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Could 100 Million Parents Be Wrong?

Every year, the parents of 55.1 million American schoolchildren fret about where to send their kids to school. They inspect potential schools from top to bottom. They wonder if the private school up the road might give their kid an edge. And they talk - to their friends, other parents, and their colleagues - to get the skinny on the local schools. In a bloggable age, parents' searches have been split open for all of us to watch - and even participate. (My favorite blog in the school shopping genre is the San Francisco K Files, written by a mom who's searching for a school for her daughter.)

This week's posts came out of conversations with my fertile friends about where to send their kids to preschool, how to buy into the best school district for their future spawn, or how to pick a good private high school. Here's a peek into these exchanges:

"Hey, eduwonkette. Thank God you're home. I went to tour this school, and - "

"The answer is that it probably doesn't matter much."

"WHAT?!?!? You study education! You do this all day! What do you mean that the school Madison goes to doesn't matter?"

"Look, researchers can't find much evidence that going to this or that school makes a big difference. Especially since the schools you're choosing between are pretty much identical. Did I tell you about the shoes I just won on ebay?"

"That's impossible."

"I know, right? They were mad cheap. And pink."

"I don't give a damn about your shoes. I need to find a school for my daughter. So seriously..."

Here's the puzzle. Parents are convinced that the right school will make all the difference for their child. Researchers are not so sure. What's going on here? Is this a story about parenting in an era of anxiety, or do researchers just have their heads in the sand?

On tap for this week:

Monday: Do Schools Matter?

Tuesday: Evidence on School Vs. Teacher Effects

Thursday: Parents' "You are the Company You Keep" Hypothesis

Friday: Why My Friends Still Like Me: My Answer to the "Where Do I Send My Kid?" Question

For middle and upper-middle-income families, I agree it doesn't make much difference what school their children attend.

I know that's heresy, but I always assured my wife that within reasonable limits, our kids would be fine in most local schools because most of the students in these schools were highly motivated and we (the parents) would fill in any shortcomings in the school program with piano lessons, individual coaching in this that and the other, exposure to a wide variety of cultural assets in the city, and foreign travel. A school would have to actively suck knowledge out of our kids to do them much harm.

However, what is true for the middle class in the United States (whipped up into a frenzy of fear about the failure of American education by reports issued regularly every other week by neo-liberals and neo-cons) is probably not true for kids living in dysfunctional and broken communities (in urban or rural communities or trailer parks), particularly if their family life is also dysfunctional and broken. For these kids, families and communities are so busy hanging on for dear life that they can't provide the educational supplements that middle class parents offer as a matter of course. In these circumstances, the school and classes these kids attend can make a big difference.

Not to nag, but am curious - are you going to address the topics you outlined here this week, or anytime? If you do, thanks, am very interested.

Wonkery has it right. When you look at those nice scatter plots of %low-income vs test scores, you will note that in the schools having no or nearly no kids living in poverty, scores are nearly universally proficient. At the other end of the scale--the schools with nearly 100% poverty, while the score trend line is downward, the scatter is so wide as to encompass everything from 0 to 100% proficient. Which is to say that adequate income predicts good outcomes far more reliably than inadequate income predicts poor outcomes.

Not to be rude, but I hope you noticed that the magazine portrays the word PENIS instead of parents. The womans head in the picture is blocking the a, and the green dot is coving the cross of the t. I thought you should see the magazine cover from an outsiders view looking in, and I know that this magazing does not want to portray such a thing.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Shari James: Not to be rude, but I hope you noticed that read more
  • Margo/Mom: Wonkery has it right. When you look at those nice read more
  • Jill Davidson: Not to nag, but am curious - are you going read more
  • wonkery123: For middle and upper-middle-income families, I agree it doesn't make read more




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