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?

Update on personal sagas: DH’s relatives, DC’s school

DH’s Relatives

It turns out that if you are truly poor and have a zillion brothers and sisters (give or take), the Pell grant covers 100% of community college, including books.  So… so far we’re not paying for any of the relatives’ schooling.  Although they screwed up with the books and forgot to order them, despite multiple calls to the people.   Because the books are being bought via the grant, the school orders them for the students instead of the student being reimbursed… and they never actually checked to see that they were ordered when DH’s relative called, so the eldest daughter doesn’t have them.  She is borrowing from a friend until they come in.

She got a nursing home job (yay!) and spent the summer working and saved up to buy a clunker.  She will be working p/t to pay for her gas.

Already she says she likes community college classes a lot more than high school classes.  I hope she does well.  Right now she wants to transfer to a 4 year school (to major in architecture, but I’m hoping she’ll change her mind as there are very few job opportunities for architecture majors and it’s really hard to get into the architecture programs at the state 4-year schools).

DC1’s School

Right now they have 1 student fewer than what they need with normal fundraising and minimal services (down 20 students from last year).  The hope is to make up for it with extra fundraising.

The new head of school is professional and refreshingly not crazy.

Even better than that, the ineffective board president has been replaced by an extremely competent woman who is new to the board.  She’s getting things done.  She communicates professionally.  She’s a pleasure to deal with.  This was a new and unexpected pleasure.  We foresee a positive trajectory for the school if these two women remain in charge of things.

There are 10 kids in DC1’s 2nd grade class, down from the 15 that were in the first grade class (including DC and hir best friend who were technically in K, but spent half the day in first).  10 is still a good number for a private school class and doesn’t require an additional aide, although DC says they have a student teacher helping out.  The syllabus for the year that was sent home is intriguing.  They’ll be starting junior great books and doing book reports and science reports and all sorts of exciting and fun stuff.

DC’s formal dress shirt for formal days still hasn’t come, so DH picked up a too-big used one that will do for hir while we wait.

So that’s our excitement.  I sure hope it is a good year!

And one more

Remember my cousin who didn’t have the Catholic wedding?  They’re expecting twins.  :)

A warning for those who decide to accelerate: And why is weird so bad?

If you decide to accelerate your kid and if this information gets out through cross-examination from strangers, say, at the airport, then the conversation invariably goes like this: “I redshirted my kid, best decision I ever made, she’s so popular and she gets straight As. There’s a kid in her class who is younger and he’s just WEIRD. Just as a warning, maybe it doesn’t matter so much now, but when ze gets to the high school level kids who skip just end up weird.”

You will also get this argument many times should you post about it on your blog (“I know a kid who skipped and he was socially ostracized”).

People really don’t get counterfactuals– that correlation is not causation.

I think we got some anecdotal examples here about some kid being skipped and he was a sociopath and mean to his brother… as if that had anything to do with acceleration.  What I said to the woman in the airport was that the kid probably would have been weird even if he hadn’t been skipped (‘cuz I teach statistics).

But what I should have said (and I did not think about this until later that night), was that maybe there isn’t anything wrong with being weird (maybe even, “Bill Gates was weird”).

Maybe being different isn’t so bad, especially when the same as everyone else is pretty mediocre.  Maybe middle school popularity shouldn’t be our end-goal in life.  When kids who are different grow up, sometimes they do quite well for themselves, better than the folks who spent their entire K-12 career blending in.  What’s the t-shirt say, Well-behaved women seldom make history?

I think Sheldon says it very well in this comic.  (Weird kids out there… It gets better!)

Do you think that being weird in K-12 is the worst thing that can befall a kid?  Do you really believe that the only way a an out-of-synch kid can keep from being socially ostracized is by being kept with hir same aged peers, even when they have nothing in common?  (That last question there is rhetorical– not only is there a nice literature on the social benefits of acceleration for out-of-synch kids, we can assure you it is far worse to hang back from personal experience.)

Stupid “You should be doing more” arguments from people who aren’t

On the NYTimes or forums or blogs etc, a common refrain among commenters when the subject of fertility treatment comes up is that there are so many kids in the world (and so many kids in the US) that people should really be adopting.  And they should really be adopting in the US (because apparently international children are not as important as US children).  [They seem to think that adopting kids is as easy as calling an orphanage and having Anne of Green Gables sent on the next train.  The reality, of course, being that adoption can be as heart-breaking and uncertain a process as infertility itself, even in states with supposedly easy adoption and quick termination of parental rights.  (We have some friends who tried and failed adoption when a biological aunt came out of the woodwork.)]

Even people that are supposedly skeptical and critical thinkers can fall into stupid fallacies.  For example, PZ Meyers is very vocal that people who homeschool their kids are selfish assholes equal in their danger to society to people who refuse to vaccinate their kids.  He says:

I am not a fan of homeschooling; in fact, if I had my way, I’d make it illegal.

and

If you don’t believe in vaccination, then don’t vaccinate your kids.

Sorry, but the same logic applies. Public schools are for the good of the community; homeschooling is intended for the good of the individual child.  I know that homeschools can be good (but most aren’t), and that public schools can be awful (and most are), but I consider homeschooling to be a distraction from the cause of a greater good.

he goes on from there in the comments, basically arguing that if you keep your kids out of (bad) public schools that hurts all the kids still in public schools, mainly because the school doesn’t get the federal money for the kid being there (partly because he says parents have some kind of obligation to be involved), despite perfectly logical arguments responding to his own (such as:  I homeschool because my child is autistic/requires other special accommodations– he would be costing the district much more than he brings the district in per-student federal funds and isn’t mainstreamed anyway… or, My kid was hospitalized after getting beaten up/bullied to the point of self-harm and the school did nothing… or simply, I pay taxes but am not costing my district anything).

All you holier-than-thou folks on the internet: It’s easy to volunteer other people to be saints.  Not so easy to be one yourself.  If you don’t have 20 foster kids and 10 adoptees, then don’t tell people using fertility treatment there are tons of needy kids out there needing homes and that they’re sinners for trying to have a baby instead of adopting one.  Bless people who do foster and adopt, but if you’re not one of them, then why are you telling other people that they should do more than you are?

If you don’t have your own kids in dangerous crumbling schools (because you decided to live in a more expensive district, your kids are grown, or you just don’t have kids), and you’re not volunteering regularly and donating heavily, at least the amount that the federal government would be giving* for say, I dunno, 5 kids, then don’t say that parents who pull their kids out of public schools for private or homeschooling are selfish.  You’re even more selfish because you have more time and money to give, and you wouldn’t be physically, mentally, or emotionally scarring any minors as collateral damage.**

These “you want/have a child you should be doing X” are all stupid arguments.  No one person can save the world.  And nobody, just by dint of being unable to easily have biological children or by having children should be required to contribute to those specific causes.  Nobody is actually required to contribute to any specific cause.  But if someone chooses to put their kids in private school and also donates to people starving in developing countries rather than joining the school board at the local public,*** does that make them selfish?  What about public school teachers who send their own kids to private?

These kinds of arguments seem to be focused on fertility, race, and gender.  If you have kids then you’re supposed to support specific causes.  If you want kids but can’t have them, then that must be a sign from God that you’re supposed to adopt (but people who can have kids easily have no such obligation).  If you’re a black college grad, then you’re selling out your race if you’d rather be an investment banker than a high school teacher (this is a narrative that two of my black studies colleagues frequently argue about).  If you’re female then you have to have a certain kind of active feminism and aren’t allowed to make choices to be the trailing spouse or the one who cooks dinner, even if your husband is allowed to make those choices.  Why do these immutable characteristics (it’s hard to give a kid back), many of which we have no choice over, provide such obligations when others do not?  Owning a pet doesn’t make you have to support spay and neuter laws or pose nude for PETA.  Being a white male provides no obligation to any race or gender.  And yet, when historically you’ve been chattel, all of a sudden you have an obligation to change the world.  IBTP.

*~8% of the school’s budget… meaning that actually your paying state and local taxes without costing the local district to educate your kid (at a cost of ~10K/year to the district) is probably more than making up for not having your kid in school.  And if you kick an additional $800/kid-you-don’t-have to the school district, you should be able to say STFU to any guilt-mongers.  Me, I prefer to spend my education charity dollars in high poverty districts using Donors Choose because they need my money more than the local school district does.  If our district had less money they wouldn’t fricking change districts every 5 years because they wouldn’t be able to afford to bus kids to schools so far from where they live.

**Before having kids the one of us with a kid volunteered extensively tutoring and teaching math in failing urban school districts and at migrant summer programs in rural agricultural areas.  There’s a lot more time to volunteer when you don’t have a small child.

***After years on the school board, and while still on the school board, my mother sent my sister to a Catholic high school.  Does that make her selfish?  She continued on the school board after my sister graduated as well, even though she no longer had kids in school.  Her research career suffered substantially from her public service.