Thursday, February 07, 2008

Important notice: Ladies and gentlemen, I wrote this rant late at night when I couldn't sleep for all the quiet that had settled on my 'hood. I know that the magazine mentioned below is no vehicle with which to start a social revolution. It is, however, an indication of how blithely a certain segment of society will go about its business as always, denying that change needs to come, accepting the current educational climate as inevitable. The stuff I'm spewing about can certainly start with them, or they can get outta the way.

Dammit, dammit all to hell. I am so angry I could spit grenades. And it's all 'cause of a couple of articles in February's New Orleans magazine, in combination with my thoughts about this great lady's experiences in the RSD.

The magazine's IT schmucks haven't updated their site yet. Idiots. Then again, it is right after Mardi Gras. I'll give 'em that much. And yes, I know I shouldn't be wasting my time on the sometimes narrow view this magazine takes of things. (HammHawk, dude, your astute rebuttal of that article's hint is nowhere to be found in the letters to the almighty editor of the magazine. Sad, really...) The February issue focuses on the schools - the charters and the private schools. The only mention of the Recovery School District is in an article entitled "Charter Schools: Making The Grade" by Dawn Ruth.
The philosophy behind the charter school movement is pure Darwinism - only the strong survive. As the theory goes, "strong" means "successful", and successful means standardized test scores that show school children - poor as well as rich - can read, write, and compute at least at a basic level. That would be good news for New Orleans parents and the region as a whole but since many of the city's new charter schools are only six months old, it will be another four or more years before anyone can pass fair judgment as to whether charters are the answer to New Orleans' past education woes.
...Overall, New Orleans charters performed better than traditional schools but that outcome is not surprising considering RSD schools struggled with serious problems including a shortage of classrooms and teachers to meet the demand of an influx of returning students. Since then, most problems have been resolved.
I think Ms Ruth could have dug a bit deeper into the situation, especially after the New Orleans LEAP scores were released in August. Michael Homan has some great thoughts on the subject that could certainly use some elaboration, especially some important words from a Ralph Adamo article, the effects of white flight on the quality of the public schools, and the toll the current roadblocks to rebuilding can take on a caring parent who loves this city so. Seems Michael Tisserand is one of the few journalists to examine the realities of the charter school situation a little further. Oy vey.

The reality is that the current climate here doesn't favor the regular public schools, whatever those are. The ones I'm talking about are the state-run RSD schools that are not charters. The ones that are largely being bolstered by teachers who are run through the Teach NOLA program with not much more than a bachelor's degree are taking their toll on those souls. The salaries need a boost for certified as well as uncertified teachers. It is all more than enough to drive sane, caring people completely insane.

More evidence that the current climate is giving the RSD the proverbial finger? Try the next education article in the magazine on for size: "The Cost Of Learning: High School Tuition Vs. College Success". The thing reads like another big ad for Darwinism, pulling back from its conclusions a tad at the very end to try to instill hope in those readers who have been crushed by its endorsements. Kathy Finn writes:
In New Orleans, as elsewhere, private institutions are sometimes criticized as having abetted an exodus of students from taxpayer-financed elementary, middle and high schools. It's an argument that likely will arise among people who champion the need for high-quality public eduaction. But many educators believe the existence of solid private schools helps to raise the bar for teachers and pupils throughout the area.
The importance of making a good education available to all, regardless of financial status, seems indisputable. However, it's difficult to challenge the theory that having quality private schools available as an option can also mean a great deal to the quality of local education overall.
In other words, everything is hunky dory, because it's optional. Survival of the fittest, folks. But hey, when you're talking entry to top colleges, the sky's the limit, right? Spend and spend away on your kids, 'cause it's worth it. Check the stats that are cited to help the young 'uns compete with record numbers of Ivy League applicants and loads of foreign-born and raised applicants in the bargain:
In researching the path to eight of the top colleges in the U.S., the (Wall Street) Journal (note: I'm trying to find this article, but the online Journal wants $79 for the privilege) identified some 70 high schools that send the largest number of seniors into those colleges. While annual tuition at a few of the feeder high schools runs as low as a few thousand dollars, and annual tab above $20,000 is much more typical and tuition at a few of the prep schools runs close to $40,000.

Fortunately for local families, some excellent private schools are available at far lower prices. At Isidore Newman School in New Orleans - long one of the most expensive private schools in the local area - high school tuition for 2008 is listed at just over $15,000. Tuition at the highly respected Metairie Park Country Day School, meanwhile, will stop just short of that mark for 2008, as will the tab at Louise S. McGehee School.
Yep, getting your kids into Harvard still requires loads of dough for the right "feeder schools". But guess what????? New Orleans can give it to you at near-bargain prices!!!! I'm waiting for the Special Man* to pop out from someplace and tell the parents to let their kids have it....with noooooooooo problem!!!! except now they have to save for high school and college.

But don't despair, those of you who can't afford all this for your children!
...when it comes to comparing outcomes among private, parochial and public schools, many educators say the real key is parental involvement. Students who have abundant support and encouragement from their parents throughout their school years are far likelier to achieve their full potential than are students who lack parental attention, no matter what type of school they attend.
Nobody could tell you that better than an RSD teacher:
Today was report card conferences. Two parents from my homeroom class came to collect their child's report card. One of those volunteers/works at school. Other parents from other homerooms came in but most didn't stop to talk. Just took their kid's failed test and left. I want to cry just looking at the math grades in comparison to most students' other grades. It makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong to give out all those Fs.

Today I feel like shit. Just personally, I felt like shit about today. The kids were little bastards all day. And the parents, by their absence, proved to me why this is the case.
Yeah, fine, standards are needed. There's not so, so much wrong with giving these kids some basic skills. But standards should not be the only thing looked at in all this mess called education. So many things are wrong. Throwing money at it isn't going to help if that money isn't used wisely, which was one of the many reasons why pre-8-29 New Orleans public schools were largely failures, with a few exceptions. Parents dropping their kids off and leaving their responsibility to those kids at the school doors for the duration as well isn't working, either, which warrants a greater examination of the stresses on parents that center around work, finances, and simply providing food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their kids. Politicizing the system has its pitfalls as well, as I saw in a recent article.

A further examination of how we perceive community and how that could help us all is definitely in order - folks like Michael Homan have been working to get quality schooling right in their own neighborhoods that isn't going to break backs from the cost. A recent observation from the cantor of an area synagogue, on seeing the middle school-aged kids at my religious school schmoozing with each other at break time, puts this in some perspective - he said it was amazing seeing all these Jewish kids all together like this because, all together, they represented so many different secular (i.e., non-Jewish) area schools, private and charter, as well as places like Ben Franklin High School, which is still under the old Orleans Parish SD. In fact, once many of these kids are about to enter college, it may be at gatherings of synagogue youth groups that they hit it off with somebody only to then discover that, all through their schooling years, they lived only a couple of blocks apart all that time. I personally found that to be a little sad. Having one kid a couple of blocks away from the other going to an entirely different school outside of the city limits can diminish one's sense of community at home unless parents take an active role in their neighborhoods as well.**

In the end, little rings truer for me than the conclusions a prep school college counselor comes to about that whole process:

Powerful emotions get mixed up in the college-admissions process. Michael Thompson wrote in "College Admission as a Failed Rite of Passage" that central to this experience is "the most important and most difficult transition in all of life: the end of childhood and the late-adolescent separation and individuation from parents." He continued,

The frantic involvement of many parents in the process is, from my perspective, a cover for this profound parental anxiety: Did I do a good job with this child? Did I do everything I needed to do for this child? Is this child prepared? Is this child going to have a good life? ... Such fears about letting go of an unfinished child exist in all families. How can we let go of a child who is still so young in so many ways?

Surely he's right about this. Also lurking uncomfortably beneath the surface of these waters are class anxiety, the culture wars, and a whole set of unexamined prejudices about what does or does not constitute a "good" college. All this drama is nice for admissions offices that like to see applications stacked to the roof and supplicants spilling out into hallways as they wait nervously for information sessions to begin. None of it is good for seventeen-year-olds just taking their first tentative steps into adult life.

Articles such as the ones in the current New Orleans magazine feed that parental anxiety most of all. They crap all over the hardworking, unsung heroes who are the folks who are teaching in the RSD and overcoming the humps as best they can. They shortchange all our kids with their obvious and subtle biases.

Next time my husband renews his WYES membership, I'm gonna tell him to tell YES we say "no" to the New Orleans subscription. Put that money into better programming... 'cause it certainly ain't helping that magazine out any.

Survival of the fittest. Heh, heh.


*Yes, I know that's not the real Special Man in the commercial...but you gotta love the box of chicken thrown into the deal, right?

**All community-oriented thoughts influenced by my recent readings of Dolores Hayden's work. Skewer me in the comments if you must...


Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Yeah. RSD life. The students, the system and the state.

To sum up my current educational philosophy, I have to quote from the movie "Aliens."

I will need a full week back on the beach, with a different bottle for each day, in order to regain some semblance of sanity. Just a short 86 instructional days from today.

Sophmom said...

Ahh.... bless Pat's heart. He's still countin' down the days. I think he might have earned more than one week on the beach. JMHO.

This is such a complex subject and I've seen it from a number of perspectives. My boys grew up in a community that was anchored by public and private schools and we did a little of both. They had friends in all the local schools, friends from the neighborhood and church, and others from playing baseball, from summer camp and from swim team. The three of them went to two different private elementary schools, both within walking distance of our house. The Oldest attended an Episcopal school that was so close I could watch him walk all the way to school from the front porch, hear them playing on the playground, and, from time to time, the dog would get out and try to go get him. They'd call me from the office to tell me it was time to come fetch Daisy again. I guess what I'm saying is that it all weaves into the texture of a community.

As for the whole college anxiety thing, I have seen that up close and personal too. I do know we can choose whether or not to buy into it. My experience has been that it all works out for the best (although I never wished my boys could go to a "top" school).

I liked the chicken offer at the end of the commercial too.

Sophmom said...

Oh... and, what I started to say in the first place: Bill Quigley wrote a pair of articles (Part I and Part II) about the RSD vs. the Charter Schools. I'm too sleepy to look for the link(s), but'll try to find them tomorrow. 'Night, darlin'.

em said...

I do actually work for a charter system, though we get a large part (i think - the finances are fuzzy to me) of our funding from RSD. So my experiences with RSD have been by association only. I have colleagues who work directly for RSD schools. My job is tough. Their jobs are unbelievable. I don't know how they do it every day.