COMMENT OF THE DAY: SCHOOL CHOICE “. . . You have hit upon an issue that is at the core of not only the perception of school quality but also a prime driver of the residential real estate market, especially in the suburbs (and thereby a driver of retail and office markets as well). In my admittedly qualitative, non-scientific observation of the dialogue surrounding schools, the general public perception of school quality is not nearly driven as much by teaching methods, administrative / management styles, or teacher qualifications, as by the demographics of the students themselves. In the greater public’s mind, affluent demographics = good schools, with the demographics being the more independent variable (though there’s obviously a feedback loop as more affluent home buyers will be drawn to schools with already affluent students). Private schools are obviously not as related to real estate (with Strake Jesuit as an example), but the perception issue seems as relevant. To put the issue another way, is a student from an affluent household likely to perform worse academically if he/she attends a school with less affluent demographics? My sense is, many people seem to think so and make school enrollment decisions accordingly. Perhaps this assertion is justified by empirical data and experience, I don’t know.” [Local Planner, commenting on How The Woodlands Has Gone Astray; A Suitable Houston Honor for the Inventor of Air Conditioning] Illustration: Lulu
IMHO the connection between school quality and affluence (when it comes to public schools) can be expressed in other ways as well.
high income families tend to be more active on average in PTO groups, they also on average tend to provide more stable home environments that make learning easier as well as focus on supplementary education outside of school.
More worryingly for reasons which are far more complicated than the quality of public education it seems that the environments that encourage education (a stable home life) are becoming increasingly the providence of upper-middle class families and above. I don’t have any answers but the trends are very troubling.
“To put the issue another way, is a student from an affluent household likely to perform worse academically if he/she attends a school with less affluent demographics?”
absolutely true, a child attending school in more affluent districts will have more opportunities in/out of the classroom and generally better paid teachers/admin which would equate to higher standards of labor.
however, the true cavaet is exactly how important the education is in the first place. studies these days are proving that completely independent of academic performance, the safety net / network (read=affluence) that a child has access to is vastly more important in determining future economic outcome than any college diploma or grade score. that alone means that providing your child access to more areas of affluence (whether in the classroom or out of) is just as if not even more important than their acedemic performance.
What defines a good school anyways? Is it scores on some standardized test? College bound SRs? Low violent crime? Big football stadium?
There’s also the networking factors… You want your child to go the most affluent school possible (really important in 9-12) and form relationships with kids of business movers and shakers and government officials. It will help them mentally to be surrounded by success and will help them later on to find a better career.
I largely agree with the comments above. Another factor is peer pressure, which is often thought of as negative, but can be positive. Students benefit from being around others from the “demographic” that values high achievement and expects college attendance. Top students will do well almost anywhere, but the more unfocused kids that need some help surely benefit from positive peer pressure to succeed in the affluent schools.
There are several very important things to note:
First, poor parents are very likely to be working multiple jobs just to get by. They don’t necessarily have the time to read to their little kids, or help the older ones with homework, much less get involved with PTA organizations. Add to that the fact that poorer kids are more likely to come from open homes, and thus have problems in school, and it’s a pretty bleak picture.
Second, there has been a move over the last few years to mainstream problem kids, and use the bright kids to help teach the kids who are falling behind. The idea is that everyone will be in the same classes, and perform to the same average on standardized tests, and no child will be left behind.
Third, schools have limited budgets. If they are overwhelmed with kids who need remedial courses, they may be forced to do away with advanced placement classes.
Fourth, zoned public schools draw from the neighborhoods around them. A zoned school in a poor neighborhood will have poor students. A zoned school in a rich neighborhood wil have rich students.
Put it all together, and you get a very strong impetus for parents (like yours truly) to move to rich areas for the schools. We of course don’t want to be in an environment where there are a lot of problem children. We also don’t want to be in a place where our kids are called on to help teach kids who are lagging behind. We do want to send them to a school with strong AP courses where they will be challenged. (I wish it didn’t involve moving. I wish we could stay in our neighborhood. But more than that, it would be much better for the diversity and health of our cities if it didn’t involve moving — but it does.)
One of the most interesting perspectives I’ve heard on what makes a school great has come from the African American parents I met in HISD. Many of them, especially parents of boys, felt that schools like Carnegie, DeBakey, the new energy magnet, etc. were their only real choices for their kids for high school. They pointed to the social pressure an African American boy faces to be an athlete first and a scholar second (or, sadly, to be much worse than an athlete) and said, essentially, that they wanted their son at a school where the coolest activity around was the Chess Club. I don’t know for sure, but I would think that this still would be a concern for them even in most suburban districts.
DeBakey is a favorite in part because so many of the students there are first-generation Americans with very strict parents. One mom crowed to me “there are no parties! there are no girls who are allowed to date! it’s awesome!” Not what most people would pick for a high school experience, but I guess whatever works…
A major issue with public schools is that no one values it. When I say this to parents who send their kids to public school, they always protest, “That’s not true, I value my child’s public school.” So then I ask them to tell me, in dollars, how much they valued their child’s school last year. I usually get an odd look in response. The definition of value is what someone is willing to pay for a good or service and people who send their kids to public schools definitionally don’t value their child’s education. Some will claim, “but I moved from Midtown to Spring Branch, Woodlands, Clear Lake etc… for the schools, so that proves I value education.” No it doesn’t. It proves that they will move so that they can get the best education for their kids that they don’t have to pay for, while coincidentally getting a bigger house in a safe neighborhood. Would these people consider moving to the 5th Ward if there happened to be a spectacular public school there? Highly unlikely. Others will claim, “but I pay my taxes and that pays for public schools.” But that’s a cop out. Others who do value education (aka pay for private school), as well as those without kids, also pay their taxes so public school parents don’t have to pay full freight for their kid’s education.
But parents’ of public school kids who don’t value education are only half the problem with public education. The other half are the people who do value education and pay for private school. Whether their name is Kennedy, Bush, Clinton, Obama or Bloomberg, the powerful and influential, the ones who are capable of improving public education through policy or funding, don’t give a shit about public education because it doesn’t affect their kids. And whether they will admit it or not, a significant percentage of the people who pay for private school look down on those don’t value education and send their kids to public schools. So the wealthy and influential pay nothing but lip service to the value of public education.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that a country needs a strong public education system; that it’s critical to have an educated, informed society to maintain a functional democracy. Just don’t make my son attend a public school, I value the private school he attends.
I agree with commonsense. My kids go to an exclusive private school which covers preK-12. Is it worth it?
Elementary school: good education, very caring environment
Middle school: pretty good education, supportive environment
High school: fantastic education, lots of pressure
Most of their classmates are upper class, hyper-privileged, especially those who started in preK. I have the feeling that their parents don’t push them academically because they figure their kids already have it made.
The school lets in a bunch of new kids in middle school. These kids are generally smarter than those who started in preK. The kids who get admitted into high school are very, very smart.
Is it worth the $250k+ in tuition each of my kids will rack up? Not for the education, but I have come to understand that what I am paying for is connections. Sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. These are definitely the kids of the movers and shakers.
I appreciate ZAW’s take on HISD, I wish the Superintendent and Trustees would listen to what he’s saying, but they really don’t care about some intellects and their child (but that’s exactly who they should care about).
As for Area Resident, your satire fell very flat. A private school education is worth every penny, if you can afford. Yeah, who wants World Class Facilities, being taught by Ph.D’s, and making life long connections…so over rated.
Walt: but people who move to neighborhoods with better schools ARE paying for those schools, because houses usually cost more in neighborhoods with better schools. In many cases it’s a wash: your mortgage plus private school tuition in a neighborhood with bad public schools, is about equal to someone else’s mortgage on a similar house in a neighborhood with good public schools.
(My argument all along has been that this -should- give impetus to people who don’t have kids, to live in neighborhoods with bad public schools. Young people plus empty nesters. They could save a lot of money that way. But I digress.)
David G, a big problem in having stable homes in poor communities is how many of the men (and women) end up cycling through jail, much of the time for things that shouldn’t be crimes.
The “connections” from a private school HS are over-stated. Yes, it is good to know people where you may cross paths. Hell, I wish I knew a good plumber. From what I have seen, the students get widely dispersed both geographically and in career choices – – and are generally looking to make their own way. Family help is much more likely.
Walt makes it sound like we’re paying our property taxes with Monopoly money. Like any public good, it’s not easy to place a dollar-and-cents value on public schools. But if it was truly zero, would parents be choosing to move to districts with higher tax rates? Yes, that’s happening.
“You want your child to go the most affluent school possible (really important in 9-12) and form relationships with kids of business movers and shakers and government officials”
Yeh right. I’m desperately trying to get my kids to be friends with a Rockefeller, a Kennedy or a Koch. These are my priorities.
ZAW – I’d imagine there are some instances where people spend more to get into an area with good schools. But from what I see around me, that seems to be the exception, not the norm. Most of what I see are people selling their 1,000 to 1,500 sq/ft bungalos or townhomes in the Heights or Montrose so they can buy a 3,500 sq/ft McMansion in a burb with decent schools. The cash/mortgage costs are essentially even (sometimes cheaper in the burbs), but they gain significant square footage and get a more child friendly neighborhood. But most importantly, they don’t have to apply any cash value to their child’s education.
In response to ZAW, this has been my experience, specifics included: I live in Montrose and both of my kids attend Roberts Elementary. We’re zoned to Wilson Elementary, but we tried the HISD lottery because we preferred several other schools over Wilson. It worked out. We’re pleased with Roberts for a lot of reasons, but the most important is the culture of the students and their families. The parents include a lot of educated professionals (doctors, professors, lawyers), and they take their kids’ education seriously. As has been pointed out in this and earlier threads, that makes all the difference in the parent-teacher collaborative success of the school.
These parents aren’t the “business movers” or government officials mentioned by commonsense, whose main idea, seconded by Area Resident, is that a good education is a fast track to making a lot of money. That kind of thinking, in my opinion, is just as corrosive to the broad communitarian and intellectuals ideals of public education as are broken homes and poverty.
Area Resident is at least candid in his opinion, so I had to smile at Shannon’s full-throated defense of an elite’s “education.”
@ZAW: Except that, unfortunately, many childless homebuyers seem to be heeding the advice that you should buy only in good-school, already affluent areas (and pay more for doing so) for lower risk of home value depreciation and greater potential for value appreciation. Those who don’t follow this logic are often regarded either as “pioneers” or just crazy.
Re people with higher property taxes paying more for their local schools, I was going to ask “Don’t we still have the Robin Hood law?”. I searched a little and found that school finance is being battled in court, but apparently Robin Hood is still in place.
The TEA website says:
“Chapter 41 of the Texas Education Code requires school districts that are property wealthy to share their wealth with school districts that are property poor. This statute is sometimes referred to as the “share the wealth” or “Robin Hood” plan. The school finance system “recaptures” funds from the property-wealthy districts to distribute to the property-poor districts.”
Here’s an article about the latest (?) court battle, including opinions of gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis on the matter.
It’s interesting, Shannon, that you thought area resident’s comment was satire. I read that comment as a brutally honest assessment of why private school is the right choice for his/her family. I am a public school all the way type, but we are zoned to an amazing elementary school and will move if need be to be zoned to a like junior and high school (although, our first choice for high school is a magnet only school).
You dismiss the “networking” value because you have not experienced it firsthand. A friend of mine’s kid got into West Point because he got a recommendation from a congressman (classmate’s dad). Other recommendations and the elite school diploma itself fast tracks you to acceptance into Ivy League colleges. Once you’re in the circle, you benefit from such relationships for many years to come.
When people bash pursuit of wealth always reminds me of a line from THAT movie – “Whoever says money doesn’t bring happiness, doesn’t fu#*kng have any.”
I had the privilege of attending every demographic of school you can imagine.
I have more close friends from my poor ghetto high school than I do from my top tier rich private college simply because the high school friends stayed in town.
The few things that stand out to me are:
(1) Parents of all type care tremendously about their kids.
(2) Rich parents can disguise problems much better than poor parents.
(3) The perspective of having been a part of every social tier is an experience I wouldn’t trade for a couple more houses and something I would want my kids to experience.
(4) No one knows where they want to go in life in grade school and those that do don’t have the worldview to justify their beliefs. It’s better to provide your children a great worldly perspective than a couple future business connections. Perspective will help them find their calling so much sooner.
(5) If you’re a good parent with lots of time and energy you can overcome any education deficit your child might face in school – be it public or private.
(6) Often times a student will be presented many more opportunities at the poorer public school simply because there’s less competition for whatever sport/club/etc they want to be a part of.
I am not sure that a student will necessarily do “worse” attending a school with a less affluent demographic. But it is absolutely true that the student attending a school with a less affluent demographic will not have the same opportunities. The more affluent schools have more AP offerings, better sports and fine arts (both shown to have ties to improved academic performance), stronger academic competition amongst students, and better teachers.
Also, in Houston (and most of Texas), the public school districts are so huge that the economic segregation is not that bad. Woodlands, Sugar Land, Katy and Clear Creek draw upon a fairly broad economic demographic. Memorial is really the only example of a school district in Houston where the predominant demographic is upper class. The rest are predominantly on the upper end of the middle class, but with as many lower class kids as really rich kids. Private school is really where you will go to try to achieve class segregation.
As someone who was involved in the first wave of forced busing, I can attest, at that time, the experience of coming from a school with almost exclusively upper middle class kids to a “mixed” school with kids bused from the housing projects 8 miles away was no picnic. Aside from shakedowns for money by the poor tough kids, general unruly behavior in the classroom that preempted learning with crowd control and a school district that was too afraid to discipline the hell out of the troublemakers for fear of upsetting “community leaders” and an activist judge who monitored the district, I can safely say my parents did the right thing and moved to semi suburban neighborhood with good schools. The truth is large institutions like HISD are forced to deal with all kinds of kids including those that are throwaways, hungry, financially disadvantaged, unable to speak English, discipline challenged and kids whose parents either don’t have the means or ways to foster education at home. They have to cater to the lowest common denominator and I can assure you parents who have the means or desire to bolster their children’s education will do whatever it takes regardless of those crying about urban sprawl, diversity for diversities sake or those in academia who use public school students for guinea pigs to further their own agendas.
@commonsense, regarding West Point:
Depending on the area and the congressman, that doesn’t necessarily come from a direct connection. I went to a medium sized, rural public high school. I had 3 friends who got into West Point all on the same congressman’s recommendation. I don’t think any of their families knew the congressman well, and only one of those families could be described as “having connections.” If you wanted to go to West Point and the guidance counselor thought you had a chance, he’d set up an appointment with the congressman for you. You’d chat and brag and if the congressman thought you were up to par, he’d recommend you. No connection needed. If I had been interested in West Point, I’m quite confident he would have recommended me, and I have never met the man and my family certainly wouldn’t have been described as one with connections.
@ Old School: You are confusing districts and individual school zones. Most home buyers pay attention solely to the latter. Conroe, Spring Branch, Cy-Fair and Fort Bend all cover many schools with widely varying perceptions of quality (and not coincidentally, widely varying demographics), and you better bet that home buying parents know down to the block exactly which homes are zoned to what school and what the demographic features are of each school (especially % free/reduced lunch), along with the “performance” measures like test scores. Check out Cy-Ranch HS vs. Cy-Springs HS for examples of market-generated class and racial segregation, for example, despite both being in the same district and adjacently zoned. Of course, this all leads to hyper-hissy fits when school rezoning happens (see: current controversies in Fort Bend).
@vwgto Moreso than ever before, and moreso here in the US than many other places, and probably magnified 100x here in Houston, where you start out is where you end up. For the legions trying to make a move, it’s just an absolute dice roll at this point as they try to angle for perceived edges that may not even exist.
For what it’s worth, I went to St. John’s for middle school and HISD for high school. My take is that the top students at both schools were very similar. Public schools have much better sports (and for some schools, better art and theater programs), broader opportunities (e.g., taking Hindi, Russian, shop, etc), and are more diverse (economic and ethnic), which I think is a good thing. Schools like St. John’s, however, offer a much better safety net. If you aren’t a hard worker and your parents aren’t around at St. John’s (like surprisingly is the case), you will still get a good education (you won’t have a choice in the matter). At public school, if you aren’t a hard worker and your parents aren’t around, you’re in real trouble.
I think a lot depends on the kid. I think that if your kid can go to a good public high school and succeed, then this is the preferred course. As demonstrated above, there are clearly different views on this though.
(BTW — unless you are the son/daughter of a deceased veteran or fall into a few other special categories, you have to get a recommendation from a congressman (or President, VP, and a few others) to get into West Point.)
That’s because you have to work for it instead of ask for it.
I grew up in the public school system. I have friends and extended family members who did a mix of both public and private. Some of them have strong opinions about how much “better” private school is than public. Not having the private school experience, I can’t really say. I still excelled in nearly all of my classes and received a good university and post-grad education.
Regarding networking and connections, I see that as more relevant once at the university level. I don’t see know many HS students who care about this. The children I know that come from upper class families living in River Oaks, the Villages, etc. all seem pretty down to earth and similar to their church friends who don’t attend private schools. Sure, they have different life experiences in HS that public school kids won’t ever have, but I don’t believe most individuals are concerned about connections until somewhere in college.
Connections do help in college and when finding a job. I leaned on my university alumni to help me out at times as well as family members. Most of the people I know who went to Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc. do lean on their alumni connections as well. I think it’s only natural that you look to your peers to help you out at times. The difference is that many of one’s peers at these schools have more powerful networks. I’ve also noticed with scions that they tend to follow the path of their parents. It’s not surprisingly for the father to be an executive of a company, sit on the board (or donate lots of money to a prestigious university) and then see their children go on to the same Ivy league undergraduate and graduate programs. It’s all part of the grooming process.
@Local Planner: I am not confusing districts and school zones. Yes, there are school zones out there in the burbs that are comprised of lower class areas. But the “affluent” schools just aren’t that affluent and are mostly solidly middle class. What you think is economic self segregation, is actually just Houston’s sprawl in motion. Cy Ranch has newer housing stock and Cy Springs has the older housing stock. People do not move into the older housing stock when they can afford to buy something nicer further out. If you want to see what economic self-segregation looks like, take a look at some of the school districts in NY, NJ, and Conn. Solidly middle class people are completely priced out by upper class families bidding on very scarce real estate. But in Houston, our sprawl has prevented similar economic self segregation by school district in the burbs. Anyone with a solidly middle class income level can have their pick of any of the top school zones in the burbs.
Many of you came close to hitting the nail, but missed. The issue of public education is a matter of preserving, or trying to improve, one’s class. We’re fed this line of bs that America has a vast middle class, blah blah. The truth is we have a tiny upper class, small middle class, an enormous working class, and a growing disenfranchised class. Education can help someone move up from working class to middle class, especially getting a highly sought technical degree or management degree, but to see any real change is a matter of luck, or succeeding generations.
It looks like commonsense’s story turned out to be a dud. Obviously who you know matters more than ever. Meritocracy is a concept deader than ever and nepotism is filling the void. But when I think of what I want to provide to my kids, somehow connections and money don’t even come to mind. That kind of shallowness is sad but I know the world is full of assholes which would obviously disagree.
@valerie, “if I just tried he would have recommended me” is one of the most naive things I’ve herad in a while. I suppose if I only asked Barak Obbama to become the Attorney General, I’m sure it would have hapenned, by I was busy waxing my car that day.
@Progg, there’s definitely a group of people with your view on life, complete lack of ambition, lay back and let life take punches at you, let someone else make the BIG decisions. If mediocrity and bare minimum are ok for you, then more (or less in their case) power to you.
Curious about the current candidates for gov and lite gov, I googled this from 2011:
Wendy Davis responded that her kids attended “private/public.” Letitia Van de Putte: private. Dan Patrick: public. Can’t find anything about Greg Abbott, but I would guess his daughter attended Catholic school.
Of the three governors we’ve had in the last 24 years (!):
Contra somebody above, the Bush girls attended Austin High. Think Lamar.
Rick Perry’s kids went there as well.
Ann Richards’ daughter Cecile is easy to look up because she’s a public figure. She attended pricey St.Stephen’s in Austin.
Relevance? Perhaps none. I remember years ago Texas Monthly magazine was regularly writing about Texas public education, beating the drum for Robin Hood, when it was noticed that not a single member of the magazine’s staff sent their kids to public school.
AISD, Eanes ISD, Round Rock ISD – the districts in which their kids might have enrolled: all “wealthy” Robin Hood donors. None good enough for them – I’m sorry, “not the right decision for their child” – but good enough, in their opinion, to surrender their taxes to little Texas towns.
My folks lived in a big ol’ custom-built house, in an excellent school district. Probably top 2% of home sizes in the county. They had two kids. Delayed childbirth until they both had solid careers. I have a Master’s, my brother is finishing up a PhD. My parents, at 65, are making snarky comments about grandchildren.
My mom’s brother lived in a crappier house across town. Married right out of high school. Drove a truck after he got out of the marines. They had five kids. Four got BAs; one married a race-car driver. The race-driver’s wife has one little one. The middle child just married an engineer and will probably pop one out in 2-3 years. At 55, they’re grandparents, while their youngest continues to come home for the summers.
Who’s winning? I’d say they are.
This is what the Mormons and the Mexicans understand, and what we’ve forgotten. Your lineage is better carried forth by a gaggle of fertile, middle-income kids then one trophy child whom you’ve attempted to vaunt into the stratosphere of the 1%. Yes, all else being equal your kids will do better in a high school with a 1300 SAT average than one with a 1050. But the price you pay to live in that house is money you’re not spending bringing up #2, #3, #4, or #5.
@HeyHeyHouston That’s already been accounted for in the statistics…pretending like it isn’t so won’t change anything.
@GlenW The middle class itself is a historical aberration. Since WWII only government policy has created opportunities, though lately it has been solely creating wealth for that certain class of people who seem to be guided by the deeply-ingrained disturbing ideology that they are “farming” the rest of us – for lack of a better word :)
I’m late to this conversation. Fernando described it in an interesting way by saying, “It’s all part of a grooming process.” That’s a broad description, but it seems accurate. My worldview has been shaped by my experiences, and I tend to feel that I have a great deal of worth and so I value that worldview. My inclination is to replicate the circumstances that have enabled that worldview to take root and perhaps to provide guidance in order to smooth out the bumps.
There’s a discernible Dunning-Kruger Effect at play among those that have shared their opinions here. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance and projection, too. Perhaps I am myself no exception.
I can’t say for sure that I know what the best route is….but I can say that the fact-based arguments in favor of an elite K-12 education have been unconvincing. The most intriguing one was put forward by JB, that experiencing it even for a short period of time is an experience worth having in order to contrast it with other kinds of experiences. But of course, again, I’m only intrigued because it fits with my values about what an education and a childhood should be like.
The entire discussion up to this point begs the question about education, what makes it good? WAZ mentioned that a school needs to have enough resources to provide AP classes. That’s valid. But as crappy as my high school was down on the border, it was big enough that it had the resources to internally segregate students, and they had an intermediate College Prep (“CP”) course of study, too. It had a large and growing enrollment. If it had been smaller or going through a process of declining enrollment, then it probably wouldn’t have had those programs. That’s a legitimate consideration, however to Local Planner’s point, it doesn’t seem to be one that is considered by very many homebuyers or marketed by homebuilders or Realtors. I can’t help but to be cynical about the typical homebuyer’s expectations for their children and fears and ambitions.
And about these parents that seem to desire high-achievement kids, I think that perhaps they should read up on the factors that predict adolescent anxiety, depression, and suicide. Their kids are probably safer going to a crap school than to have expectations foisted upon them that are unrealistic or contrary to the kids’ interests.
What scares the bejeezus out of me, and should scare our state’s “leaders” is that the dropout rate for hispanics has exceeded 40% for the last decade, and the dropout rate for African Americans is in the neighborhood of 25%. What happens to our state’s economy a decade or two down the road when we have a large segment of our adult population without the skills to hold jobs that require skills that these dropouts do not possess? Will businesses look elsewhere to locate, because, after all, you can hire unskilled labor for far less in developing countries.
I don’t pretend to have the answers to this, but we need to address it soon, before we begin to resemble countries to our south. We will end up with a few elites, a small middle class, and a vast unskilled working class that won’t earn enough to make our consumer driven economy hum along.
@Progg, there’s definitely a group of people with your view on life, complete lack of ambition, lay back and let life take punches at you, let someone else make the BIG decisions. If mediocrity and bare minimum are ok for you, then more (or less in their case) power to you.
Says the guy who’s seemingly glued to swamplot to get the first bit of asinine commentary in. commonsense, when I think of the movers and shakers out there you never come to mind. You are guy making useless comments on a blog.