Elizabeth (greyautumnrain) wrote,

Schools, wait-lists, and freaking out

I'm not sure exactly where I left the long bloggy freak-out over schools, but to summarize: the Somerville public schools have terrible test scores and seem to be really surprisingly bad for a town where you can bike to MIT and Harvard. Private school is alas, not an option. Private schools in these parts start at $21k a year, and we just can't afford that. (Catholic schools are somewhat cheaper, but I would never send my child to catholic school.)

Margaret got into our second choice school in the district, which is the one that is a block away from our house. The thing is, there is a huge difference between our first choice (Brown) and our second through fourth choices (West Somerville, Kennedy, Healey). The Brown is the only one with reasonable test scores, and also the only one not teaching to the test. When Margaret didn't get into Brown we immediately put her on the waiting list for it. She's third on the waiting list, with no movement so far. I have no real clue as to whether or not there is likely to be any movement on the list, but I suspect that there is not likely to be enough movement before September. Of course if she does get in, sibling preference should help the boys get in when the time comes.

Meanwhile Duncan is on the waiting list for a Cambridge Montessori which we may be able to spring for just for pre-school with help from Warren's father. Bedford Montessori is a good school and the price is right, but the commute out there and back, even just two days a week, is a killer. We may have news on that front in another week, but they can't say where he is on the wait list because they are trying to balance the classes by age and gender. (I suspect they also want to balance the classes by race, which is I clicked 'mixed race' on the admission form. Of course we all know if there is any thing any selective school seeking diversity wants less than a white male it's an asian male, but 'mixed race' was the technically correct answer. Gods I hate the categorizing people by race thing, but if people will insist on doing it I will game the system if I have to.)

But back to Margaret's waiting list. If she does not get into Brown, then she and both the boys are almost certainly stuck in West Somerville. The commute is right, and the teachers seem to really mean well, but then there are the test scores. Yes, one high-stakes test is probably not a good representation of any single student. But I think the aggregated data is a fairly reasonable picture of student achievement in the school. Like it or not the other kids that our children go to school with are going to be an influence on them, we want to do what we can to make it as positive an influence as possible. This is why we are thinking of moving to a better school district.

When people talk about the Somerville schools and try to put things in a good light, they talk about the large transient population, and the large number of English language learners, and they say that given those limitations the schools and the teachers are actually doing a pretty good job. I'm not going to debate that. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that it's quite probably true. They also talk about what a culturally rich, diverse community it is, and that is true too. The thing is, what I care about is that my three children get the best education possible. Are my kids going to get their fair share of the teacher's attention if the teacher has to spend extra time helping a large population of disadvantaged kids who don't even stay in the school system for more than a few years? Also at the risk of sounding even less politically correct than usual, I like diversity, but I like academics even more, and I will happily sacrifice diversity for academics whenever it's a clear choice between the two. As a parent it's my job to see the little picture, the picture of 'is this good for my kids?' and the big picture explanations of what is going on in the Somerville schools is not making me feel any better about the little picture.

For the past year Margaret has been taking ballroom dance lessons at Dance Fever, a ballroom studio that happens to be located in Newton. We chose it because it was clearly producing the best child dancers in the area. (We had concerns that they were clearly better at teaching latin than standard, but really no studio in the area does a good job of teaching little kids standard, so it ended up being an easy decision.) Newton is also top on our list of towns we might move to in order to get a better school district. Hanging out at Dance Fever has been a good indication as to why. Dance Fever shares the building with the Russian School of Mathematics, and this does not seem to be a coincidence. In fact, there's a fair amount of overlap between the two. I'm one of the few parent's at Dance Fever who doesn't speak Russian, and I'm one of the few parents there who isn't local to Newton. A lot of people in my community think that everyone in Newton is well-off, and they don't have a lot of children of immigrants in that district, and that's why their results are better. Newton is a wealthy community, but the parents I am seeing at Dance Fever aren't wealthy, and their English isn't fluent. What makes them different is that they are putting what resources they have on the line to better their kids. Their kids are getting dance lessons, and special math classes, and the parents are drilling their kids in math while they wait for their dance classes to start. These are the type of kids I want my kids going to school with. I want my kids to grow up thinking that all parents give their kids extra lessons. I want my kids to grow up having to work to be at the top of their classes. I want my kids to be challenged and inspired, and to value being smart. I'm worried that they won't be getting that where we are, and if that's the case we need to fix that in a way that works for us.

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