Selection and schools

I wanted to pick up on Dave S’ last comment about the role of peer groups and selection in schools. There’s no doubt in my mind that KIPP schools and their like have a real advantage over the local public schools in their areas, in that their students have parents who value education enough to send them to KIPP.  That doesn’t mean that they’re not providing value-added — in most cases, the local schools were failing with those exact same students.  But it does mean that if you extended the school day at all high-poverty schools and otherwise copied the KIPP model, you probably wouldn’t get the same results.

And our old school suffered from negative selection — it’s not just that the parents hadn’t made a deliberate effort to send their kids there, but that any parent who didn’t want their kid to attend it could opt out.  And this was true long before NCLB, since it was a "focus" school and Alexandria schools allow parents to opt out of any of the focus schools (as well as out of the schools with a year-round calendar). So there was a real shortage of involved parents.  For example, when the school finally acknowledged that D’s class was having a new teacher in February, and invited us in to meet her, I was the only parent to come to the event.

Some of this is about class and race — JHAA’s student population is 80 percent low-income and 92 percent non-white, and that alone would scare off some white-middle class parents even if it were the best run school in the city (and it’s not).  (See this paper for a discussion of how parents "may prefer poorly run schools with good peer groups over those
that are more effective but enroll worse students" and The Failures of Integration for data on how rare it is for whites to live in majority non-white areas.)

But from listening to people around the neighborhood, I think that highly involved black parents were even less willing to send their kids to the school than highly involved white parents.  With a few exceptions (including the PTA president), they were less confident that their kids would do fine academically regardless of the problems with the school, and so less willing to take chances. 

Alexandria’s wealthy enough, and supportive enough of education, that the school had plenty of resources even without the support of an active group of parents — it’s not like DC, where PTA fundraising supports things like music teachers.  But I do think the lack of a core group of involved parents makes a difference, in things from the availability of volunteers to pull events together, to the amount of energy that teachers need to spend on maintaining order in the classroom.

I don’t know what can be done to reverse this pattern — just raising the test scores won’t do it.  The district for the school is so spread out — some say gerrymandered — that very few people see it as their neighborhood school.


On a related note, we just registered D for his new school.  As proof of address, they wouldn’t take utility bills — they want to see the deed to your house, your rental agreement, or a notarized letter from the owner or leaseholder that you live there.  I’d never heard of such a policy.

6 Responses to “Selection and schools”

  1. jen Says:

    Does it not follow that we should be trying to fix the economy, not school funding? That if you focus on jobs and a living wage, improvements to the educational system will follow?

  2. MBooth Says:

    We had to show house deed too to register my DD for kindergarten in Arlington. weird.

  3. bj Says:

    It’s tough, because there’s no way to buy active and engaged parents, stakeholders. I wonder if it is possible to design a model of advocacy for schools that lets volunteers provide that service? Civic volunteers who try to play the role that parents would play in a school, in terms of organizing activities?
    It’s a tough sell, because part of the active parent involvement is creating a community, for the parents and children. There was an interesting article (I think in the Wall Street Journal) last year talking about how people are looking for schools to serve the community building function that churches, neighborhoods, and other organizations used to provide. Volunteers can’t see their work that way, and thus, it can’t build the same kind of community.
    But, non-parent volunteers might be able to monitor instructional quality, assist teachers in the classroom, and monitor the overall function of the school (it seems like that was a real problem in your schools — the lack of stakeholder oversight lead to breakdowns in school management. It would be like the big brother programs, or the child advocacy programs you’ve described in the past, but for schools.
    I’ve been thinking about this a lot — a number of times, we’ve pointed out that it’s the community that makes the school (not just the money — though, I do believe that money is part of the solution. You can’t pay people to be involved parents, but you can do a lot with it). But, acknowledging that community matters doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility of doing something about schools that serve children who lack a community.

  4. Susan Says:

    In order to register my children for school I have to show a current lease or deed, and an occupancy permit, so it isn’t unheard of, and I am just outside St. Louis.

  5. office lady Says:

    “Beyond the Bake Sale” is geared towards school personnel, but is an excellent manual for fostering better parent participation in low achieving schools, one of the best ways to increase student achievement. It makes an excellent case for the importance of breaking down the walls the staff builds–inadvertently, in many cases–that keep parents out of the school community.
    As for proof of residence to register for school, here in California it’s pretty common to require 3 separate proofs, one of which should be a deed or rental agreement. Of course, it is also common for people to find a way around this and enroll their kids in a more desirable

  6. Anjali Says:

    I just moved north of Atlanta, and we had to have a notarized letter to start Mira in K. At the local high school, I believe they require even more proof of residency.

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