that our kids are HG/PG, and we are fortunate, as we have some potential school choice. In our area there are multiple private and magnet public schools (both of which require testing to attend) geared specifically for gifted kids .

As we comb through schools, public and private, I’ve been looking for a variety of characteristics, but the two most important ones seem to be: a) will our child(ren) have like-minded peers of a similar age?* and b) will the school be able to provide sufficient challenge for our child(ren)?

My question is: is there another characteristic that we should prize more highly? If so, what?

Oh, also, because the public schools are magnets, and require testing to attend, this, ostensibly, means we can live anywhere in the city and reap the benefits of a great school. It seems like a no-brainer to go public (assuming DC1 gets in!), since we don’t have to pay for a great school district, nor do we have to pay for private school. However, the student:teacher ratio is 28:1 in K, going up to…I forget, 30:1 or 31:1 in 3rd or 4th. There are no teacher’s aides. Are these class sizes as ridiculously huge as they sound to me?

*Based both on Miraca Gross’ work and also my kid’s passing comments about the kids at his current preschool who “just scribble.”

#1 says:  If you can possibly get your kids in a gifted school, for gods’ sake do it! (One of us is very grumpy about her years in the regular schools.  The other one is still scarred from middle school and doesn’t want to talk about it.)

#2 says:  Golly, these choices are just so hard.  I can’t say what you should do.  What we’ve done has always been to play it by ear every year.  We figure out what our options are, check out the teachers and the school environment, and are willing to change mid-stream if necessary.

One of the reasons we’ve been so keen on acceleration for DC1 is exactly because ze is kind of a jerk about lesser performing kids (generally innocently, first asking questions about why they can’t read, and such, but it seems like something we have to revisit every year).  It does hir a lot of good to not be leaps and bounds in front of everybody else in the same class.  In terms of acceleration, the friends the same age thing is over-rated, at least so far for DC1 (and according to A Nation Deceived, as well as our own childhoods– we always got along better with older kids/adults until we went to boarding school)– DC1 gets along great with kids a couple years older.

The sufficient challenge was also really important to us.  DC1 is *usually* really well-behaved (update:  at the last school function, Easter, all the teachers commented on how much hir behavior had improved.  The Spanish teacher noted that her child had gone through the same phase at that age, which is why she hadn’t commented on it earlier), but when ze isn’t sufficiently challenged ze can be a bit of a pill.  That’s one reason ze does workbooks on weekends.

In our geographic area there are two options that are geared towards “gifted” or “math and science”… one is a public within a school in the low income town next to ours.  We would have to move to attend, but despite being called a gifted magnet, we haven’t really heard anything good about it and suspect it may be a slightly above average little white island in a minority district.  We didn’t investigate further though because we decided the private school would be a better option than selling our house.  It may be great… but, none of the university parents we know are moving to send their kids there.  The other option, also in that town, is a math and science charter.  We know much more about this option because a lot of people in our town have tried it out because there isn’t a residency requirement for it. It has enormous class sizes K-4, larger than state law allows for public schools.  A K teacher quit mid-year because she was so frazzled, according to one parent who pulled her kids out to attend another private school.  I don’t think we know anybody who stayed for elementary.  We hear it’s great for high school and know parents whose kids do high school there.  Of course, the publics here are also supposed to be great for high school.

Continuing… yes, if you believe the TN STAR experiment results, 28:1 in K is too big of a student teacher ratio.  It would be very difficult to do differentiation with a class of that size without an aide or student teacher.  Depending on the teacher and the other students, it might even be difficult to keep order in the class.

Is there something you should prize more highly than classmates and challenge?  That’s hard to say.

We visited the two schools that were willing to talk with us and talked with every parent we knew about our options, and even a public school teacher we knew socially.  We learned a lot from talking and visiting about what was important to us.  One thing that was important was the school and the teachers having an understanding of gifted children and an ability to differentiate.  Another was having a school environment that was pro-gifted kids rather than anti-gifted kids that was willing to work with us.  You can read our saga in our archives.

So, sorry for the [delayed] long non-answer.   When you have a special snowflake for a kid, there’s special snowflake answers, which is to say, really no answer at all.  Talk, visit, and you’ll figure out what is important to you and your kid.  And if things don’t work out, you can always change.

Do any of our readers have better advice for jlp?  How did you decide on a school for your kids, if applicable?  What do you wish your parents had done for you at that age?

Prepayment discounts

When I started this post a couple years ago, it was going to be talking about how awesome pre-payment discounts were.

I was going to talk about how you get 5-10% off just by paying everything in advance, but the real benefit was that you didn’t have to remember to write a check every month.  An additional benefit (for some people) was that you tended to feel a little poorer when you paid out one lump sum and that helps moderate spending.

Since then, I’ve discovered the main danger of pre-payment.

DC2’s daycare, which DC1 went to for many years, suddenly and without warning disintegrated.  A former worker emptied out the bank account prior to the electric bill or payroll being paid out.  The management handled it terribly, waiting until the lack of funds became dire and unfixable.  All but 3 daycare workers quit.  Mass exodus from the students.

We prepaid $8000 for the year.  We’re out around $4500.  The director swears she’ll get us the money back once the bank refills the account (since they weren’t supposed to let that person take the money out), but it looks exceedingly less likely that that’s going to happen.  It looks more likely that the school is going to declare bankruptcy, and people with unfilled orders come last in the repaying of debts in bankruptcy cases.

Was that worth saving 5%?  No.  We’re wishing we’d just paid monthly.  But in May when we signed up, everything still looked fine.  The school has been around for a couple of decades.  We had no reason to believe that something like this could happen, and could happen so suddenly and without warning.  We thought that if we left the school it would be because we didn’t like a teacher or something (unlikely, because they have great training and we’ve always been able to work with the director in the past), and it would at least be our choice.

We’re still prepaying DC1’s private school.  That’s a non-profit and they can fund-raise through donations.  I guess since they survived the last drama, we didn’t learn any lessons there.  Also we sort of think of that prepayment as a donation itself.

So…. bottom line, think really hard about what you would lose if the company went out of business before you take advantage of a pre-payment discount.

Have you ever been burned by pre-paying?

Ask the grumpies: When is a school good/awesome enough?

CG asks:

How do you know if your kid’s school is “good enough”? Should good enough even be the goal, or should you be shooting for awesome? Assume cost is not really an object.

Femmefrugality adds:

Along the same lines, does how good a kid’s school is play a relevant role after a certain point?  Where does parent involvement take over in the equation?

Gosh, the answer to this question is going to be so different for different people.  All we (#1’s family) know is our kid, and hir unique needs.  Not only are the kids’ needs important, but family preferences could also be important.  Some families, for reasons we cannot comprehend are really interested in making sure their kids have the best competitive sports opportunities.  Some want to make sure they get training in the fine arts.

Some folks have the ability to supplement sub-par school environments at home.  Some kids have a better ability to weather or entirely avoid things like bullying.  In these cases, the school environment may be less important than for other kids.  Other kids may be more sensitive or “too different” or really want to be “followers” and a bad school environment can have a more permanent negative effect.  Here bad schools can lead to dropping out, under-age pregnancy, drug-use, emotional scarring, and so on.

Awesome teachers have had profound effects on kids from all walks of life.  In an ideal world, we’d easily be able to shoot for “awesome”.  Sadly that’s not so easy, and we may have to go for satisficing at a reasonably low level, or even making-do and supplementing.

Our kid is highly gifted and incredibly sensitive.  We really want to avoid hir having the K-8 experiences that we, ourselves, had.  In addition, ze tends to get into trouble when bored.  So we had to look outside the norm.  In some ways we’re satisficing– we’d certainly love for DC’s school not to be undergoing financial difficulties and we’d really love our time and money back.  But, for us it is worth it.

Awesome is really hard to find.  In the small town in which I grew up, there were a few awesome teachers, but there were no awesome schools.  There was the public school, there was the Catholic school, and there were a small number of scary fundamentalist Christian schools.  My parents bought in the second best school district (which had some of the first best teachers) and supplemented with tons of outside enrichment activities.  Getting through the school day was AWFUL most years.  I still bear scars from middle school.  (so does #2)  We don’t want that for our children.  And it’s hard to predict if the schools will be “good enough” in any place that we move to.  In our current situation we have a couple of private school options at least until 6th grade (assuming no big changes), but who knows what the future will hold.

How do we know our school is “good enough”?  I don’t know how we well would tell a priori.  But we tried.  With our specific needs in mind, we visited and observed different private schools.  DC1 needs mental stimulation and possibly differentiation.  Ze needs to not be bullied.  So we watched for signs of the kids being bored.  The kids misbehaving because they were bored.  How the kids interacted with each other.  We asked the teachers what they would do about DC1’s specific needs.  We crossed off our list the school that said they’d work on hir cutting skills all year because that was the only part of the K curriculum that ze hadn’t already mastered.  (Oddly, DC1 got high praise for hir above-average cutting skills in K the following year, even though we didn’t hothouse those.)

How we know now:  1.  DC1 loves to go to school.  Ze does not come home crying.  2.  Ze is not bouncing off the walls after school (most days anyway– we can always tell when there’s been a sub).  3.  Ze neither receives 100%s nor low scores on hir classwork.  Steady grades mostly in the 90s and the occasional in the 80s on classwork seem to indicate it’s at a good level for hir.  4.  Ze isn’t socially isolated– ze talks about hir friends and recess and after school.  Hir best friend cracks us up.  For extra bonus points, DC1 doesn’t seem to have learned that only girls or only boys do X, and the only comments we’ve heard about race and ethnicity seem to be things ze’s gotten from lessons on black history month or in Spanish class or Religious studies.  (And the school does have a diverse student body.)  5.  Ze tells us all about the super cool stuff ze is learning.  And it’s super cool!

In exchange for all this, we pay thousands of dollars each year, donate a bunch, and spend a ton of time with the school trying to help them with their financial situation.  We do think it’s worth it, but at some point it may no longer be.  Or we may move and we won’t be able to afford the much higher private tuition in cities or the private and public schools may both be anti-acceleration.  We’ll have to figure something new out then.  But CG said to assume cost isn’t an object and I’m getting off topic with my own concerns.

Ok, onto Femmefrugality.  The answer to this question is:  We don’t know!  We know that preschool interventions seem to give more bang for their buck than later interventions.  But later interventions still matter.  We know that high quality schools do a lot more for low SES kids than they do for high SES kids, and that high SES kids are less harmed by low quality schools than low SES kids are.  We know that peer groups at school are important, but we’re not really sure how important they are (it seems to depend on a lot of stuff).  We know that schooling is important for many special needs kids, including gifted kids, and that they will be at a higher risk of dropout in an environment that does not suit their needs.  But we have no idea what the line is where schooling starts being more important than parenting (including the parent’s abilities to supplement, not just the parent’s desires) or vice versa.  Ginormous open research question with a lot of papers but no bottom line yet.

Update on FemmeFrugality’s question:  Just went to a talk on how a teacher’s value added affects testscores, college attendance, teen pregnancy, and income.  Good teachers matter!

Grumpy nation, how important is it to you that schooling be awesome or good enough?  How do you know what awesome or good enough is?  Do you have additional feedback for CG and Femmefrugality?