Tuesday, February 07, 2006

tsk tsk tock

The Times today has an article about the new tutoring system being implemented in the city to aid struggling students. The teachers' contract requires that the public school teachers stay late for 150 minutes per week, doled out as 37½ minutes each day Monday through Thursday. Which has led to situations such as the following:

"At P.S. 125 on West 123rd Street in Harlem, a sign on the door of the red-brick schoolhouse announced that students scoring at Levels 3 and 4, on grade and above grade, on the reading and math exams would be dismissed at 2:50 p.m., while the others would leave school at 3:27½."

I'm sorry, but other than my Saturday morning SAT students, does anyone watch a clock that closely? 3:27½ p.m. -- that's a valid time? And as though it weren't already hard enough for parents to be there to pick up their children, now they have to synchronize their watches to meet that bizarre deadline?

The article also mentions that in a number of schools, many of the students who are now being dismissed ten minutes earlier also are failing the required tests. They just aren't failing as badly as the kids who get to stay for tutoring. However, it does mean that students in academic danger are getting less time in class.

I understand that there's no money, that (financially) the tutoring can't be outsourced, that teachers deserve the money for working extra, that there is a finite amount of time in the school week, but this all seems pretty ridiculous to me. They're shortening the school day for the other children, and then doling out extra help to those most in need in increments almost too small to be of use. I don't feel like this is so hard to figure out, and yet...

And yet. What are we to do? Not enough money, not enough teachers, so a stop-gap solution is all we can hope for. Sadly, I fear this is another reason that, when it comes time, I will be one of those deserting the public school system in our nation. Some things matter too much to me, and unfortunately, bureaucracy can't afford to prioritize the way I'd want it to.

I'm sure the right thing to do would be to try to effect the change from the inside out, but -- seriously? There's nowhere even to begin. So I say, fine. Screw "the right thing." Call me evil and elitist, but I'll be damned if I don't provide for my children the education they're going to need and want. I came home from preschool at age three crying about how bored I was. I will crumble if that happens to my kids.

37½ minutes? Half-day kindergarten? After-care with barely-qualified babysitters? Fuck the system. Some things are too important, and timing, as we know, is everything..

Now, having said all that...

Even I occasionally fear I'm too strident or -- worse -- ignorant about an important matter, so I entered into discussion with a trusted resource (a.k.a. Elizabeth). Part of her response, I think, really gets to the crux of the matter, and so I append it here.

"Educational disparities and lack of educational opportunity matter most for the underprivileged and the mediocre-but-overprivileged. . . . You are certainly not in a position to make a substantive difference in our educational system except when considering how to vote. And as you're not going to be depriving public schools of any money by sending your kids to private schools, there's nothing remotely offensive or destructive or irresponsible in that choice."

It's true. The most substantive gift I received in terms of knowledge, and intend to pass on, is the love of learning that leads a child to soak up information like a sponge soaks up water, at any time and in any place.

Would my husband be substantially smarter (ha! like that's even possible) had he attended an elite preparatory institution? Hell no. Did Elizabeth constantly feel challenged and stimulated in our private school? As if. Would I have suffered a massive loss of intelligence at public school? Of course not.

We do what we can, for those who have and for those who have not. I hate when what we do isn't enough, which is why this tutoring thing bugs the hell out of me. But if we do what we can when we can, at least we're on to something.

And on that note, one more drop from the fount of wisdom:

"Although if you do start an independent college counseling and test-prep business and manage to be successful, if you don't do at least a little pro-bono work with public school kids I'll kick your ass. Don't feel bad about the choice, but be grateful that you have it. And be angry that some people don't."

You know what? I think that pretty much says it all.


La Vaca Se Fue said...

I read something the other day and thought of you--now I can't remember where I read it. Anyway, it was an article about an online tutoring service that -- if I'm remembering correctly -- the NY public library is now using. Kids log on, tutors are available, they IM with each other -- in a nutshell, it sounded up your alley as work goes. Try the NY library site or perhaps the company was tutor.com...something like that. And if that doesn't help, I'm fairly sure it was either in the New Yorker, or Time, or Newsweek, or the Economist, or nytimes.com, because those are the only things I read.

Also, with the pro-bono thing? Get grants to fund it! Help the kids that need it most! There is money out there to fund that kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree on a number of points. First, money isn't everything.

Just because the public schools still get your tax dollars does not mean that you are not hurting them by putting your kids in a private school. By taking your children out of the public schools, you inherently make yourself less invested in their quality.

Despite the best of intentions, in a world of finite resources, amongst which time, it's all but inevitable that you will pay less attention to monitoring how they are run since you have little direct incentive to do so. Given the choice between attending a PTA meeting of a school your child doesn't attend and spending time with aforesaid child, I find it difficult to believe a significant group of parents would choose the former.

If enough ambitious parents pull their kids out of a given public school system, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect those schools to deteriorate since they will be held less accountable.


Leigh said...

Well, I do think you have a point.

Then again -- if I want to play devil's advocate, which I usually do -- I think you end up in a bit of a situation where you lose the battle for want of a horseshoe nail. Would I be punishing a child who needed those future connections so that I could make a minor and insignificant impact?

It's like voting (cf. the Freakonomics guys): One person doesn't make a difference, but enough single persons have a cumulative effect. If everyone deserts the schools, it's trouble...but does that make my decision for me?