Seattle Metropolitan Magazine / Current Issue / Detail
Where to start? First, I'm sure Ms. Robinson thinks she is just hilarious but really, if you want this kind of frothing at the mouth, no one, I repeat , no one does it like Sandra Tsing Loh in her book, Mother on Fire (about the search for schools in LA - Denise G-W and I had the pleasure of her company for lunch one day last fall to discuss how Sandra and other LA moms try to steer new-to-school-parents in LA in the right direction).
Ms Robinson starts by admitting she's actually ignorant about SPS but somehow, that just doesn't seem to matter.
"As I write this, I have no idea where my fifth-grade daughter Samantha will go to middle school in the fall. By the time you read this—I will know.
If this doesn’t strike you as riveting, edge-of-your-seat drama, you haven’t attempted to raise a kid in the city of Seattle. So you might not know that just a handful of the public elementary schools rise above the field—and that they’re the ones in the expensive neighborhoods. Or that a couple of the public high schools perform exceptionally—for kids who score into the smart-kid tracks. Or that the public middle schools, well…completely suck.
Or sorta suck, or pretty much suck, or mostly suck, depending on whom you talk to. Mind you, I have zero evidence to back this assertion."
At least she's honest. She then lays out where she's going with this thought-process,
"It’s every local parent’s parlor game of choice: Share and Compare Your Seattle Public School Nightmare, a game Tom and I have been addicted to since researching kindergartens for Samantha seven years ago. That’s when we began to learn that in Seattle, “school choice” meant “have your pick of any unpopular school!” That south enders like us, being geographically distant from the more moneyed northern neighborhoods and their higher-achieving schools, had a rich and varied spectrum of unpopular schools to choose from."
So first she says there are only a "handful" of good public elementaries, then she says that all the south end schools are unpopular. Really? Tell that to Beacon Hill or Maple or Lafayette, etc.
So then she says this after a discussion with her sister about Bellevue schools:
"We considered it when we realized that in that superior district there were fewer dud schools. We considered it when Sam got assigned our 12th-choice elementary school. (We’d listed 40. I know. I know.)"
Well, Bellevue is a lot smaller and less urban than Seattle so that might account for the fewer "dud" schools. And is she being tongue-in-cheek when she says her daughter got her 12th choice and they listed 40? I can't tell.
After she pats herself on the back for going down to the enrollment center and changing her waitlist school (why this is a major achievement I don't know) and her daughter gets into the school they want she says,
"It was only kindergarten after all. But for a parent, the stakes are unutterably high. Elementary school launches a child’s whole educational trajectory. It’s the first place Sam would be labeled a leader by an insightful teacher—or not. The first place she’d be bullied on the playground—or not. What we asked of kindergarten was a nurturing teacher, challenging creative stimulation, and peers who were being raised to value kindness by like-minded adults. Seemed like basic requests to us."
If you think that being at a "better"' elementary or better yet, a private school is going to protect your kid from bullying, good luck with that.
She then proceeds to talk about public middle schools as if the kids ran amok and the halls were strewen with trash and graffiti. I'm not sure where she looked (it seems it is Washington Middle school) but I can say that Eckstein never looks like that. Anybody at Washington? Is she describing it properly?
Then she talks about what comes up a lot - giving up on your local schools.
"In the morning when I blinked awake I realized with certainty that this absolutely included trading away my principles. We were already old pros at this, having thrown over our mediocre south-end neighborhood school (which desperately needed our volunteer energy) in favor of an excellent north-end out-of-my-neighborhood school (which did not)."
I'm in the camp that only you know what is best for your own child and probably will turn away from any school you believe won't work for your child. But, we will have a new assignment plan and it is likely to change the ability to send your kid anywhere you want. THAT will be interesting; how far will you go before you give up and put that energy into your local school? (And hey, I'm guilty. I didn't like our local elementary school when I was looking for our first child and went afar. By the second one, I wanted to keep them together but I wished I had looked local again because the school DID start improving and I would have like to have been a part of that. Moral of the story? If you have more than one, check that local school out on your second time around. You might be surprised.)
Then, after filling out private school applications for middle school, she says,
"If Samantha still doesn’t make the cut, then we’ll attempt to land her in the more challenging smart-kid track at the public Washington Middle School. If she doesn’t gain admittance through the district-administered test, then we’ll scrape up the dough for a private test. (This test costs around $700, we’ve heard. Many kids who fail the public test get in through the paid test, and we are quite sure we don’t want to look too hard at why.)"
Oh Kath, that "smart-kid" track - you're already too late. If you didn't test your 5th grade child in October for APP, she won't be getting into APP for middle school.
Look, I'm sure she's trying to be frothy and funny. I may be just too sensitive. But if you flip through the magazine, you know who their readership is. It doesn't help public education to paint all of it with a huge brush of exaggeration and misinformation. These people will read this article and say, probably somewhat smugly, "Well, that's just how public schools in Seattle are."
I'm not sure I think she's asking for too much but her hysterical tone and flip manner really bother me. And maybe that's hypocritical - I'm critical of the district a lot BUT I've always also stood up to defend this district as well. This district has a lot going for it but it is amazing how little of that gets out there.