Beverly Hills To Boot Out-Of-District Students

In a move recurring throughout the state because of a severe budget crisis, the wealthy Beverly Hills school district plans to kick out 400 elementary students who live outside the district. The new policy will not affect non-district students in high school.

From the Associated Press:

The issue has inflamed sentiment in this exclusive community, which has long boasted schools that are recognized for excellence. They offer a rich menu of extracurricular activities ranging from madrigal singers to water polo in the renowned “swim gym”—an indoor basketball court that retracts to reveal a pool underneath.

But petitions, Facebook threats and name-calling are what have been on display in recent months. Police attended Tuesday’s meeting in case tempers flared into unruly conduct, but the audience remained largely civil. Board President Steven Fenton ejected two audience members for heckling members of the board.

Former Mayor Robert K. Tanenbaum presented the school board with a petition signed by 2,600 residents in favor of allowing the so-called permit students to matriculate.

“We made a commitment to these children when we needed the dollars. The children are not expendable. They are not financial assets,” he said, to a standing ovation.

Some Beverly Hills residents spoke in favor of the board’s proposed action to end the “opportunity permit” policy.

“This is a community trying to take care of its own, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Genevieve Peters said.

Most of the permit students live in well-to-do neighborhoods that surround Beverly Hills, according to AP. They can go to private school or attend a beleaguered school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which boasts a 33 percent dropout rate. At least one family mentioned in the article plans to rent an apartment in Beverly Hills to stay in the school district.

The Beverly Hills school district has decided to rely on its own property tax dollars to self-fund its schools rather than accept the state’s $6,239 for each out-of-district student it schools. More from AP:

The situation has cropped up elsewhere in California. With recent cuts in state education spending, wealthy communities are finding that their property taxes earmarked for state education budgets exceed the amount they receive from the state for their schools.

Irvine Unified School District, which also switched to self-financing, ended out-of-district enrollment last year.

First of all, it is a shame that not all schools are like those in Beverly Hills. The facilities alone sound sweet. Also it is disturbing that the best public schools in the country are becoming as inaccessible as the most elite private schools. What say you? How is your school district dealing with this financial crisis?


Friday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

The Washington Post had a fascinating profile on President Barack Obama’s half-brother Mark Okoth Obama Ndesandjo, who is about to publish a fictitious novel based on his — and their father’s — life. Also in the Washington Post: Local families now make up the majority of boarders at many private schools in D.C..

The Texas Tribune wrote an eye-opening piece about the high school dropout rate in Texas. Texas is No. 36 in high school graduation.

I did not know this — and I am not surprised — but Wal-Mart gives employees “demerit points” for calling in sick, according to This is especially a problem today when swine flu can spread via employees unable to call in sick, according to the New York Times.

This is outrageous. If state parole officers had properly supervised convicted child molester Phillip Garrido, they could have rescued Jaycee Dugard much earlier, according to the Los Angeles Times.  

I plan to be at this lovely farm in Sebastopol for a Daily Kos community meet-up on Sunday, Dec. 6. It is an annual holiday party that will include a bouncy house for the kids. Please join us! To RSVP, shoot an e-mail to Neeta aka “Navajo” at nmlind at comcast dot net.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

Good morning fellow moms, dads and caregivers!

I am back with your weekly parenting news update. Here are some topics we recently discussed here at MotherTalkers:

There were a couple of Supreme Court decisions that may be of interest. The most recent vindicated a teenager for a strip search she had to endure in school due to a zero tolerance policy against drugs like ibuprofen. But no individual school official was held accountable, according to CNN.

In a previous Supreme Court decision, the justices ordered public school districts to reimburse private school tuition to parents of special needs children — even if their kids never attended a public school, according to the Washington Post. Still, as one special education teacher in the story noted, parents would still have to pay tuition upfront and prove they needed the services in the first place.

We had a long discussion on the ethics of using nanny cameras.

There have been a lot of recession “trend” stories in the media like families cutting up their credit cards and adult children moving back home to save money. In the latter story, we discussed “ground rules” for when adult children move in. Has the economy caused you to have an intergenerational household?

Finally, caregiving fathers are in the news. Our “tessajp” wrote a diary about how 15 percent of all U.S. combat troops are women, largely mothers with stay-at-home husbands. Also, I reviewed a book called The Daddy Shift, which profiled couples with this non-traditional, but increasingly common setup.

We were saddened about the passing of entertainment legends Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. As I mentioned in my open thread, I remember listening to Jackson’s Thriller album on a record player. Also, I had Michael’s juiced up curls, admittedly, not my finest moment. :)

While Charlie’s Angels was before my time, there were many women on our site with fond Fawcett memories — and hair!

I am leaving to the east coast this week to attend my aunt’s funeral and visit my grandmother in the hospital. (Yes, it’s been a tumultuous couple weeks.) There will be no weekly roundup in a week, but I will resume it Saturday, July 11.

Thanks all! What’s up with you?


Supreme Court on Special Education

Parents with special needs children may seek reimbursement for private school tuition even if they have never sent their kids to public schools, according to a Supreme Court ruling covered by the Washington Post.

Check it out:

By a 6 to 3 vote, the court settled an emotional and contentious issue that has divided frustrated parents and financially strapped school officials, often ending in legal battles. In writing the opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said Congress intended for the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act to provide an appropriate educational experience for all children, no matter whether they had ever received special-education services from a school system.

The issue has emerged as one of the fastest-growing components of local education budgets, threatening to “seriously deplete public education funds,” according to a brief filed by the nation’s urban school districts.

Local school systems in the Washington area spend millions of dollars each year on private school reimbursement. And the D.C. public schools allocated $7.5 million of this year’s $783 million budget just for the legal costs of hearing officers or judges to decide whether the system can provide appropriate services for children with disabilities.

Some parents said a contrary decision could have forced students, especially ones whose parents could not afford private school, to spend time in an undesirable situation before getting the help they need.

A special education advocate applauded the decision and said she does not think a flood of parents will deplete public coffers for private schools. They would probably be deterred by tuition, which they would have to pay up front, and litigation to prove their children need private services, she said.

No word from cash-strapped school districts on where they will find the money to reimburse families who seek it.


Public Vs. Private School Debate Rears Its Head on Slate

Don’t worry, this actually wasn’t a mommy war. Slate actually ran helpful tips how we can all help the public schools regardless of our personal school choices.

Here is what mother and daughter team Patty Stonesifer and Sandy Stonesifer had to say to a west Los Angeles mother who wanted to help the public schools but send her own children to expensive private schools.


Eloise, the public education failure in this country is huge, and fixing it needs to be a national priority. Thirty percent of American eighth-graders never make it to graduation; 1.2 million students will drop out of high school this year. We rank 21st in science education and 25th in math education among the top 30 industrialized nations. As you know, our country’s future requires deep and broad reform of our public school system. I encourage you to follow, learn, and act on key education decisions that affect all students in California, and you can do that through the Education Trust’s West Coast affiliate. On a national basis, you can learn about what is going on across the country and how you can take action related to the three pillars that are part of the Strong American Schools effort (raising American education standards, putting effective teachers in every classroom, and increasing time for learning). There is some limited good news: The stimulus plan included href=”40 billion for schools, and while most of that will go to prop up state investments in education in times of decreased revenue, about $15 billion of it is discretionary for the new secretary of education, Arne Duncan, who plans to use it reward and accelerate education reform efforts….


…(A friend who is an education expert) made the excellent point that accepting the public education system as it is would be a far better example of “letting the government off the hook” than sending your kids to private school. While making the right personal decision about your children’s well-being is important, so is the public responsibility that you have to advocate for all kids in the same way you advocate for your own. And she underscored what research shows (and every parent knows) to be the most important determinant of success at any school: quality teachers. How we ensure the best teachers are attracted and retained in the system, however, is hotly contested. Performance pay, changes in teacher training, better data systems to track student progress, or any of the other numerous teacher incentive programs will require that we begin to make real efforts at reform and track the evidence of what works. The New Teacher Project, started by Michelle Rhee, the current chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools, works to help ensure all kids have access to the highest-quality, effective teachers possible.

In President Obama’s first town hall meeting, his answer to the question “How do we know what makes an effective teacher?” was, by some reports, the most animated exchange. Our education guru says that the most well-meaning parents who flee public schools (and probably even well-meaning parents who have their kids in public schools) often end up unconsciously supporting bad policy decisions when they think they are doing what’s best for kids. One of the best examples of this can be found in your home state of California, Eloise. California pushed through a huge statewide class-size-reduction effort in the primary grades. While it cost the state billions of dollars, the effort actually ended up diminishing teacher quality without showing any clear educational benefits. Though “conventional wisdom” still says that smaller class sizes are the most important factor in a child’s educational success, the only thing the research shows to be anything close to a “silver bullet” is ensuring that children end up with a high-quality teacher for an extended time.

Finally, returning to the dilemma of the parent making the decision one child at a time:It’s important to remember that there are great private schools and great public schools. So rather than worry about one type of school over the other, you should focus on identifying your child’s and family’s needs and do your best to find a school that meets them. The Department of Education’s Guide to Choosing a School for Your Child and the Great Schools site both provide good tools and resources for deciding what factors are important to you and finding schools that meet those needs.

What other tips would you have for Eloise in west Los Angeles?


Private School Woes

I found this story at a heated discussion on UrbanBaby. (What’s not heated over there, right?)

Even elite private schools in New York are experiencing attrition due to the economic crisis, according to the New York Post.

Elite private schools across the region are bracing for huge drops in enrollment as the tanking economy rattles even wealthy parents.

At the 300-year-old Trinity School on the Upper West Side, 45 families have already given notice they won’t be sending their kids back next year, New York magazine reported.

That’s a huge drop, considering there are fewer than 1,000 students enrolled in the school’s kindergarten-through-grade-12 program, and, typically, there is heavy competition for every available seat. Children of alumni or applicants with siblings in the school still get priority.

Still, even with tuition increases, it won’t be easier to get into the city’s most elite private schools, according to an expert quoted in the story. What the schools are concerned about are families demanding a rebate on tuition due to the slowing economy.

In related news, Michelle Obama has toured some D.C. private schools for daughters Malia and Sasha, according to the Washington Post.  


Play-Based Versus Academic Preschool

Via ParentDish: Associated Press writer Nancy Zuckerbrod compared the British education system with that of the U.S..

As she learned while visiting kindergarten classrooms in London where her daughter now attends, U.S. children are actually behind their British counterparts in reading because preschools there are academic while ours are play-based.

Like Zuckerbrod, I was amazed at the high standards imposed on four-year-olds about to attend kindergarten in Britain:

Britain has a national curriculum with specific goals, and schools there are rigorously inspected and evaluated. Most kids enter school at 4, instead of 5 as is the case here, and pre-kindergarten programs tend to be more academic than in the United States. American programs are often more play-based than academically structured, and standards vary widely from state-to-state and between public and private settings.

It’s not an open-and-shut case as to whether one country’s approach is better than another. On a recent international reading test, U.S. fourth-graders and their peers from England had the same results. They weren’t all that impressive. Students from the two countries posted lower average scores than students in Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Luxembourg, Hungary, Italy and Sweden, along with several Canadian provinces.

In math, kids in the United Kingdom, which includes Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, outperformed their American peers on an international test given to 15-year-olds.

Back on the phone in Washington, I listened as the head teacher suggested sending Olivia back to a “nursery school,” to a reception class, generally the British version of pre-kindergarten. But Olivia is turning 6 this fall. We were being asked to put her with kids much closer in age to her 3 1/2-year-old brother than herself. That was not something she would swallow easily, and should we?

An e-mail from the school followed. It politely spelled out exactly what the kids in that school were expected to master by Olivia’s age: telling time; fractions – whole, half, quarter and thirds; counting by fives up to 50; reading books (something called the pink new level) and starting to write “news” independently.

I thought about Olivia’s school experience over the last year. She planted basil seeds with her beloved pre-k teacher. She learned all about insects, drew a fantastic picture of Saturn, and she definitely mastered the monkey bars.

But she does not know how to tell time, isn’t reading books on her own, and fractions – even American kids in older grades, well into middle and high school, are having trouble with those, according to a recent federal report.

Olivia is now attending a British public school and not the snooty private one that sent her mom the e-mail. Even then, she lags her peers in reading and writing.

What do you think? Is this something the U.S. should worry about?


Will Smith’s New School

Will Smith and his actress wife Jada Pinkett Smith will open a private school in the fall focused on academics and the arts, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The school, New Village Academy, is slated to open this September at the Indian Hills High School campus in the Las Virgenes Unified School District.

In a statement, Will Smith said of the school: “About 10 years ago, Jada and I started dreaming about the possibility of creating an ideal educational environment, where children could feel happy, positive and excited about learning. . . .

“New Village Academy was born of a simple question, ‘Is it possible to create an educational environment in which children have fun learning?’ Jada and I believe the answer is ‘Yes.’ “

New Village Academy began about three years ago as a home school for the Smiths’ youngest children — Jaden, 9 and Willow, 7 — and those of several other families. After an extensive search, Jacqueline Olivier, previously an administrator at private schools in Santa Monica and La Jolla, was hired to head the school…

The school, she said, will use many philosophies, including Montessori, Bruner and Gardner. Olivier said the Smiths would pay nearly $900,000 to lease the Indian Hills High School campus in the Las Virgenes Unified School District for three years. Fall enrollment is expected to be about 40 students and will eventually rise to about 100, she said. The school will include pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, with a top annual tuition of $12,500.

Being celebrities, the opening of their school is already mired in controversy. Among other media outlets, Fox News made a big deal that some of the teachers are Scientologists who will use teaching methods steeped in the religion. But Olivier said the teachers are of many religions, including Scientology, Christian and Muslim — although the school is secular.

I don’t get it. A big deal has been made about the Scientology, but what exactly would it look like in a classroom? The New Village curriculum sounds very rich, including literacy, math, “living skills,” Spanish, karate, yoga, robotics, technology, etiquette and art. “Parental involvement is encouraged, as is limited access to television and sugary foods,” according to the L.A. Times.

This doesn’t sound much different than a montessori, waldorf or any other private school for that matter. What do you think? Is critique of the Smiths’ new school warranted?


Vouchers Up for Debate (Again)

The other day, the Washington Post ran a compelling editorial in favor of vouchers for poor D.C. students:

AMONG THE most maddening arguments used against the D.C. school voucher program is that it hurts the public schools. Any money set aside for vouchers comes on top of a generous federal allocation for the city’s public and charter schools. Any effect of the vouchers on public education has yet to be established or studied. Most of all, which members of Congress would accept an argument that they should be forced to send their children to a failing school for the good of the school?

Yet critics repeatedly return to this canard. That’s why it’s important that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) reiterate to Congress that his school reform efforts will not be helped by depriving 1,900 poor children of an opportunity to choose their schools.

I waited for the letters to the editor as I knew there would be some opposition, including this letter writer from the Secular Coalition for America:

For parents who are looking for real school choice, there are public magnet and charter schools. The OSP does not offer school “choice” at all. When the Government Accountability Office published a study on the program last year, it concluded that Opportunity Scholarships fail to deliver the promise of school choice, because the bulk of participating schools are religious. Worse yet, the GAO also noted that the program lacks an opt-out clause for students wishing to avoid religious exercises.

The Post claimed that stopping this federal funding will amount to “depriving 1,900 poor children of an opportunity to choose their schools.” But every student is welcome to stay in the school of his or her choice. Why would a school that is supposedly doing a good job be unable to raise private scholarship money for tuition? Students’ religious training needs to be privately supported; given the cost of this program to taxpayers and to our secular tradition, extending a five-year mistake into a six-year one is just not justifiable.

Initially, I was torn after reading the Post editorial. No doubt many of the voucher recipients are low-income minority students living in run-down neighborhoods — pretty much my family in Miami. Thanks to the generosity of the Catholic Church and my parents’ own commitment, I received a kindergarten to 8th grade parochial education free of charge.

But I can’t speak to the academic stellarness of the school as I feel it lagged behind the public high school I attended in New Hampshire and I easily scored the lowest in the SAT at that school. (My friends in Miami, who continued to attend Catholic high schools, scored even lower!)

I did some research on vouchers at Wikipedia and the Milwaukee voucher system, which is the oldest in the country. As it turns out, this whole voucher debate is much more nuanced than politicians and the media make it out to be.

For one, low-income minorities do take the voucher if offered to them. But they tend to take tax dollars to parochial and religious schools, regardless of academic reputation. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

• The amount of taxpayer money going to pay for religious education in Milwaukee has no parallel in the last century of American life. About 70% of the students in the program attend religious schools. Religion guides the choices that parents make, and the curriculum that a majority of schools choose, and has led to a network of dozens of independent church schools led by African-American ministers throughout the city.

• The choice program regenerated parochial schools in the city, including dozens of Catholic and Lutheran schools, which were experiencing declining enrollment. Overall, it has preserved the status quo in terms of schooling options in the city more than it has offered a range of new, innovative or distinctive schools.

• Parental choice by itself does not assure quality. Some parents pick bad schools – and keep their children in them long after it is clear the schools are failing. This has allowed some of the weakest schools in the program to remain in business.

OTOH, the Journal Sentinel, which visited 106 of 115 schools receiving vouchers, found no evidence that  the Milwaukee public schools lost their best students to private schools — a missive often hurled by the anti-voucher camp. The public schools do take in more special education students and have their fair share of low-income, special needs students though.

But overall, reporters did not see much difference between the public and private schools. Also, they all shared a zeal to educate low-income, minority students, a feeling intensely brought on by the introduction of vouchers.

I would have no problem funding even religious schools if they actually prepared students for college. But it sounds like vouchers need much more accountability, especially in cases where taxpayers are funding failing private schools. But there is no way a private or religious school is going to welcome regulation by the federal government so it should not receive precious treasury funds. Those are my two cents.

What do you think? Should D.C. and Milwaukee continue their voucher program?


Why Latinos Don’t Like Dual Immersion Programs

I visited a couple dual immersion programs in the Berkeley public school system and, I admit, I am biased. I favor Ari’s private dual immersion school for its familiar community, its diversity — 55 percent of the children are biracial and 35 percent are native Spanish speakers — the smaller class sizes and the native Spanish speaking staff.

But something came up on my tours of the public schools: they are having a hard time recruiting native Spanish speakers to the program. At one point, I asked our tour guide why the school was not 100 percent dual immersion — versus a single track — since there is so much demand for the program. Her answer: “Latinos won’t enroll their children.“

This is something I have heard before and it is always attributed to Latinos want their children to learn English. But, I have my own theories.

First of all, almost all these programs are executed and taught by Americans who learned Spanish in high school. On my tours, typically the non-Hispanic parents were always impressed by the amount of Spanish spoken in the classroom. But I found myself cringing at how some of the teachers were mangling the language. I recall one teacher who kept referring to a decena and I was desperately trying to understand her when I realized she meant docena — “dozen.“ I saw another teacher consult the Spanish-English dictionary as she was translating from English to Spanish, rather than thinking in Spanish. My immediate thought was why would native Spanish speakers want their children to learn from people who speak less Spanish than them?

By the way, the public school system requires teachers to pass an English test, thus eliminating many otherwise competent native Spanish speakers from their staff.

The second reason Latino children suffer under a public dual immersion program is standardized testing. It is conceivable that Ari, born to college-educated and professional parents, could fail the standardized English test in second grade. We have spoken only Spanish to him and he is in a Spanish preschool. It takes a while for native Spanish speakers to catch up in a dual immersion program — usually around third or fourth grade.

But I cringed when I learned of a teacher at a certain dual immersion program tutoring her Latino kids to “catch up.“ Ugh. I do not want my child treated as a remedial student. I taught him Spanish first because that is how my husband and I learned. I did not learn English until I was 5 and my husband did not learn English until he was 9. No special tutoring was needed for us to “catch up,“ thank you very much.

While I think the public dual immersion program is good enough for someone who speaks no Spanish, I don’t think it offers a lot to native Spanish speakers, except the opportunity to teach the non-Spanish speakers, which is a great educational experience in itself. It sounds Draconian, but if I were running these programs, I would scrap all standardized testing, have native Spanish speakers teach Spanish, and let the English speakers teach in their native language. In that sense — if you would allow me to brag for a moment — I think Ari’s school has it right.