What it has meant to my kids to be WPS students will be up to them to tell; what it has meant to me is a sort of high-stakes road not taken. What if, instead of attending the budget meeting that was about our soon-to-be-kindergartner's elementary school closing, we'd decided to move to some nice calm place where they don't have budget battles?
One can only wonder.
I was thinking of this again today as On Point talked about the recently released study about the impact--or rather, lack thereof--of private schooling on student outcomes. What they found was:
Results from this investigation revealed that in unadjusted models, children with a history of enrollment in private schools performed better on nearly all outcomes assessed in adolescence. However, by simply controlling for the sociodemographic characteristics that selected children and families into these schools, all of the advantages of private school education were eliminated.This has of course been directed as an argument against private school vouchers (which of course it is), but it's also more evidence, not that schools don't matter, but that early development in children and the resources devoted to them then and throughout childhood make the bigger difference. It's the books we read to toddlers and the music lessons we give to elementary school kids and the trips we take high schoolers on...it's resources devoted to kids as they grow.
Now, maybe we can't make up all of the difference through public resources, but right now, we aren't even trying. What support do we offer families before their kids turn four? We have the highest average cost of childcare in the country. We have among the lowest rates of children attending preschool in the country. We do have health care--and don't get me wrong, that's big--but we have this huge gap in what we do to ensure kids get what they need to be successful across the board in life.
And then once they're in school, what do we do for kids? Are we ensuring that kids ALL have access to the sorts of things that wealthy families do for their kids? Paul Reville's right about this much: it's about the rest of the time. And note that those families are not, in the main, spending that time (and money) on what we think of as "academics" (let alone test prep, save SATs once we get there); they spend it on sports and dance and instruments and museums and concerts...and the list is nearly endless.
What are we doing about that? Often, they're what have to be cut when the school budget is, if those items were in the budget at all. It's what "over foundation" or the fundraising advantages of a well-off PTO can make all the difference.
Among the difference between the have and have not districts is things like field trips (school budgets may still cover them in towns that can afford them, or the schools can safely assume most parents can) and band (it's a scheduling hassle as well as expensive for someone to buy instruments) and "extras" like dance (not core, right?). It seems clear that it is there among the extras, rather than in classroom, that the gaps really grow.
As much as this all seems pretty hopeless, though, I know we can do better. As I started writing this tonight, it was to the solo opening of the below. And the kid playing it has only had lessons that the Worcester Public Schools gave her as part of her free public education.