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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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?

In which #1 rants about Pinterest English assignments

@#$@#$#@

After increasingly stupid “book report” assignments for DC1’s monthly novel, including things like having to make 15 “matchbooks”, illustrating the outsides of each, and putting in a summary (not chapter summaries, but 15 summaries no matter how many chapters there are in the book) into each “matchbook”, DC1 and I were joking about what kind of ridiculous assignment the next one would be.  Hir teacher surpassed our wildest expectations (though, to be fair, the accompanying and unexpected “non-fiction” book report project included a few of our guesses, like making a rap song).

DC1 has been assigned a “t-shirt” book report project.  What is a t-shirt book report project?  Well, it’s something the student is supposed to design, but the parent is supposed to help with.  It’s supposed to be wearable art that your student will LOVE LOVE LOVE making and wearing.  It is definitely all over @#$ing pinterest.  It’s even one of the “11 best creative book report projects”.

The front of the shirt is supposed to be a hand drawn/ironed on/glued/painted copy of the cover or what you believe the copy should be.  The left sleeve is a picture of the main character.  The right sleeve has the “setting and the problem” including a picture of the setting.  The back somehow fits words and graphics of the student’s favorite scene as well as a summary of the book and the student’s opinion of the book.  Not sure how all of that is going to squish into a size 8/10 shirt, but maybe DC1 will write small.

UGH.

So maybe I have no joy in my life.  But!

1.  We had to immediately change books because there is no way DC1’s art abilities could do justice to Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.  After strongly considering Flatland but rejecting it for the misogyny, we settled on Fahrenheit 451 even though DC1 will be reading it again junior year of high school.

2.  The fricking assignment says that parents are supposed to do most of the art work except for doing the design itself(!)  DC1 is a better artist than either DH or I, and that is not saying anything at all.  Us helping is not going to make this @#$3 shirt look anything like the etsy-level ones shown in the pictures that the teacher sent home with the assignment [update:  these pictures aren’t even from her former students, they’re from the internets, taken without attribution] .  I don’t mind spending time helping with DC1’s math homework if zie needs it, or if zie ever wrote an essay for school I’d be happy to proofread it, but doing arts and crafts for my kid is a huge waste of my time.  (So I’m not going to– not that the teacher would be able to tell if I’d done it– my t-shirt art ability is pretty much frozen back to 1989.)  (Have I mentioned that DH and I suck at crafts?  Yes?  Multiple times?  That’s because it’s true.)

3.  WTF.  Student has to buy clothing and things to decorate the shirt with for a shirt that zie will not be caught dead with in public?  Seriously?  I doubt that Pinterest surveyed any students when it claims that the students will love creating and wearing these shirts.  Maybe 3rd graders would.  But not 7th graders.  And, as always, what about the kids for whom just going out and buying stuff has a measurable effect on the family finances?

4.  All of the assignments so far have involved spending a huge amount of time cramming text into bizarrely shaped spaces.  At least with the matchbook project DC1 got permission to type things out and paste them in, which cut down on the hassle considerably, but this t-shirt thing doesn’t have that option.  And it’s not like mistakes can be bleached out.  Writing on cloth is not fun!  Writing paragraphs on cloth is even less fun!  And I just don’t think the time spent on this is generating any useful skills.  (What about iron-ons, you ask?  Well, if we could get that to work with the printer, chances are that’s still not going to work with the amount of text needed, plus we don’t have an ironing board, though oddly, we do have an iron.)

(Speaking of no joy in my life:  Our new dean has decided that we must all wear ugly sweaters and participate in an ugly sweater contest for the annual holiday brunch.  I used to like the holiday brunch, but this year it’s getting a big side order of NOPE.)

DC1 hasn’t had a friend over or played a computer game in weeks because every moment of his non-school time has been spent making movie posters and matchbooks and crossword puzzles and on and on and on.  Not on reading books and writing essays about them, but on crafting cutesy projects.  It would be one thing if zie were learning art skills from these craft projects, but zie isn’t.  There’s no formal art instruction, just time consuming hassle.

And it’s not just DC1’s teacher. ALL of the English teachers across the entire grade are giving these stupid assignments in advanced English and regular English. So we can’t escape by switching teachers at the semester. At least 8th grade looks like the assignments are more of the “learn how to write” variety.

How do you feel about middle-school Pinterest projects?  What do you think she’s going to have in store for DC1 next month?

Another attempt at getting the middle schooler organized

At 7:02am on the second morning of school, DC1 realized that although zie had filled out the bus form and the orchestra forms, and had done the language arts homework (which I’d found on the dining room table the previous night after DC2’s bedtime), zie hadn’t filled out the Spanish forms (which DH had found the previous night after asking if there was any other work that needed to be done and we both told DC1 to complete) or colored in the index card zie was supposed to color in for Algebra.  (DC1’s algebra teacher seems to be less into math than last year’s teacher and a lot more into everybody sharing personal information.  LA’s assignment was also about sharing personal information, but LA is such a joke around here that’s what we expected.  But that’s a rant for another day.)  Zie had also just stuffed the completed work into hir backpack instead of putting it into hir binder folders.  I discovered all of this while going through DC1’s schedule and asking if zie had everything for each class.

Not a great start to the school year.  Especially if there’s going to be homework in more classes than just math.

So I made a checklist and put it on the refrigerator.  (You can’t see it because I am too lazy to figure out how to get wordpress to show the borders, but there’s actually a grid with 5 boxes after each item so DC1 can check-off for each day of the school week.)  Because once the school year gets underway, I sure won’t have time to check through both kids’ work each day.  (DC2’s class is requiring us to look through hirs and sign every night.) We’ll see how well it works.

Pull assignments out of backpack
     LA
     Español: hw and 15 min
     GT
     Science
     Social Studies
     Algebra:  Do, check, and correct
     Orchestra:  Practice, Charms
Put assignments away in folders
Piano practicing
Shower

How do you and yours stay organized?

Help me with DC2’s lunch!

Yes, I know we’ve been making school lunches for one or the other of my kids for the past 9 years.  BUT we have some new challenges this year now that we’re at public elementary school.  Here are the rules for my kindergartener:

  1. No nuts or peanuts (new school is completely nut-free)
  2. No red dye (DC2 gets hives)
  3. No cheese (DC2 hates cheese)  (Also no tomatoes, same reason)
  4. Nothing “spicy” because DC2 has no tolerance for spice (which is bizarre because I lived on Indian food when I was pregnant with hir and everyone else in the family eats plenty of spice, AND so did zie… hir spice tolerance seems to be going down instead of up!).
  5. Things DC2 can open on hir own (this was the big new piece of information for us).  Note that DC2 cannot open any of the individually packaged apple sauces or fruit cups that we bought in great supply in the city the weekend before school started [update: we have successfully pierced foil covered applesauces with a plastic spoon.  Plastic topped and screw topped will have to wait for more hand and arm strength.].
  6. Nothing that needs refrigeration (I am regretting my decision not to purchase the fancy $23 lunchbag we saw at Whole Foods that has a spot for an icepack– I may end up trying to find one at Target, but for now, DC2 really loves hir lunch bag that looks just like DC1’s backpack but doesn’t have any insulation much less space for an ice pack)
  7. Something healthier than just jam sandwiches
  8. Things that take WAY the heck less time to put together at 10pm than what you get when you google “what do I send in my child’s school lunch” or any similar query.  Pinterest is not what we’re looking for.

I do not know if DC2 likes sunflower butter or not.  I will be getting some at the grocery store this weekend.  BUT, even when zie was allowed nut butter zie would only permit one almond butter and jam sandwich per week.  DC2 likes variety.  If I send, say, a mini-salad for too many days in a row, zie refuses salads for weeks.  Generally I can get away with things about once a week.  The one exception is fruit– so I will always be packing fruit, but zie can’t just have fruit.

Extra points for things that we can buy on Saturday but will still be in decent shape by Friday.

We have 3 different kinds of bento boxes (two of which fit in hir lunchbag, one that’s bigger), several small plastic containers, one insulated small metal thermos that sort of fits in the lunch bag (but can’t be heated up), one reusable sandwich bag, one reusable snack-size bag, and all shapes and sizes of ziplocs.  Also I could probably be easily convinced to buy more bento boxes because they’re clever and adorable.  (I also use them for my lunch when I’m not just taking a pyrex of leftovers to reheat.)

Last year, faced with the challenge of making hir own lunches in middle school, DC1 ended up getting hot lunch instead.  That coincided with DC1 getting to be obnoxiously picky about healthy food zie used to eat without complaint at home (something that has subsided a great deal this summer).   Zie has promised us zie won’t eat French fries every single day, although that seems to be an option at the middle school.  Some of the lunch options at the elementary school are healthy, but many are not.  I’m worried about DC2 making unhealthy choices through peer pressure.  If we get too overwhelmed with lunch making and DC2 agrees, we will load up hir lunch account too, but for now we’d like to keep sending healthy food.  If we can just figure out what.

What do your elementary schoolers take?  What did you take as an elementary schooler?  What do you suggest that fits the rules above?

Communal vs. individual school supplies

Update:  FDR quote from the FDR monument in Washington, DC (Thanks Leah!).  I found it as the last slide on Peter Diamond’s history of Social Security changes.

It seems like across much of the US, school supplies for elementary school have moved from being individual (you know, where I was the only kid whose mom followed instructions and bought the 12 pack of crayons instead of the 48 pack, and a couple of kids even got the 96 pack that had gold and silver and a built-in-sharpener) to communal, where the school list will, for example, request two 24 packs of crayons, crayola-only, to be collected and distributed across the classroom.   Back in my day only the Kleenex was communal.

This has caused some complaining across the personal finance blogosphere.  There’s a reluctance to subsidize children whose parents can’t or won’t buy school supplies for their own children.

I disagree with that sentiment.  I like having communal supplies because it makes it easier for kids who can’t afford school supplies. I do wish that we could what we did when we were living in a blue state and give money to the PTA to buy in bulk instead of buying new supplies individually. And I wish our current state was like the blue state we were in before and solicited donations so the school could own the calculators instead of the kids. I feel really bad for the kids whose parents can’t afford to buy calculators or rent instruments or go on field trips or get school supplies. (The district does have a pantry that accepts donations for kids who get free and reduced lunch, but it’s mostly clothing and hygiene supplies.)

It seems so much more humane to do it communally instead of individually.  Of course, it’s still not as humane as everyone’s tax money going to support future generations of Americans, but it’s much better than the idea that kids should be penalized for their parents being poor. Or that kids should have to rely on religious charity because people aren’t willing to give a little extra unless the “worthy poor” end up being indebted to a Christian organization for something that should be a right for all Americans.

Because funding to schools keeps getting cut in the interest of lower taxes, more and more of what used to be funded by schools is now funded by parents.  We’ve had to pay for orchestra music/instrument/uniforms and every field-trip and individual science experiments and many more things on top of more historically standard calls for empty toilet paper tubes and pot-luck dishes.  We’ve been doing directed donations for other kids each time we get one of these requests for our own kid, and there have been a lot of them, but we’ve generally had to take the initiative to ask about it ourselves (only the science teacher added donations for other kids to requests). And I just feel really bad for kids on the other end whose parents can’t or won’t provide for them who have to ask the teachers what to do when they don’t have the money. I remember just not going on field trips to ball games or amusement parks as a kid– not wanting my parents to have to worry about the money and not wanting to ask for charity (my parents would have died of embarrassment)– and that would be something like once every three years since all the local educational trips were covered. There’s so much less covered here.

In contrast, the year we were living in a blue state they flat out asked for a (recommended) largish donation at the beginning of the year from people who could afford it and some smaller amount for school supplies for people who didn’t want to shop on their own and that was it– and that money covered supplies, field trips, computers, calculators, and the arts program. There were also a limited number of free musical instruments that the school owned that anyone could rent if they jumped through a few hurdles, or the richer people could pay to rent through local music stores without jumping through hurdles. Kids didn’t have to feel bad for not having stuff because it was supplied for everyone.

Obviously that’s not possible in an impoverished district.  For those, federal or state funding is really needed to fill in those gaps.  But most of the commenters on these blog posts who are complaining about having to subsidize other people’s kids can afford to pick up more supplies than their individual kid will use at the back-to-school sale, and if they can’t, then someone else can pick one up on their child’s behalf.  And they’re not complaining about the expense so much as the unfairness of having to help a child that isn’t their own (though they don’t put it in those words… I think/hope if they did they might check themselves and not share that sentiment).  It sucks that parents have to buy basic supplies when children are America’s future taxpayers and we should all be subsidizing education through taxes, but failing that, this is one area where I don’t at all mind secular charity from those who can afford it.  Especially if it means some kid doesn’t have to constantly be reminded that they don’t have what everyone else has.  And you better believe we’ll be giving additional unrequested directed donations to our children’s schools this year, especially with DC1 in a 56% poverty elementary school.

And, as a reminder, Donorschoose is a fantastic charity that helps out kids and teachers in districts where having some parents buy a second set of school supplies isn’t possible or isn’t enough.

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!