Back to School 2016: The Road Trip

keep calm and get backNo reason to keep denying it; Summer’s all but over and the back-to-school season is upon us. For the Parent Imperfect, this week is all about that transition and the mixed emotions that go with it. It all starts a little earlier once they finish high school. On Monday, Vince and I loaded his stuff into the car and headed to the Finger Lakes region for Year Two. It was to have been an end-of-the-summer road trip for the entire family, but Ms. Connie wasn’t having it. I drew the traveling straw.

Mountain shotSince it takes longer to get to Ithaca than it takes to get to San Francisco, Vince had lots of time for a pensive transition back to college life. The ride through western Mass and upstate New York was gorgeous, reminding me of how little time I spend in Vermont these days. After living intensely with a group of IC people for all of freshman year, he didn’t see any of them over the summer. He has a new roommate this year and the young woman with whom he spent a lot of the spring semester transferred to Syracuse. There was a lot on that mind surrounded by the headphones, and the Parent Imperfect was much more chauffeur than confidant. Vince needed the 6+ hours to get back into an Ithaca frame of mind.

He was actually scheduled to go back to school two weeks early to train with the rugby team, but he decided that his knee couldn’t take another year of that sport. I think  he was also quite enjoying himself in Boston, and didn’t look forward to spending the last two weeks of summer grunting and hurting in Ithaca. Summer was to have been a time of rehab for his MCL injury (not a tear), but, instead, he spent the summer lugging around other people’s furniture, which was anything but rehab for the knee. He’ll have moments of regret about that decision in the coming weeks, as rugby was a big part of becoming part of the college community last year.

I want my future backWe remain, as always, on a “need to know” basis with Vince, but from what we could tell the first year at college seemed to be a year of growth for him. He points to last January, when he worked for a month at the moving company with men in their 40s and 50s who make an uninsured living for their families (sort of) by moving heavy things from place to place. Many of them walk like his father walks, even though they are twenty years my junior. No other students, just Vince and perfectly intelligent guys of various races who’ve ended up on the wrong side of the rigged economy. I’m not sure what he learned from that, but something clicked.

I’m sure he was still being a full-on college boy when he went back to school, but he did well enough in his classes to get into Ithaca’s much-respected communications school for Year Two. They had passed on him when he applied as a first-year student.

Ithaca viewHe was visibly excited to get back to Ithaca, although he has also become aware that going to school there is costing money that other good schools wouldn’t necessarily cost. From the beginning, he had a sense of the privilege in that, but he didn’t always understand the cost of it in the same way.

He will not stay up at night worrying about this, but he knows it in a way that he didn’t, even last year. He says that he is exploring transferring in January. We’ll see. I feel the pain about the money, but, if he has found a passion at Ithaca it would be a shame to let it go for the unknown at another place.

It was great to have him here over the summer, but he now lives on South Street as a matter of convenience (for him). In essence, he treated the place like a flop-house over the summer. Who would turn down a flop house with food in the refrigerator? I remember the days when life was so much more fun in the 1-4AM period, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to live with someone who is living that dream. Then, when one of the parents (or the sister) was reaching a limit, he would be home for dinner for a couple of nights, make the time to go visit his grandparents, or spend an evening on the couch talking about the Republican convention or the problems with Bernie’s campaign.

After too many hours in the car, we rolled up to the beautiful dormitory  where he’ll spend the next few months. The move did not have that high energy of excitement and nervous anticipation that we all felt a year ago. This was more lugging his stuff up the back stairs into a room that his definitely a step up from the freshman digs. He was happy to have the help moving in, but then it was time to go. His roommate and friends were nowhere to be seen, forewarned via social media of my arrival. I barely had time to deliver my predictable departure speech, which he probably could have delivered, himself. His phone was buzzing with things to be done as soon as he could get rid of the rest of the family unit.

Much more quickly than I came, I was gone. And now, on South Street we are three…

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14 Comments

Filed under Higher Ed, Just Parenting

14 responses to “Back to School 2016: The Road Trip

  1. meganalexa

    PI, your reflections make me smile and reveal so much about our parallel journey. Thanks!

  2. Nancy

    Love the writing, love the story (and the update). We dropped off our own yesterday and the house is not the same.

  3. Thanks, Nancy. I’m more than sure that J. will do fine. New horizons will be good for him, as they are for all of us.

  4. Fulano

    Do you think that moving from the diversity of Boston Latin to a preppy, 75% white college like Ithaca has helped “Vince” to recognize his privilege? It must have been something of a shock to him to go from a majority minority, inclusive environment to a place where white boys go to “preppy or crook” frat parties in blackface.

    • Well, we appreciate all comments here, even when they are snarky…or worse. Actually, being at Ithaca challenged some of the attitudes I saw Vince developing at BLS (and while he was living at home). As noted, he ended up on the rugby team, which I thought would be a bad place to be, but it turned out that Ithaca’s is the only male rugby program in the country coached by a woman. The team had been banished from campus for a decade because of predictable behavior, but a new group of students made a conscious decision to try to get the sport reinstated by turning the program in a very different direction. They succeeded, and the new coach was certainly part of that success. It’s still a pretty macho sport, but he learned a great deal from that coach. By coincidence, he also had her for his first year, “Ithaca Seminar” on the “Psychology of the Sports Fan.” He has never really been a sports fan, but he learned a lot about his father from this class.

      There are definitely racial problems on the campus at Ithaca…just like his high school. There is also a very active Black Lives Matter chapter there that led a movement that resulted in the President’s resignation, effective just now. To our surprise, Vince became quite involved in that movement, though certainly not as a leader. He talks about race differently now than he ever did while in high school. Like the rest of us, this is certainly a work in progress for him.

      In terms of diversity, there are many fewer Asian students at Ithaca than at BLS, as a percentage of the whole. I believe, however, that the percentages of African-American and Latino students at the two schools are quite comparable. The difference is that BLS sits in a system that is heavily African-American and Latino, so, as we have previously discussed, those percentages take on a different meaning.

      This is very serious stuff. I’m sure you saw that an African-American student from Ithaca College was murdered in a fight after a party at Cornell over the weekend. I have no idea of the circumstances of this tragedy, but I hope to speak to Vince about it today. I’m sure that the death of this young man has turned the campus upside-down.

      • F.Z. Perencejo

        I wonder if you feel, in a way, that Vince has graduated from a minor instance of institutional racism to a greater exemplification of institutional racism.

        The fact that the participation of black and Hispanic students at Boston’s exam schools is lower than their numbers in the general BPS population suggests strong effects of poverty and legacy. The percentage of white students participating in the exam schools is double the percentage of white students participating in the public school system at large. Boston, like every other city in the nation, has to struggle with unequal achievement.

        The fact that the black and Hispanic participation at BLS is markedly lower than at the other exam schools suggests a second problem, affecting choice and the comfort of students who test in. It’s simply absurd to suggest that one goes from 8.5% black at BLS to 24.2% black at BLA because of the test. The O’Bryant has a higher proportion of black students than does the BPS as a whole. This is not a case of exclusion, but of choice.

        I hope that both of these problems are addressed in a serious way, and I am very glad to see the progress being made to this end in redirecting test prep programs, as well as the enormous change made at BLS in terms of dedication to the success of all their students. I expect that participation rates at the three exam schools will even out significantly over the next decade unless bad policy is enacted.

        At the little liberal arts colleges that dot the Northeast and Midwest, institutional racism is much more striking, and pervasive. A majority of students in New York State are minorities. And then we have a few dozen little, exclusive, overwhelmingly white enclaves of learning, like Ithaca. I can’t think of a better example of institutional racism outside investment banking and the gated community. It’s a whole other league of exclusion from Boston’s schooling imbalance, as if white kids in BPS went to Dover-Sherborn after sixth grade. Almost none of the big universities are like that anymore.

        I know that every family encounters their privilege, their access, and their choices differently. I know you are a thoughtful and honorable fellow. But you are advocating taking something away from others in our city, on a racial basis, while you are also taking advantage of extreme segregation elsewhere. It’s a bit like advocating affordable housing in someone else’s city, while preventing it in your own, like they do in Newton. I hope this doubling of values provides a learning experience for your son, and that he doesn’t just take it for granted.

        I believe you don’t know me, or if you do you don’t know much about me. I will tell you that not everybody in my family benefits from the presumption or privilege of whiteness. My impression of these little, rural, white liberal arts colleges is informed in part by the experiences of my brother, who is darker than I am, and his exclusion at distinct points in his educational process, including a horrendous experience at one such college. I would easily send children of mine to BLS while hoping they can take part in increasing the participation and improving the experience of less privileged students there, but I feel certain at this point that I would not send children to a rural, white liberal arts college, especially when there are so many more diverse options available.

  5. I was actually traveling when this delightful comment appeared, and then not at the top of my game when I returned. As always, I appreciate your comment, even though I don’t honestly hold this example of your thinking in high esteem.

    I don’t know how to compare institutional racism at BLS and Ithaca College. I’ll leave that to you. Racial dynamics at Ithaca College definitely need to be addressed. Last year, the BLM movement and its allies put pressure on the Administration until the President resigned. Sound familiar?

    I would not, however, call what has happened at BLS “minor” in any way. If the racial problem at BLS was only a question of the admission process, then the conversation would be a different one. If you have not had a chance to read the findings of the DOJ regarding the alma mater, then I suggest you do so. The DOJ does not happen to be a house of heroes for me, but I’ve yet to hear anyone seriously question their findings in this case. I’m sure that will come.

    At least until now, the current administration of the school has not tried to minimize the effect of the findings, much less characterize the incidents cited by the investigators as “minor” instances of racism. They have pledged to make the changes necessary to be sure that the institutional shortcomings pointed out by the DOJ are addressed. They say they are initiating a process of changing the culture of the school. I think they are actually serious about doing that, and I will do whatever little I can to help them succeed. Perhaps they will also face your criticism for wanting to “take something away from people on a racial basis while they take advantage of extreme segregation elsewhere.”

    That same administration has also made it clear in many venues that they believe that changing the school culture will require a change in the composition of the student body. You seem to agree, which is great. You don’t support changes that will challenge patterns of privilege that have existed in the city for decades, if not centuries. That’s OK. You seem content to wait a decade for things to even out among the exam schools. If we rely in just tinkering with the exam prep program, I fear we’ll wait a lot longer than that.

    Finally, you state from your high horse that would never “send” any child of yours to a rural liberal arts school. Great, that’s your choice. I hope your children can accept having that choice made for them. It seems your brother had a negative experience at such a school, and I’m sorry for that, but you can’t seriously be suggesting that this says anything meaningful about all liberal arts schools that happen to be located in rural areas.

    Among the options open to Vince, Ithaca College was the one that most captured his imagination. After being quite passive about the whole college thing for a long time, he actually took action to make it possible for him to attend that school. It was not my first choice, but I was not the one who would be attending the place. He quite immediately noticed some serious problems at Ithaca, but after spending six years at BLS, I don’t think he’d accept your characterization of Ithaca as a place of “extreme segregation.”

    Buenas noches…

    • Pär N. Cejo

      Welcome back from your travels, PI. I hope you had a productive journey. I thank you again for engaging me in this fascinating conversation.

      I saw recently that Chang has proposed to make all the Boston schools split at the same point, K-6 and 7-12. I think that is a great idea, and that it will have a positive impact on both the proportions of BPS-educated children who apply to and attend Boston’s exam schools and on the children who do not do so. Those children will then also go to new schools, not just be left behind in the old schools as if they were rejects. This change, if Chang succeeds, would fit together well with the sort of ‘options fair’ I brought up in a previous note. Are you listening, Chang? You could have students staff it for free, that is, community service credit.

      In terms of comparing institutional racism at BLS vs. Ithaca College, yes I have done that, and it’s surprising to me that the question doesn’t interest you. I have checked the dictionary to see if I used this word “minor” correctly, and yes, it is also a comparative term in English, meaning “lesser in importance, seriousness, or significance.” So I say the institutional racism problem is minor at BLS compared to Ithaca, where it is greater. Am I doing that wrong?

      Things are certainly not perfect at BLS, and it’s good that there are some plans in place now to improve things, and also good that Ms. Ortiz now has confidence racial problems at BLS will be resolved (and not by moving to Milton, like she did). At the little, white, country-club like private liberal arts colleges, the problems won’t be resolved, period. The structure that makes them is insurmountable; the existence of the colleges themselves relies on privilege. At BLS, you only have to test in; it doesn’t matter who you are. At these colleges, you have to test in, and you have to be ‘the right sort of person,’ and your parents have to buy you lots of extra-curricular buffs for your application, and then your parents have to pay a fortune for you to go there. A handful of scholarships don’t even that playing field. Maybe it seems a bit mean of me to point it out, but really hearing you sent your boy to Ithaca after proposing to reapply racial quotas at Latin seemed very much like “oh, how I like to relax with a Gin and Tonic at the Polo Club after protesting the plutarchy.”

      The problems are more serious at Ithaca, too. At BLS, the worst thing that happened is that a black girl was confronted by a non-black (and non-white too, one might add) boy with a little loop made of electrical wire and some bad words. The worst thing that happened at Ithaca is that a black student was stabbed to death, and his murderer is being protected. At BLS, some students were upset by some people making mean tweets. At Ithaca, black students have been threatened by the white police who patrol the campus, a black alumna was repeatedly referred to as a “savage” in a public panel, and a party was advertised where white boys should come dressed in blackface. Yes, the problems at BLS are minor in comparison. I doubt they would bother to make binders of the tweets at Ithaca.

      I know you want to feel that your son is an adult and that you did not “send” him to college so much as he went by himself, as a rite of passage. This is an American tradition, like a bourgeois bar mitzvah. I know also that you are the one paying for this college, so yes, you are sending him, and supporting that system, just as if you were paying his membership to a restricted country club you would be supporting that system.

      I don’t know if I will ever send a child to college in the United States. I am uncomfortable with the way university is done in the US, which seems wasteful and overwrought to me. Beer parties and football games is a stupid way to spend four years. I would be happy to see frat culture wither in the dustbin of history, and college sports are simply a racket.

      As you know, in most of the world, it is more typical for students to continue to live with their parents while they attend university in their own cities, you know, just studying, not having this big fake theme park of a college. I would rather this be the way our family does it. They call that arrangement “commuter school” in the US, which is a despective thing to say. But if your son wants to go to Ithaca, if your daughter wants to go to, where, Bryn Mawr? Mount Holyoke? You make your choices. I can tell you mine won’t. I don’t care if Mount Holyoke has an excellent equestrian centre. I don’t wish our family to be part of that – what did you call it? – pattern of privilege that goes back decades, if not centuries.

      And speaking of this pattern that goes back decades, one of the things I feel like we’re forgetting in this discussion is that the black/white dispute about admission to BLS is in large part refighting the last war, as it were.

      Back in the sixties and seventies, school attendance in Boston was largely a black vs. white problem. The black vs. white problem in Boston came to the fore when the Irish and the English finally stopped fighting each other in the fifties and agreed to team up on the blacks and the Jews, red-lining Jewish neighborhoods like Dudley Square so the blacks would move over there and chase out the Jews. That’s how the Irish became white, basically (congrats!). And that’s how Boston ended up with more or less black/white segregated neighborhoods and public schools, which led in its turn to the desegregation battles of the seventies. And this flap at BLS now is still fighting that last war.

      When one considers policy to fix social problems, one should be realistic and not naive about its probable effects. It is simply a fact that Judge Garrity’s implementation of busing as a solution to the problem of segregation in Boston schools actually resulted in school segregation getting worse in Boston and the Boston area. Before busing, no school in Boston had a 99% black & hispanic composition. Today several do… (and property values in white suburbs, like Garrity’s Wellesley, and Tom Winsip’s Lincoln, are astronomical). To accept the increased segregation of Boston’s elementary schools as a starting point for consideration of ideal racial composition in Boston exam schools is to choose to perpetuate this segregation and ignore its sources. To the contrary, Bostonians should work to reverse the segregation of all its schools, starting with the elementary schools.

      Bostonians should also look towards Boston’s future challenges, which are not in the same binary. Continuing to participate in a tug-of-war between white and black in Boston isn’t moving anybody forward, and (like Garrity’s busing) it’s not even hitting the target. If you set up special racial dispensations for black kids, the people who get hurt won’t be the whites who supported segregation in the sixties. They won’t be the white families who moved out after busing started – they aren’t eligible. And they won’t even be the white kids who go to private schools until sixth grade, and then to Latin. Those people can just pay for extra tutoring. The people who will get hurt will be the people in between the blacks and the whites – people who are in fact now the majority in BPS. And, likewise, the people who are helped most won’t be the black families who suffered in the 20th century in Boston, they’ll be the new immigrants from the West Indies and Africa, who now benefit most from Affirmative Action in the Ivy Leagues.

      Most people who live in Boston today are not from Boston. A majority of children in Boston today grow up in a household with at least one foreign-born parent. These are not the black and white families who fought about schools in Boston forty years ago – as a whole, those two groups account for less than half the kids in the city, let alone in the public schools, and they are shrinking. About half the students in BPS now speak a language other than English as a first language. Imagining, or waging, a fight for BLS admission between blacks and whites is missing the point, and missing the demographic. It’s dated, it’s the prior generation’s battle. Most of the kids at BLS are from immigrant families now. It is wrong to make these kids pay for something that happened between people they aren’t even related to, last century. But this is what naive tinkering with admissions standards will achieve.

      The story of Boston today and in the future is a story of immigrants, and we cannot hold the children of immigrants hostage to a last-century battle that doesn’t concern them. When you propose things like a multi-year public school attendance requirement, this is what you do. You want to punish the white people from Boston forty years ago, but you miss, and you end up punishing the newer immigrants instead. But maybe that is the American tradition after all.

      • Wow, you’ve outdone yourself here.

        You desperately want to focus the conversation on Ithaca College, perhaps to divert our attention from the school that can’t get out of the headlines, at least locally.

        It’s true, higher education in the U.S. is in trouble, and Ithaca is a good example of that trouble. I don’t think, however, that you know who is paying for my son’s schooling, so you should be more humble with your assumptions. Regardless of who is paying, I did agree for him to go to the school and if I really didn’t want him to continue, he would not continue. What does that have to do with somebody writing the famous word on the freshly-painted bathroom at BLS? A minor offense, I know.

        We’ve written so much that you seem to have forgotten the actual proposals that sent you into this tizzy. I suggested that, in addition to offering exam prep to a more diverse group of kids, regardless of ability to pay, the BPS should change the “algorithm” by which students gain entrance. Today, students get 50% for their grades in Grade Five and the very beginning of grade six, and 50% for their score on the Private School Admissions test. First, a public school should not be using the ISEE. Next, the BPS should award up to 10% of the “grade” for attendance at BPS schools in Grades 4, 5 & 6. Next, they should award up to 10% for kids coming to the school from economically disadvantaged families. Such an algorithm would be 40% grades, 40% scores (hopefully on an appropriate test), 10% public school attendance, 10% economic status of family.

        In your hands, this becomes a “multi-year public school attendance requirement,” and I am proposing to take something away from people, based on race. Surely you must have forgotten what I actually wrote.

        This is not about taking anything away from anyone or punishing anyone else. It is a modest proposal to make access to an important educational opportunity in the city a bit more equitable. Sadly,these proposals wouldn’t make a big dent in 380+ years of elitism and privilege, but they would be a start.

        I am most puzzled by your suggestion that, rather than “punish” white people, the proposals would hurt “newer immigrants.” Recent immigrants are an extremely diverse group of people, but, based on any data that I have seen, the vast majority would fall into the group helped by the changes suggested above. if the changes would have negatively affected you, I’m sorry, but no meaningful change is going to help all families who, like yours and mine, have benefited from the current system.

  6. Pär N. Cejo

    You posted here (look up, above) about Ithaca College. So that is what I was talking about here. I don’t see how that makes me desperate. I suppose that you are starting to recognize that complaining about implicit racism in merit-based admissions to a public school while you have one kid safely ensconced in a very ivory tower seems a bit off. But if you don’t want to examine that, or talk about that any more, that is fine.

    Inclusion is always a double-edged sword; the other side is exclusion. I believe your understanding of politics in Boston is based more on history than on the present. In the present, most people in Boston were not born here, most kids in public school have foreign-born parents, and including a duration of residency requirement, through multi-year public school attendance, as a criteria for admission to exam schools, would discriminate against a lot of kids.

    It would also be illegal; a new resident of a state has the same rights as longer-term residents of the state upon arrival, not five years later. Setting up two classes of citizens based on duration of residence falls foul of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The number of exam school parents who are lawyers is sufficient that you can count on a suit, and a stay, on those grounds. It’s not worth proposing. There are other, perfectly legitimate ways to achieve the same ends, and those should be pursued instead.

    One could probably get the idea of a top Xn or X% of students at each BPS elementary school getting a bye on entrance past a court. But you don’t like that one because it goes right back to grades and tests again. I don’t like it terribly much – it makes the exam schools seem like some kind of reward for putting up with BPS, like free cake – but I like it because it would tend to incentivize residential and elementary school desegregation in Boston.

    Abandoning the ISEE seems trivial to me, as long as it is replaced with another nationally normed standardized test. Oh, wait, that’s not what you mean, is it? You mean more on the lines of a final exam for all the classes specifically taught at BPS elementary schools, so that kids who didn’t go to BPS and didn’t have a module about some specific trivial cultural matter in Grade N would fail it? That seems illegitimate to me also, and a subtle form of discrimination against more recent immigrants. Public schools are for the public, not just for long-term residents.

    You may be surprised to hear that the changes you propose would not affect my family, in the past or in the future. Lifting the charter cap would not affect your family either, but you oppose it because you think it would be wrong. I oppose your ideas not because they would hurt me, but because I believe they are wrong.

    So do you think METCO should be abolished? It has had a profound and negative effect on BPS, as it skims the children of the most prepared minority parents, and it must also affect exam school entrance rates for minority children – they’re not going to BLS if they’re at Lexington High. Maybe abolition of METCO should also be part of the package to improve conditions at the exam schools.

  7. Pär N. Cejo

    To bring us back to the point again, there are two categories of solutions to the lack of continuity between Boston’s public elementary schools and its top exam school:
    -tinkering around the edges of admissions criteria; and
    -improving Boston’s public elementary schools.
    The first category of solutions are all fundamentally worse for Boston and its children than the second.
    The first category assumes and enshrines failure, seeing education as a limited good to be redistributed; the second takes a more expansive view, seeing public education as a community project susceptible to improvement and greater inclusion. Any solution limited to the first category is adverse to solutions of the second category.

    • We agree that the core task faced by everyone interested in education is to improve public education to the point that everyone can get a quality education in public schools. As we (hopefully) move in that direction, one would expect that the composition of BLS would change. In the meantime, I think there need to be changes in the culture of BLS so that more talented students of color believe it is a place where they can thrive. I don’t think you agree. I believe that it will be difficult to sustain culture changes at the school (or deliver equal access to the opportunities in the system), if there are not noticeable changes in the composition of the school. For me, that means that there are more Black and Latin students present there. If we look at the composition of both BLA and the O’Bryant, we quickly see that Boston’s problem is not one of composition of the exam schools. It is a problem of composition of access to exam schools for students of color. The problem is access to Boston Latin School for students of color. Since BLS is such a large school, its distorted composition throws off the overall composition of the exam schools.

      I think you agree that changes in the composition of the school would be positive, but you don’t see the need to “tinker” with how students gain access to the school. You even suggest that such tinkering will operate against the effort to improve quality across the system. I have to say that the logic of that one completely eludes me.

      You don’t say much about my proposal to offer students a modest number of admission “points,” based on the economic situation of their families. Maybe you are against that one just because it is tinkering.

      You raise an important point about my suggestion that students get “points” for attendance at the BPS. It is true that some number of potential applicants to the school would lose those points simply because their family was not living in Boston during the years of 4th, 5th and 6th grades. I think it should be possible to preserve the idea of supporting students attending public schools without posing what you call a “residency requirement.” I need to think more about this, but I think the same thing could be achieved by simply awarding points based on attendance at any public school in those grades. That way, if a student had been attending public school in Everett, Cambridge or Bani, they would need only show a certificate of attendance at those public schools in order to receive the points.

      That would still leave the very few cases in which the student is coming from an area where attendance at public schools was simply impossible. I would leave open the possibility that anyone could apply for a waiver to receive these “points,” based on their personal situation. A human being at the BPS would review those few waiver requests and grant the points or not, on a case-by-case basis.

      The point is that it should matter if someone had attended a public school or a private school before applying to a BPS exam school. Under my proposal, many private school students would still get in to BLS, but BPS students would have a better opportunity to compete with those students.

      For you, the test issue is trivial. Maybe there is no standardized test in the country that better fits the BPS curriculum. If not, we need to work on the curriculum. But if there is (and I’m sure there is), it should be used instead of the private school admissions test. Then there would be a bit less advantage for those who could pay for the tutoring geared specifically for the ISEE, and the prep generously (and very thoughtfully) provided by BLSA would be more effective. In that case, the effort to make that prep available to a more diverse group of students would be a more important step.

      You point out what you see as a contradiction between my focus on institutional racism at BLS, while I “send” my son to an “ivory tower” in upstate NY. I think the school would love to know that you consider it an ivory tower, given its inferiority complex vis a vis the college on the next hill over, but that’s beside the point.

      I feel very strongly the contradiction between my belief in and support of public education, and my son’s attendance at a private college. That contradiction faces me in many ways. It will not, however, keep me from trying to make public education in my city and state more equitable, and from trying to be an active voice in the public schools that my family continues to attend. Last year, the efforts of students at the school to shine a light on the racial climate at the school made support of those efforts an important part of being active at the school. Others preferred to circle the wagons and defend the “alma mater” against what they saw as unjustified attacks against it. I’m not sure that worked out too well for them, or the alma mater. If my reaction to that situation seems “off'” to you, I guess we’ll both have to live with it.

      • Pär N. Cejo

        PI, I think we agree more than we disagree. Our goals are very similar. But one thing I am still trying to convince you of is that methods will greatly affect outcomes, and the wrong methods can produce adverse outcomes. You say you are dedicated to improving the schools in Boston. That is wonderful. But some of your proposals, in a practical sense, work against that goal, not for that goal.

        For example, you say “I think there need to be changes in the culture of BLS so that more talented students of color believe it is a place where they can thrive.” I also believe this. This is a call for improving BLS. I also believe BLS, and other schools, should be improved.

        However, at the same time you call for selectively lowering admissions criteria by giving “points” to a targeted demographic. This does not improve BLS, or any school. All it does is excuse failure, and create a subsequent responsibility at BLS to lower its standards so that a new group of lesser-qualified kids can succeed there. That is the opposite of improving.

        I also believe that when you say this you are using “students of color” as a euphemism. Because, of course, students of more typically East Asian or South Asian colors already believe it is a place where they can thrive. You are not talking about all colors then, only some. I always find it unfortunate when a fellow feels he cannot say what he means. But I will agree with what you mean: I too believe that BLS should work harder to make black and Hispanic students comfortable, and as BLS succeeds in that, more black and Hispanic students will choose it over BLA and the O’Bryant, which they don’t do now.

        Your words become a bit disorganized, and you confuse access with choice. The difference in racial composition between BLS and the other exam schools demonstrates a gap in choices, not in access. When students do not put BLS first on their enrollment sheet, that does not count as being denied access. I think the problems that lead to this should be addressed, but they are not addressed by adding a portion of entitlement to the current merit-based admissions policy. They can be addressed by increasing the school’s appeal and comfort for your target demographic, and by working to make more individuals in your target demographic better qualified under merit-based admissions policies. The school should maintain its high standards both for admissions and for graduation – ideally, it should increase them, until it becomes the peer of, for example, Stuyvesant. All public elementary schools in Boston, not just some, should be conscious of their mission to prepare students for the exam schools. That is how change can bring the most value to the students and to the city.

        It would be more interesting to hear a constructive suggestion about how to increase the comfort and appeal of BLS to your target demographic than a suggestion to selectively lower admissions criteria. How about a focus group of current BLA and O’Bryant students whose scores would have been sufficient for admission to BLS but who did not place it first on their enrollment sheet? These students may have the best answers to the question of why BLS does not appeal to black and Hispanic students.

        Changing the way merit is judged deserves consideration, but your suggestions seem pointed more at giving free points to your favored demographic than at establishing an equally serious merit ranking system. I hear your concern about using the ISEE – if the private school kids are using the same test for BLS as for other private schools, it’s like a freebie for them, studying once for two purposes. We should make those private school students study for two tests instead! But the history of school-level cheating on high-stakes tests is sufficiently lurid that BPS cannot be trusted to administer a test of its own devising. If there were a nationally administered test which could take the place of the ISEE, and which is not used for private-school admissions, one could argue for its use. But I don’t think there is. Would you suggest the MCAS?

        I can see that you understand the problem with the prior school attendance requirement you have suggested, but the workarounds you propose seem unfeasible and even silly. Remember that a large portion of the students at BLS did not grow up here, or indeed in this country, and your suggestion of public school attendance certificates from third world towns is preposterous. Who would write, and who would verify, such a thing? You are being very silly there. And you say that the kid who moved here two years ago should get points taken away because he once attended a dusty little evangelical school instead of a dusty little public school? That is ridiculous. We should not punish children for the choices of their parents. We should instead reward children for their own choices. That is the promise of excellent public education.

        I am interested that you are working hard to oppose lifting the charter school cap in Massachusetts. I also think the proposal is a bad idea. But the parents who want their kids in charters would make the exact same argument against you that you make against me: they want something fixed now, not maybe in ten years. I say that a bias towards action is understandable, but at the least be sure something is actually being improved by your action. Charters think they are providing a better school, but I am not convinced that a large part of their apparent success is not just casting – having a selective bias for students with better outcomes, because they have organized parents. Meanwhile, charters erode public schools’ funding and student body. Your suggestion of tinkering with admissions criteria likewise seems like a casting solution rather than real solution. Extra admissions points for a target demographic doesn’t improve any schools, or the education of Boston’s students, it just redistributes a fixed pie. Do you really believe public elementary schools in Boston cannot improve and be competitive? I don’t.

        The biggest, and easiest, improvements can be made by getting everybody on the same page. The balkanization of Boston’s school system should end. Every kid attending public, private, METCO, or charter should have the same opportunities to compete for exam school placement, at the same transition point. Once all schools have the mission of preparing their best for the exam schools, and their relative success can be more clearly determined, further reorganization and improvement at the elementary level can be fruitful. This is how we move towards a future in which every Boston elementary school can be a great school.

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