Friday, July 27, 2007

A Brave Op-Ed in the PI

From the PI this morning, this op-ed by John Burbank, head of the Economic Opportunity Institute in Seattle.
(From their website:
"The Economic Opportunity Institute develops new public policies to create ladders for low-income people to move into the middle class and to plug holes so that middle-class families do not fall into poverty. EOI is an activist, progressive, and majoritarian institute. We pursue our work through media outreach, public dialogue, and policy initiatives that address the shared economic security concerns of middle-class and low-income workers.")

The premise of his piece is basically that people who opt out of public schools are hurting the schools and cheating their children of the opportunity to interact with a more varied group of kids.

On the most basic level, he's right. Money walks out of schools when kids do. We wouldn't be closing schools if we had the student base for all the buildings we have.

He says:
"Parents sending their children to private schools say they are doing what is best for the kids. But placing a child in private school is not a value-free choice. If I send my daughter to private school, and my neighbor's son goes to public school, that reinforces a culture of separateness and privilege."

And later on:
"In the fight for public education, we need all hands on deck, especially the most privileged among us. We need the parents of the 14,000 children in Seattle's private schools. We must all connect the dots between personal responsibility and the greater good."

I've said this before but I believe about 5% are name-brand people (Lakeside, Bush, etc.), 5% may be religion-based, 5% may be homeschooled (for many reasons) and 5-10% are probably people who fled public schools for a variety of reasons. We could recapture the latter group with a reliable school district (stability, fair and easy-to-understand assignment plan, good programs, etc.).

I appreciate his candor and bravery for saying what he did out loud. (I expect a rash of "how dare you" letters to the editor.) But parents, in the end, have to make the best decisions they can for their children and if it's private school, I can't point a finger and say they are wrong. We need to get the parents who are in the system to want to participate in their child's school to make all schools stronger and we need to get our district on the right track to attract back parents.


Roy Smith said...

As predicted, this piece is already getting a good dose of negative feedback from readers. The idea that people who can't afford private school for their children don't deserve a quality education is alive and well in some quarters. Some of the more striking quotes from the "Sound Off" section on this article:

"There is a class separation for a reason. We like it that way. Some of us work very hard, sometimes 60 plus hours a week. We do this to afford things that are better for our children like private schools."

"Your public schools are not my concern, my children don't go there. We work hard so they don't have to. Sorry, I'm not the worlds caretaker. If people want to succeed they are just as welcome to work 60 to 70 hours a week just like I do."

"Privileged? Darn right we are, and we earned every bit of it. Others want what we have, simple, get and education and go get it just like we did. Nobody gave it to us. We worked for it, we worked for us, not for everyone else to come leach off us."

"And maybe people send their kids to private schools not as much for privledge, but so their kids actually get an education and aren't subject to the mediocrity, political correctness, discipline issues, disinterested parents, teachers, and students, etc."

"We paid for EDUCATION- not for multicultural diversity. Diversity was a by product- his closest friend was bi-racial (Caucasian and Asian) but...that boy's parents were both physicians! I don't see how hanging out with underprivileged kids would have made him a "better citizen"."

"This IS NOT a Socialist country!! We don't want a Socialist country!! Those who are lucky enough to have their kids out of the public schools, pay for their kids to go to those schools AND also still pay the taxes that fund the public schools(duh)who feel that sex education and the homosexual agenda is far more important than teaching the basics that help them become successful citizens."

"It's tiring hearing the continual call for more money without any plan to show how this will make the difference."

"If we want quality education for our children, we should seriously consider vouchers."

Anonymous said...

"...we need to get our district on the right track to attract back parents."

Well said, Melissa. We -very quietly without any fanfare or threats- left the public schools. When it came time for high school,it was clear that it was time for a change. It was not an easy deicision. The district must show parents like me that it is providing a comparable education at every SPS high school,middle, and elementary school. A parent has one opportunity to provide an education for their child.This is a point that Mr. Burbank's editorial misses.

Jet City mom said...

Well keep in mind Burbank campaigned for Helen Sommers, a woman who thinks that the solution for education disparity is for all parents to read to their children. ( I sat next to her at a conference- that is about verbatim)

I think he is way off when he paints education in Seattle as public or private not both. Additionally, I know that he knows better.

Families try to find the best education that works for their kids and their families at the time. Many families might use private preschool, public elementary, especially if there is child care attached,private middle school and public high school.

They might be like our family, who only resorted to using private school for one, when several people for the district told us they could not meet her needs, and she was not admitted to any of the programs that we hoped might work.

It was an expensive education she received, but as the child of a blue collar family, 3/4 of those costs were subsidized.
We knew we couldn't get aid to live in a nicer neighborhood, we knew we couldnt' get aid that would buy us more emotional supports, but by sending her to private school, we had access to that network of families- rather than if she had attended public, she would have been the quiet girl in the back of the class, who didn't get attention.( and indeed that was her sisters experience, who has attended public school for 9 years- while her high school is working out better- previous school was just trying to put out fires and she wasn't on fire)

I appreciate John's efforts regarding the EOI- I know him to be kind and thoughtful. But if he didn't have the support system for his kids that he does, if he wasn't able to send them to good neighborhood schools, to have friends and family who have strong education backgrounds that contribute to their families network and wasn't able to arrange amazing experiences for his kids outside of public school, I wonder if he would speak so harshly of those parents who are just trying to raise their kids, and give them more opportunities than they had.

Jet City mom said...

The private schools have students from all around the region. My daughter in her private school on Capitol Hill, even had a classmate from Tacoma, let alone Redmond and Vashon.

I hope Burbank is extrapolating out those students who don't live within city limits.

22% of the students at TOPS on on FRL.

5% of the students at Lowell are FRL

16% of students at the Center school are on FRL

7% of the students at Salmon Bay are on FRL-
Just how "diverse" is this school district?

Being raised on the Eastside, I felt that I would be giving my kids a more diverse experience by living in Seattle, even if because of educational need, we opted at several points to utilize the private school alternatives.

Of course I didn't know at the time, that Bellevue would have the last laugh, as it is more diverse ethnically, if not economically, than Seattle

Melissa Westbrook said...

One other comment in the Soundoff that gave me pause:

"Don't worry. When the referenddum for the simple majority for levies and bonds for the schools passes this fall, the privileged will get to connect the dots between much their higher local property taxes and their ongoing continual, and ever-increasing support to the public schools."

I wonder if that could be true. If we have a simple majority passage, would people see the connection between property taxes and schools?

One hilarious thing in the Soundoffs is the lack of spelling ability. You see this a lot in many places but not too often in this blog :). Sometimes we all hit the keyboard wrong and mess up a word but a lot of these errors are words that you have to learn rules about in school (receive, perceive). I am not a good speller but I am blessed with the ability to look at a word and know it's wrong (and do something about it). I have no idea if these people don't realize it or just don't care. It's amusing to me especially when we are debating education.

Anonymous said...

In general, I agree with his premise. I want to send my child to public school because I place a high value on learning to interact with lots of different kinds of people. I went to private schools, and I can say that the culture at many of them is pretty wierd. I call it the fairyland of affluence. It's not what I want for my child.

I also agree that it's important to use my resources where they'll help lots of kids, not just mine.

These are important values to me, and they are defniately points I will consider as part of my decision on where to place my child in school. But, I have to balance that against other points too. The most important of these is an appropriate program. I believe there are several appropriate programs within SPS, but most are over-subscribed. There are also programs within SPS that are not appropriate. Depending on how the assignment plan goes, we could be assigned to one. I won't put my kid through that.

So, while I share Mr. Burbank's ideals, I won't sacrafice my child's education to those ideals. How can he expect people who don't share those ideals to do so?

Michael Rice said...

I know I should just ignore the comments that the people posted about this article, but I could not help myself. I posted the follwing:

I teach in the SPS. I really enjoy reading the comments of the above posters. They have such passion. I wonder how many of the posters, who have the ability to have their childern in private schools are products of the public schools? Now, I know that every parent has to do what they feel is best for their child. I would do exactly the same thing. However, if you feel that that public schools in Seattle are lacking the necessary qualities that would make them atractive to you, why not get involved in your neighborhood school? As a high school math teacher, I would love to have some people come in to help tutor my struggling Pre-Algebra students. I don't care if you are a supporter of the SPS or not, I just care that you want to help a child understand how to divide fractions. Remember, that best thing that we as adults can do is to make sure that ALL children graduate high school and have a chance to be productive, responsible, tax-paying adults. If that happens, it seems like a double victory, we have one less person that our taxes have to support and that person will be a person who sees the value of an education.

Anonymous said...


I would be careful with your snarky comment regarding spelling - in fact, it's not that great on this blog either (god bless the Anonymous who passionately posted multiple arguments for "nieghborhood" schools on a separate string). Spelling ability doesn't equate intelligence.

Jet City mom said...

I wonder how many of the posters, who have the ability to have their childern in private schools are products of the public schools? ...
However, if you feel that that public schools in Seattle are lacking the necessary qualities that would make them atractive to you, why not get involved in your neighborhood school?

Yes I suppose at some point I was a product of public schools- but thankgoodness I realized that , that shouldn't limit me.

When a prominent educational psychologist recommended we look at private schools , I was puzzled- as the only kids I had ever known attending private schools were Catholic. It was only when that sentiment was repeated by teachers in our neighborhood school & by district employees, that we started paying attention.

I didn't graduate from high school from a suburban school, my husband did graduate from Seattle schools, where social promotion has a long tradition.
( until we started worrying about students passing the WASL)

It is appalling that with increased demands on workers and reduced opportunities for those with only a high school diploma, that we still hear about high school students who haven't been exposed to fractions.

When I was in elementary school, we learned that in 4th grade.

Ive been involved in schools- as I suspect many of the posters have.
I have tutored kids at Olympic View,raised money for YouthCare and FirstPlace, spent untold hours as cochair of Parent group at Summit( and untold hours without offical status), chaperoned week long field trips and shorter ones, ran reading groups, eventually quitting my job so I could spend more time in the schools.

The thing that made the biggest difference for my child, despite the effort I was putting in to support her school and the students, was changing schools.

One of the necessary qualities to me re: school, was that the school/teachers, respected parents and students.
When I am told, that I need to do more- ; in order for scores to go up, for programs to be offered, for students to be successful- from teachers that I observed having minimal control of their classroom, having minimal expectations, but were making way more per hour than my household brings in- that is not respect.
Not when I am already raising money for their programs, not when I am already spending hours in their building every week alongside other parents doing the same.

When I was in school- it was rare to see parents involved in schools- PTAs didn't have to pay for librarians, athletic fees weren't a days wages and grade school kids didn't have to furnish their own paper and crayons.

We spend more per student than any other district in the state- so why isn't that enough?
in 2004, we spent over $10,000 per student.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I did not mean my comment in a snarky way. I was just pointing out how funny it is to be discussing education and people can't spell. No, spelling doesn't equate intelligence but not being able to spell properly does matter - in work, and in school. It's not mean, snarky or anything else; it's just true.

Jet City mom said...

o I agree Melissa-
I used to be able to spell, but I do use Grammarian quite a bit.( since my daughter the tech editor isn't around to rewrite my output)

Blog misspellings don't bother me- and I also admit to some of the purposeful misspellings that younger people use to draw attention to an idea-
like I can has cheezburger

I do notice though, that with more "formal" posts, like message boards used for broader communication to school communities, that a few posters always misspell the same words.

I don't know how much spelling is taught now- we have spellcheck & I sometimes use that- but it is probably less effective if you aren't a native speaker and don't know the difference between pare, pair, or pear.

I also just watched Spellbound with my book group and while some of the words I had never even heard of let alone able to spell, many of the words, I didn't think were that difficult.

Do we still have spelling bees in this area?

Roy Smith said...

Somewhat off-topic, but readers here may find this interesting and worthy of discussion, and it vaguely relates to this discussion about spelling:

In the New York Times yesterday: Is Junie B. Jones Talking Trash?

Roy Smith said...

Responding to my own last off-topic post: some of the discussions here tend to get side-tracked into areas completely unrelated to the original post. Would it be worthwhile to have an occasional open thread on this blog to accomodate discussions that are off-topic in any of the existing threads?

Anonymous said...

As 98112 points out, when you have the resources to do so, you make your decisions for your child based on what's best for them. But, sending your own child to a private school, does not mean that one doesn't support the public schools. We shouldn't all be tarred with the same brush. We can still vote in favor of levies, participate in discussions and support our public schools; some of us do.

I think admonishing parents to bring their kids into public schools as a social sacrifice is going to be unsuccessful. More productive is to listen to why they left (while also recognizing that it would be inappropriate to make the changes required to attract some of private school parents back to the system). Also productive is to ask those of us who can buy what we want for our children to think about all the children, and to give us concrete examples of how we can help.

Michael Rice: how exactly would we go about helping to tutor your pre-algebra students? My willingness to do so is independent of where my child goes to school. I can't say I can find the time, but I'm certainly willing to try. (I'm anonymous on this blog, but if you aren't, please post the info, or how one finds the volunteer opportunity.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous at 12:38. We can spend unending hours in a school, and perhaps,eventually the school will improve. But, these improvements are generally a long time coming. In the meantime our kids are the product of the current state of the school. Our kids only get one chance at a good education. Did I read correctly that Mr. Rice is teaching HS students to divide fractions???? My 6th grader mastered that this year, and we thought his school was way behind. This is what But this is what I'm talking about... are we really supposed to just believe in the system and put our kids in a school like Rainier Beach where they are years behind academically??

Many families that find a program that works for their children do choose public school. The families that I see opting out are the families who do not find a program that meets their needs. Or a program they are just not comfortable with. Many have children with IEP's where services are not being met adequately, many are families who won't tolerate a classroom of 30-32 kids, or a 1250 kid middle school (Eckstein). Many are tired of the behavior issues that SPS tends to ignore. They find that a smaller school can address many of these issues better and offer substantially reduced class size. Most all of the families that I know who chose private school do not have the expendable income to easily afford it. Most sacrifice something (car, smaller house) or mom goes back to work. They are passionate about their childrens education. They value the diversity that public school offers and share the ideals that Mr. Burbank talks of, but will not sacrifice their kids education. Can you blame them?

Until SPS has equitable programs across the city, we can't even think about chastising people for choosing private school, home schooling, working the system, moving to the burbs, and everything else that parents will do to make sure that their kids get every opportunity they can. And no Roy Smith, that doesn't mean that our kids have to have "the best" school or no school at all. It means that EVERY kid deserves a great school, and nobody should have to wind up in HS ( Rainier Beach )not having learned how to divide a fraction.

Michael Rice said...


I teach at Rainier Beach. To volunteer there, you call the main number, tell Ms. Wilson or Ms. Engle (they will answer the phone)that you want to be a math tutor and that I said to call. To volunteer at the school nearer to you, I'm sure you could just call and tell the school you want to volunteer.

Yes, I do get Freshman that cannot divide fractions. They are a product of the world of fuzzy math and social promotion. That all ends when they get to me. Needless to say, they have probelms adapting to the demands of high school.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Rice,

Good on you. Can you encourage more of your fellow teachers to contribute to this blog? The teachers' perspective is hugely important and adds balance and perspective for me.

very very much appreciated.


Michael Rice said...

To Leslie:

I happen to know some of the Anonymous posters are school teachers, because they have told me that they post. I have encouraged them to sign their names, but for a variety of reasons, they are uncomfortable doing so. I respect their decision.

Jet City mom said...

I respect their privacy, but could the anonymous posters at least pick a screen name?
It is very confusing.

Anonymous said...

The Sound Off comments weren't surprising, but I don't believe it’s the majority view. If I could pay for private school, I might, but I can't, so I navigate SPS as best I can.

Ultimately, I don't see anything boast worthy in claiming to pay for private school by the sweat of your brow whilst also paying taxes. That's the system.

Enlightened self-interest would dictate that these 60-hour a week parents would see the wisdom in supporting good public education while paying for private. Our infrastructure, our future work force, won't be comprised solely of Lakeside grads and outsourced labor from Bangalore.

The source of our future will continue to be found in our collective backyard.

And it's precisely for this reason that I'd like to see more teachers openly commenting on blogs. You have a union. What do you fear. If SPS is as bad as they appear to be, the truth is still the best reform tool going. WenG


Anonymous said...

So what does John Burbank think of outfits like Rainier Scholars that encourage disadvantaged families to consider private school, among other options?

My feeling is that Burbank himself is perpetuating "a culture of separateness and privilege" by assuming that private school is all about the children of the rich and powerful.

I also think the funding and spending process is what's screwed up, if we can't get a decent education for 45,000 kids (or whatever it is now) out of the tax base available in Seattle.

In the long run, what we need is an educated populace, and the exact method by which each child is educated is not that crucial. In fact it is good to have a lot of diversity in how people are educated. No one minds that there are many different kinds of higher education available in Seattle: it's considered a great strength of the city. Why shouldn't the same be true of elementary and secondary education?

Helen Schinske