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School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 01:05 PM   #1
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School me on schools

I've always heard people talk about shopping for a house with good schools. Around where I live this doesn't really make sense. We have really large school districts here in NC (my current district is supposedly the 21st largest in the country and growing quick).

Here's how our system works: You are assigned to a school or two based on your address (your "base school(s)"). Most people can choose between a year round school (9 wks on/3 wks off), or a "traditional" calendar school with the summer vacation of 2-3 months. Then there is a dozen or two other options throughout K-12 called "magnet" schools, where, by application and presumably lottery drawing, you can send your kids.

In practice, this means that you have a slate of at least 4 elementary schools that you can send your kid to that will pick up/drop off via school bus essentially in front of your house. And then there are another 5-10 magnet schools that provide limited bussing, or parent pick-up/drop-off only. In other words, a pretty wide selection of schools with various specialties and strengths (academics, performing arts, culture, foreign language immersion, International Baccalaureate, etc.).

I have a two daughters a few years away from entering kindergarten. The school in our neighborhood within walking distance that is the "default" school seemed pretty decent when I checked it out a couple years ago.

I checked today, and wow! The neighborhood school was the worst performing elementary school in the entire school district (out of ~130 elementary schools). 59% of students are performing at or above grade level. It has been named the county's only "priority school". It is listed as a "high poverty" school where 65% of the kids are "economically disadvantaged". Predominantly minority - only 17% white students. I know, this probably looks like a junior Harvard or Yale compared to the "real" rough inner-city public schools that many have access to.

A few years back, it wasn't quite this bad, performance-wise. After controlling for things like economic advantage, race, parental education levels, etc. it seemed like non-poor kids of white or asian descent with educated parents did pretty well at this school. But now I'm wondering if I want to send my kids to a school where 50-60% of kids are performing below grade level in some grades and subjects. I have no clue what kind of "advanced track" programs they offer, but I assume they would be limited and the main focus would be getting the 50-60% of underperforming kids trained enough at test-taking in order to increase the pass rate. I'll have to investigate, but the severe drop in test scores seems like either "white flight" or maybe they stopped teaching the test?

Bottom line, I have plenty of viable alternatives (although slightly less convenient). The default "magnet" school has incredible academic stats on paper - 91% of white/asian students above grade level and 8% at grade level (1% performed below grade level). The comments I have seen about this school compare it very favorably to all local private schools (which may be a comment on the caliber of local private schools...). Guess I'm lucky.

Regarding paying a premium to buy a house in a "good school" area - in our district they re-district annually. Probably 10% of folks are affected each year. You may buy into a neighborhood that gets sent to the school you wanted. Then the next year, your kid is getting bussed across the county to a different school (that could be much less desireable).

A question for you: How does it work in your school district/area? If you were stuck in a less-than-desireable "base/home" school, would it be easy to get in a better school within the district? Does your locale have such a thing as houses in "good school" areas or "bad school" areas?

I've read about systems like what Texas has, where districts are very small and primarily funded by local property tax revenue. As a result, there are extreme disparities btw the good (read: rich) school districts and the bad (read: poor) school districts. Is this how most states organize their school districts/funding? I can understand buying into a good school district in systems set up like Texas.
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 01:14 PM   #2
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Re: School me on schools

Great thread topic. I don't have enough time to write now, but this is something that has been a topic of discussion between me and my husband because: a) we're thinking of having kids soon b) we live in the city limits in a city with a mediocre public school system but could afford a house in one of the "blue ribbon" suburbs 15 minutes south c) we are both products of mediocre city school systems and did just fine at our elite colleges. Couple our anecdotal lives with the research showing that "school quality" is totally secondary to parental involvement and engagement as far as predicting success in higher education, and I'm starting to think "good schools" is just one more way to keep up with the Joneses. I'd rather my kid be in a "struggling" school if there are other kids around whose parents truly value education, versus being in one full of children whose parents view good schools as a status item or a magic ticket into the Ivy League.

Whoops, looks like I wrote a lot anyway! Gotta go, but looking forward to seeing how this discussion progresses.
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 01:24 PM   #3
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Re: School me on schools

when my cousin was selecting a neighborhood to raise her kids she decided on an affluent area because there the parents have more resources to be able to donate more money to local school programs (on top of state funding) and to volunteer their personal time to helping teachers in classrooms. my cousin both gave money to school programs and also volunteered a lot of time because it was more important for her to spend time with her children than it was to continue with her career. so school district based on home location was paramount in my cousin's decision when she relocated here.
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 01:28 PM   #4
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Re: School me on schools

In our town, you go to the neighborhood school or else find a private school. I have heard of parents renting a cheap apartment in a desirable school district while actually living elsewhere, just to be able to send their kids to a particular school. Sounds kind of extreme to me, but what can I say, we ended up paying to live in a good school district. Actually, I don't think I have ever lived in a place with a choice of public schools. Is this a new trend?

The above is for elementary schools. Choices do open up a bit for high school, with some public schools having entrance exams to get in.
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 01:34 PM   #5
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Re: School me on schools

I grew up in the school district that I still live in. I assumed other districts across the country were similar. I checked my address - I have a choice of 14 elementary schools, 6 middle schools and 4 high schools.

Beyond these there are "special" schools for special education students (behavioral/emotional/developmental difficulties, etc).
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 01:37 PM   #6
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Re: School me on schools

Quote:
Originally Posted by bpp
I have heard of parents renting a cheap apartment in a desirable school district while actually living elsewhere, just to be able to send their kids to a particular school.
I have heard of parents doing this to get into this county's district. In fact, I dated a girl during high school whose parents had rented a room for her within the county so she could attend the choice county high school. Other parents would rent a cheap apartment or a room and have their mail sent there.

Except in our district, it is frequently the really crappy parts of town that have the excellent schools. As a result, you may have to rent a slumlord place to get a guaranteed seat at the best high school (as a "base" student assigned to that school). Otherwise, application is by lottery of some sorts. But renting a place for a few thousand a year is still cheaper than the local private schools (and the public school is much better IMHO).
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 01:47 PM   #7
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Re: School me on schools

In my area, you generally end up in the school system run by your town. Since my town is under 10k people, we share a system with a neighboring town (which we "divorced" from in the 70s). The school system is mediocre, despite having the highest average teacher pay in the county (all long-tenured union teachers). We knew this and chose to buy here anyway. We could have bought a place in a nearby town well known for excellent schools, but houses were 50 to 100% more expensive, taxes were double, and then you have all the additional pressure to consume from living in a status-seekers town. So we just made sure there were decent Catholic schools nearby.
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 02:03 PM   #8
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Re: School me on schools

Have you considered homeschooling?
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 02:07 PM   #9
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Re: School me on schools

Start attending PTA meetings now to figure out why academics are slipping at your local school. Listen to the parents, get on a couple committees, figure out what is going on.

Other than innate ability, a child's learning is impacted more by peer values and parental involvement than any other factors. Sometimes test results are impacted by the arrival of children who don't speak English, for example. That wouldn't bother me, in fact it could be a positive.

A private school doesn't necessarily provide a good return on your academic dollar. I am convinced that if a child is happy at a so-so school you can take half of what you pay for private school tuition - spend it on academic enrichment - and achieve a superior result.

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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 02:22 PM   #10
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Re: School me on schools

Quote:
Originally Posted by Peaceful_Warrior
Have you considered homeschooling?
Yes I have considered it. At this point, I am strongly in favor of sending my kids to one of the public schools in our district.
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 02:26 PM   #11
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Re: School me on schools

my son has been to a wide range of schools, - avg suburban, urban, elite wealthy public, etc. we have found that even with a lot of parental involvement - the challenges as someone else mentioned - are the peer behaviors and sometimes values/expectations they will pick up from their peers - so take that into account as well.

look into that, and not just the test scores...you can't get those years back so i would take it seriously and not experiment with your kids education...my son suffered a lot because he changed schools so much (that was before i came into the picture) and made sure we found great schools and stuck around so he could learn and make friends...

also, on the flip side, the elite, wealthy public school he went to for a few years had great teachers, resources and big parent support community - but the kids were very superficial, had access to money and in high school had high rates of alcohol/drug use because of it.

it's a tough one , but worth the effort!
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 02:32 PM   #12
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Re: School me on schools

Brat, thanks for the comments. I hadn't thought of joining the PTA before my kid starts school there. It seems weird that people might actually do this, but it makes sense because you would have access to many parents and gain knowledge of the "why" behind lagging school performance.

We also have a neighborhood email listserv that I may be able to query for advice/experiences on this school (although a similar request for info in the past went unanswered publicly.

I know the neighborhood school takes students from our neighborhood (which most would describe as middle class to lower middle class/working class based on today's standards). They also take students from the adjacent neighborhoods which are primarily multifamily rental units and almost exclusively minority and/or recent immigrants - all rather low-income areas. One of my goals is to teach my children Spanish from an early age. This goal could be enhanced by access to a large population of hispanic classmates (20% or so).

There is a larger "community" aspect to my decision of where to send the kids to school. If they attend school in the neighborhood, they can walk to school and their friends will be nearby. If I send them to a magnet school, their friends will live all over the county and as a result they may be more isolated. This was my experience growing up in this district as a magnet student at least. All the rest of the neighborhood kids went to a different school than me, so I had less ease of making friends.
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 02:34 PM   #13
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Re: School me on schools

Quote:
I'd rather my kid be in a "struggling" school if there are other kids around whose parents truly value education, versus being in one full of children whose parents view good schools as a status item or a magic ticket into the Ivy League.
I don't really agree with this statement. If the other parents truly value education, the chances of a school struggling are greatly diminished. I went to a private elementary and high school and I truly don't believe that parents sent their children there as a status symbol. In "The Millionaire Next Door" it said that 17% of millionaires went to a private school, but 55% of the millionaire's children go to a private school. There is a group of people that value education enough to send their children to the best possible school if they can afford to do so.
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 02:44 PM   #14
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Re: School me on schools

Quote:
Originally Posted by justin
<snip>
The school in our neighborhood within walking distance that is the "default" school seemed pretty decent when I checked it out a couple years ago.

I checked today, and wow! The neighborhood school was the worst performing elementary school in the entire school district (out of ~130 elementary schools). 59% of students are performing at or above grade level. It has been named the county's only "priority school". It is listed as a "high poverty" school where 65% of the kids are "economically disadvantaged". Predominantly minority - only 17% white students. I know, this probably looks like a junior Harvard or Yale compared to the "real" rough inner-city public schools that many have access to.

A few years back, it wasn't quite this bad, performance-wise.
<snip>
Does the timing of this have anything to do with "no child left behind"?

One of our friends, a teacher, says sacastically "you just don't let anyone get ahead".

So, people just move their kids.

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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 02:48 PM   #15
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Re: School me on schools

Most would say that my kids went to 'elite' public schools. The schools had a lot of economic diversity, and parents who cared a lot about their kids education. The high school was very academic (even had an international baccalaureate program available) which suited one child, but not the other. Switched the one kid to a Catholic HS that fit him like a glove.

At the primary level it is all about expectations of the teachers and the parents. If they don't care the kids won't either.

I am not sold on home schooling. Education is more than books, it is also figuring out how to manage social relationships in a diverse society.

When I was I kid I kept my academic achievements below the radar (it helped that I was a poor speller). Then they administered the Iowa Test and I was outed. What teachers didn't pick up that I was a voracious reader of the classics, including the Iliad and Odyssey as well as Paradise Lost, before the 8th grade. We had those books at home. In addition my father took us weekly to the library. My sibs didn't take advantage of those resources and it shows.
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 03:43 PM   #16
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Re: School me on schools

Quote:
Originally Posted by CCdaCE
Does the timing of this have anything to do with "no child left behind"?
Not sure. We had end of grade testing here well before "no child left behind".

I went back and looked at the racial composition of the school over the past 5 years. The white and asian enrollment dropped by 2/3's during this period, while the hispanic population tripled. All other groups remained the same. Not sure if the "white flight" is the cause of or the effect of a decline in test scores. Could be a feedback loop (worse scores leads to white flight, which leads to worse scores, etc. - as if the school is past the "tipping point" or lacking of a "critical mass"). Definitely a lot more hispanic students (who, anecdotally speaking, come from predominantly working class recent immigrant families).
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 07:19 PM   #17
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Re: School me on schools

Consider those kid's situation. Different language, different culture than at home. No wonder their test scores are lower. The core issues should be whether or not the teachers and parents have high academic expectations for the children.

I saw the same thing happen right after the Vietnam War when we had so many refugees in some communities.

The reality of any immigrant workforce is that the ones with the get-up-and go got up and and came here. They are hard workers. The question on the table is whether or not their parents see education as way out of poverty. One of the challenges for educators is to help these families see the relationship between school achievement and income when the parent's own experience has been one of little educational or economic opportunity. The problem for those kids when they reach high school is that their parents need them to work to help support the family.

My DIL grew up in a community with a lot of Hispanic immigrants. It was her observation Hispanic families are more stable and cohesive than those who have been here for a couple generations.
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 07:29 PM   #18
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Re: School me on schools

Brat - DW is a refugee from Cambodia who came here at age 7. She spoke no English at the time and started school 2 years behind everyone else. But she turned out pretty well in terms of academic acheivement. Can't say the same for her 4 siblings though.

My concern with a large number of immigrant students (approx. 1/3 of the enrollment) is that classes would be taught down to them, and all the rest in the class would suffer.
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 08:02 PM   #19
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Re: School me on schools

Justin

I have been teaching in the southern wake county schools. Bottom Line you have children that are in school that have parents that should never have had these children. Bad parenting with young teachers making poor money and discipline issues that ruin the best classes. One moron can and does destroy a class with a young inexperienced teacher.

That said the school is nothing more than a mirror image of the community. Sure you maybe on point with your children but when bubba and wife who are not living in harmony are parents of some children it turns ugly.

Then we blame the schools and the teachers unions. Funny though THERE ARE NO UNIONS IN PUBLIC EDUCATION here in North Carolina. Can't use that excuse for poor schools down here!!!
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Re: School me on schools
Old 04-02-2007, 08:42 PM   #20
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Re: School me on schools

I'm one of those guys who cares about school districts. I've always opted to buy a smaller, crappier house in a wealthy, top performing school district in the area vs. a larger, nicer home elsewhere. I absolutely agree with others that parents are the primary factor in their children's education, but schools and teachers play their role as well. Wealthier, higher performing schools can provide academic as well as athletic opportunities your kids might not otherwise have access to. Beyond having olympic pools and rock climbing walls, our kids' high school has a linear algebra class. This is typically a fourth semester math class for engineering majors. Not only is the high school willing to hold classes for small groups of highly advanced students, but they have the teachers with the credentials to teach them. I've been very pleased with our public high school.

Settling for less house for your money isn't much fun, but I think there are also some financial positives to partially offset the tradeoff. By buying a normal-priced home near multi-million dollar mansions, you get to enjoy lower property tax rates while the big spenders foot the majority of the bill. And, in the same manner that people prefer to buy the smallest house in the next neighborhood up, I think a similar mentality applies to school districts, where people try to get into the best district they can. I've only moved twice since entering the world of homeownership, but both times my house went under contract in less than 4 days. School district was a big selling point in both cases, especially with my first house, which was not much to look at but was one of the cheapest houses you could find in our school district.

From my own anecdotal childhood experiences, I attended the top public schools except for part of 8th grade, during a stint of marital strife between my parents. The differences between the school districts were staggering. At CMS (Crap Middle School), my science teacher was a complete moron, who insisted that "laser" was spelled "lazer", and wouldn't believe me until I wrote out the acronym for him on the chalkboard. My algebra class (these were the advanced kids) literally did nothing but sit around and chat every day all period long, including the teacher. In orchestra, I went from being a decent violinist at SMS (Snooty Middle School) to a violin god at CMS. Their songs were so easy, I was able to sight read music I had never seen before and outplay their 1st chair on songs they were performing for a concert that week. It was absolutely amazing to me how different the schools were.

I'm sure some geniuses and virtuosos come out of CMS, but I think it's harder in that kind of environment. I know my son would have been too squirrely to thrive there, not being mature and self-motivated enough to push himself without other students running along side him and top notch teachers taking him under their wings. Now, I get to look forward to paying for his tuition at MIT next Fall.
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