How much can we expect parents to care about other people’s children?

Many school reforms depend on the willingness of middle-class parents to want for all children what they wish for their own.

But how much can we expect parents to care about the education of other people’s children? I’ve been thinking about that question in the last few months listening to the governor’s education reform panel grapple with the thorny problems of equity and funding.

One of the concerns: How do you level the playing field for children whose parents lack the education and resources to send them to school primed not only to learn but excel?

Parenting today has become a competitive sport, with savvy mothers and fathers racing to arm their children with all the skills necessary to thrive in a global economy that prizes mental acuity and agility.

TimBrinton.NewsArtWhile richer parents spent five times as much per child as their low-income counterparts 35 years ago, research shows a nine to one spending gap today. Why? Educated parents believe their children will need a top-notch education to succeed so they’re investing in enrichment, from math camp to violin lessons. They realize the competition is no longer the Jones kids down the street; it’s the Wang kids in Beijing and the Müller kids in Berlin.

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me to look into a college fair at North Atlanta High. The reader wrote: “I wanted to wait a little bit to bring my blood pressure down, but I couldn’t believe what I heard today. There are some college fairs going on this weekend. North Atlanta High School hosted a college fair and I’m sure there were several  schools in attendance. I found out APS only allowed students in the Top 10 percent of their class to attend. I’m sorry, but that is just plain wrong.”

I contacted APS to ask about the fair, and spokeswoman Jill Strickland Luse explained: “The fair which occurred yesterday at North Atlanta High School was organized by North Atlanta parents for North Atlanta High School students.  They decided to open the fair up to other APS high schools, but due to space constraints, they capped the participation to 30 kids per school. Each high school determined how those 30 schools were selected.”

I shared the reply with the reader and heard from him a few days ago with an interesting postscript: “Perhaps you’ll find this amusing, Maureen, but when I told my wife about what happened there (she’s a former pre-K teacher), she didn’t agree with me. She basically said that what was the school to do if they didn’t have enough space? And she also said that if the school wasn’t going to organize a college fair, then the parents had a right to step up. And if the disenfranchised students want to see these schools, they can look them up themselves.”

I am sure North Atlanta High and other APS schools organize and hold college fairs open to all students. But can we fault parents for sponsoring additional events to benefit their students?

Education reformers argue all children deserve a fair chance. But many parents work hard to give their kids a better chance, an advantage. I have come to see that reformers cannot castigate middle-class parents into remaining loyal to mediocre neighborhood schools on the basis it will ultimately lead to better outcomes for all the kids. Most parents don’t have a commitment to all kids.

As Robert Putnam, author of “Bowling Alone” and the new book “Our Kids: The American Dream In Crisis,” told an NPR interviewer: “When I was growing up in Port Clinton and my parents talked about doing things for our kids — when they said, you know, we’ve got to pay higher taxes so that our kids can have a swimming pool or a new French department or whatever — by the word, our kids, they did not mean my sister and me. They meant all the kids in town. And what’s happened over the last 20, 30, 40 years is that our sense of what counts as our kids has shriveled.”

But someone has to champion the children whose parents are either unable or incapable of giving them an edge. Someone has to level the playing field. More than ever, that responsibility and moral obligation fall on policymakers, school administrators and elected officials. And that responsibility is not easy to bear; it at times requires taking unpopular stands.

Georgia is attempting to privatize and individualize many aspects of public education. Parents aware of the vital role of critical-thinking skills in the 21st century are demanding more opportunities for their kids, whether through charter schools, accelerated classes, online options, academic magnets or vouchers.

They are entitled to ask for more for their children. But someone has to rally for the students whose parents aren’t demanding more so those kids don’t end up with less and less.

 

Reader Comments 0

170 comments
Velodrone Lebike
Velodrone Lebike

The fact of the matter is school outcomes are determined by IQ, which is genetic. Upper class families tend to have higher IQs in meritocracies like the US, so the class status reflects their IQ. Spending money on kids to do better is folly because kids with natural genetic predispositions will do well under most normal conditions anyway. The move to provide extra to kids in order to bring them up to the level of their peers who are doing better is based in the ill-founded belief that we all have the capacity for success, which only really exists for the state lottery.

AnotherMom
AnotherMom

@ Maureeen - Or maybe the title of this article could have read  something like this  "Parents at NAHS, a Title 1 School, seeing a need, got busy, rolled up their sleeves and put on a fantastic college fair that benefited not only their school, but all the high schools in the APS district.

4PublicEducation
4PublicEducation

I am a retired teacher who tutors secondary homeless students who are failing in school.  This particular Federal grant, the McKinney Vento Act, does seem to make a difference in my county.  Almost ALL students served are successful.  I am sure you have heard the story about someone walking along the beach and seeing a man tossing starfish back into the sea even though the beach is covered with starfish.  The observer asks why he is fighting a losing battle since he can't possibly save all the starfish, why was he wasting his time?  The man says, "You are right.  I cannot save them all, but I made a difference to that one" as he pointed to the one he just tossed back into the sea.  I believe in this Starfish Theory.  I cannot save them all but I can make a difference to some and I try to do that each and every day in my small circle of influence.

anothercomment
anothercomment

I have mentored several children of all colors of the rainbow ( including white) , who did not have parents familiar with our college system today. 

One child I am mentoring is a Senior at St. Francis.  They sent out e-mail invites to the big college fair at Westminster/Lovett.  Prior to the date this college fair occurred St. Francis had a parents meeting for all Seniors about deadlines and information for the college admission process. At this meeting the counselor was very explicit that the college fair held in conjunction with Westminster and Lovett was a limited invitation event open to only the student by an admissions ticket only and that these were the most elite Universities. She made it clear that she would be judiciously handing out the tickets and that very few students were actual candidates for these Universities. This was at a Private School with Senior year tuition in excess of $20,000 per year.  ( Yes, St. Francis is one of the few, Private Schools that offer multiple tracks for children with very slight learning differentials. They still boast of a 99+% College admission, rate of their graduating class. 


What I am trying to say is that it is very common for Schools to be  selective on College fairs.  Lets face it a non Grady  or NAHS, APS Valdictorian with ACT's of 20, are not going to get into Harvard or MIT.  My nephew went to a top public high school in another state, was the Valedictorian and Class President, applied to all the Ivies, Thinking that for sure he would get in. He was only accepted at NYU. He had very high SAT's. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

There seems to be a glaring omission here - "non Parents". Those that do not and will not have school aged children seem to be expected to pay for whatever educational scheme the legislature comes up with without even being considered. Since the debate seems to be about who gets the money, I want an ESA in the amount of my paid taxes for all k-12 and state college system funding. I can use this for for myself or my niece or nephew. I don't want to be forced to pay for wealthy kids to go to private schools or for top heavy school systems that don't deliver money to the classroom. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@AvgGeorgian 

Did you go to any public schools for your education? If so, you owe something back: the "daisy chain" idea.

redweather
redweather

@OriginalProf @AvgGeorgian Why is it so hard for people to understand that they don't get to pick and choose what their taxes pay for?  If I had my way we would not spend billions of tax dollars widening roads like I-85 and I-285, we would put that money into developing a real mass transit system. But I don't get to decide that, and so the DOT keeps pouring cement and laying down asphalt, thereby encouraging more metro Atlanta traffic gridlock.


I guess people feel better about attacking teachers than they do bulldozers. 

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

Looks to me like schools ought to be thinking about issuing report cards not only to the kids but to their parents.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Let me get this straight, PARENTS organized a college fair, contacted representatives from various colleges to attend, procured a venue, and invited NINE HUNDRED students from other APS schools to attend, and the whiney ba****d that wrote this article complains that they didn't do enough?!?!?!?!?!

Hint:  whenever someone mentions "equity", watch your pocketbooks.  It means they think YOU haven't given enough for THEIR cause.

I've always said that you could give everyone a million dollars, and someone would complain about it.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Lee_CPA2 You would complain, for example, that you deserve more than those people.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@Wascatlady

Nah.  I'd just invest in automobile wheel dealerships and fried chicken franchises.  I'd have "those peoples" money in short order.

CSpinks
CSpinks

How much can we expect parents to care about other people's kids? How hard and smart are we educators willing to work at developing, implementing and evaluating strategies and tactics to elicit such caring?

BearCasey
BearCasey

In my 31 years as a teacher, coach and administrator in both public and private schools, I found parents who genuinely cared about all kids to be relatively rare.  Not unheard of, but rare.  This was especially true in the area of discipline.  EVERYONE wanted a strict code of conduct until their child was involved.

Tcope
Tcope

It is crazy to think that many schools in metro Atlanta do not have a PTA organization. It reflects on the lack of concern that these students parents have for their education.

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

I believe that educational reform is not only for the poor, disenfranchised. It is for ANY student that is not able to reach their full potential for any number of reasons.

class80olddog
class80olddog

This is like a parent bringing cupcakes to her son's classroom for Halloween, and everyone griping because , in order to be "equal" she should have brought cupcakes for everyone in the school!

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

So many of the commenters here seem to think opportunity is a zero sum game.-- That there is only so much of it to go around, and if their kid doesn't get it first, there won't be any left.


In my area, the neighboring school systems don't seem to operate that way.  They know what is good for our children (largely white, lower middle class and poor, with Appalachian family roots) in any of our counties is good for those nearby.  Maybe it is because the systems are small (4000 or less), but it does not seem like there is the petty, self-serving "me first and only" that I hear in many of these posts.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@booful98 @Wascatlady I have fought  for causes unrelated to my children's needs many times.  If I speak up for what is needed for kids other than my own, my own benefit!


Of course, I was  a teacher for over 4 decades, and I know my kids are not the only ones in the school.

booful98
booful98

@Wascatlady Well resources within public schools (even the wealthy ones) are limited.The truth is you DO have to fight to ensure your child gets his.

Anotherteacher
Anotherteacher

It is an interesting question you bring up, Maureen.  Who should be held accountable for championing the education of kids?  The primary answer, of course, is the parents of those kids.  The problem arises when the parents are, as you diplomatically put it, "either unable or incapable" of helping their children succeed academically.  In other words, who helps the kids whose parents are a) so busy working to put food on the table that they don't have the bandwidth to help their kids with school work, b) uneducated or unintelligent themselves, or c) deadbeats.


The most effective strategy for helping these kids would be if interested adults voluntarily and consistently helped these students to succeed in both the academic and intangible aspects that are needed for a productive adulthood.  This could take many forms: mentoring, tutoring, church youth leaders, Boy/Girl Scouts, community groups, and so on.  The goal of these programs would be basically to provide a supplementary (or, in extreme cases, substitute) parent for some aspect of child development.  Such programs are noble and well-intentioned, but they suffer two basic problems: 1) they generally aren't as good as having an actual, full-time, committed parent, and 2) there aren't enough people willing to volunteer to meet the needs of all the kids who could benefit from these types of programs.


The government can also play a part in helping to meet the needs of disadvantaged kids, primarily by paying for extra services to help those who would not be getting academic help at home -- for example, by sponsoring after-school tutoring and enrichment programs.  But again, these are limited and imperfect solutions that are not nearly as effective as having an interested, capable, and committed parent.  Further, their scale is limited by voters who may resent having to pay for services for other people's children when those voters voluntarily do those tasks for their own kids.


Bottom line: there is no easy solution.  Kids who are born to interested, capable, and committed parents will always have a leg up, not because of their own merit but because they had the good fortune of winning the "parent lottery."  This is not just an American phenomenon; there is evidence of it all over the world in educational outcomes and (later in life) in earnings disparities.


On a societal level, this troubles me.  It isn't fair that kids should suffer lifelong negative effects because they had less than ideal parents.  But they do.  And I cannot personally help all of these kids -- I don't have either the time or the resources to do so.  But I know that I should do something.  After all, I'm commanded to "love thy neighbor." 


But because I can't solve the problem as an individual, the proposition of trying to use government to help solve the problem is appealing.  And certainly government can do lots of things to help -- for example, targeting resources, good teachers, and social programs towards kids who need them most.  I'm generally not a huge fan of welfare for people who are simply suffering the consequences of their own crappy choices, but I certainly don't begrudge giving a little extra help (and a little extra tax money) to kids who find themselves in tough circumstances through no fault of their own.


The problem with the government solution is that many of the programs that have so far been tried have shown less-than-spectacular results.  If we are going to spend money on programs, they need to prove their efficacy.


Which brings me back to the issue -- there is no easy solution.  At least, not one that I see.  The main reason that this problem is hard to solve for outsiders and for government is because those groups were never intended to be the ultimate solution.  The job of being good parents falls primarily on parents.  And when parents renege on their responsibilities or stink at their jobs, the people that get hurt the most are their kids.  Which is totally unfair.  And also totally true.  One of the main culprits behind the "education problems" in our country has nothing to do with education at all, at its root.  Many kids that struggle in school would be just fine if they had a better home situation.  Messed up parenting and home situations overflow not just to education but also to all sorts of other "problems" in our country -- economics, crime, and all other forms of societal dysfunction.  The diagnosis is easy to state.  The solution is hard, and happens one family at a time.

Kathy Brown
Kathy Brown

At the end of any day, this is the law. So, regardless what parents, the community, businesses, or any other stakeholder WOULD like or would NOT like to do, we all serve at the pleasure of the Local Board of Education. It is their constitutional power.............

ARTICLE VIII.  SECTION V.

LOCAL SCHOOL SYSTEMS EDUCATION   "Paragraph II.                                                                                                                  Boards of education. Each school system shall be under the management and control of a board of education,

thenoticer
thenoticer

It seems that the more the helpers help the less fortunate, the less they want to do for themselves. Many parents I know are tired of being expected to help so very many other children. The more we do the more is asked of us. At this point, there aren't enough helpers as the helpless population has grown out of control. Of course we want to help our less fortunate neighbors, but where does it end? And yes, we do have our own children to worry about as well and I feel they are overlooked more and more every year.

Kathy Brown
Kathy Brown

It was written, "education tax money should only be used to help failing students"....It is NOT about the money. The most likely student to fail any high stakes test are "at risk" kids who attend a Title I school. Now, stay with me here. Even the hundreds of millions of "unregulated" Title I funds do NOT necessarily "JUST" go for those failing because the loop hole there is "Targeted Assistance Title I program" and then the School Wide Title I program. Meaning, a whole lot more keeping track of the money with Targeted Assistance. When a Local BOE chooses which schools will get the extra millions, it is more likely to go School Wide program to use the monies so ALL students benefit.. There are local, state, and federal taxes that go toward education, and of course some expendable income of those who have it.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Kathy Brown


The state should provide a proven blueprint for improving test scores and a budget and oversight  to make it happen. Are our state leaders scared to tell us what the takeover plan is? Can we not just implement it now? Is it a secret?

Kathy Brown
Kathy Brown

@AvgGeorgian @Kathy Brown the state of Georgia, along with 40+ states that got out of the NCLB contract where Title I monies for the poor along with high stake "test" scores were a whole lot more transparent. We've digressed.  Test scores generated from tests that are created, implemented, scored, and analyzed by the state is like letting the fox guard the hen house. We no longer mandate "NORM" referenced test, like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for a reason.  

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

The problem is that education tax money should only be used to help failing students. The children that are passing by definition have an adequate education. The same bar that is used to take over schools should be used to direct funding.

User777
User777

So, then we will all stay average. Good plan. Can't have too many smart kids.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@User777 Those kids will still be smart. this article is about parents that provide resources for their kids. It takes much less money to help smart kids. AP classes should be in lecture halls wit h 100-200 students or online. They can handle it. Put the money where it makes the most difference.

User777
User777

Wow. I actually thought you were joking.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Education is the new healthcare. Adequate test scores equal well. I don't want to pay for face lifts for the wealthy.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@class80olddog @User777


Smart kids need competition not coddling. They need to get out of big fish in a  small pond syndrome sooner rather than later.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@User777  Yeah, I thought (s)he was joking, too. What she means is "from each according to their ability (to pay) and to each according to their need",

User777
User777

So, you do realize those smart kids are the job creators of tomorrow, right? And they don't all come from wealthy families. We need them so we can compete on a global scale. Places like China and India are investing in education. Calculus and Physics are not "facelifts".

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@class80olddog @User777


No. What it means is tax money solving a problem - low test scores. We waste $58 million on private school "scholarships" for mostly wealthy families. Hey , $58 million would put on one heck of a college fair.

Starik
Starik

I would say the North Atlanta parents do care, above and beyond the call of duty, for kids at other APS schools.  They shared their college fair with them, and 10% is overly generous, if  anything.

straker
straker

boo - "who is that someone"


It has to be local, State and the Federal Government.


Naturally, "compassionate conservatives" will balk mightily at this.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

Perhaps there was a day when folks voluntarily came together and supported causes "for the common good".  Today, the govt takes folks money under threat of jail, and turns around and "uses it for the common good".  So, what used to be a voluntary community support effort, is now a forced "donation/taxation" process.


Why would anyone expect others to voluntarily give even more, when they are struggling to support their family with what the govt has not already taken?


This seems to relate back to Maureen's post a week or so ago, about the need for GA to approve smaller school districts.  It's a lot easier to get folks to help others, when they know those other folks, or at least know of the community that they live in.

hssped
hssped

There is usually a big college fair at the World Congress Center.  It is open to everyone.  Kids should just go there.

Kathy Brown
Kathy Brown

Atlanta Public Schools has ALL Title I schools. Meaning, the federal government provides unregulated FUNDING to equal the academic playing field in education. (In FY 09 Georgia received almost 1/2 BILLION $$$ for poor schools/students) This is NOT a matter of money, it is a matter of who wants to put in the work and effort. The money is there to put on such an event, but if the school administration does not want to do it, then it AINT HAPPENIN!

booful98
booful98

I like to call myself a progressive and, in theory, I will support any system that levels the playing field for ALL our children.


Having said that, I am not sure people at the NAHS should be expected to organize a college fair that accommodates ALL the students at APS. Seems like a lot to ask. The better question should be, why aren't the counselors, parents, teachers, and administrators not organizing college fairs for their students?


I have two sons to bring up and in all honestly, it takes just about all my spare time and energy to make sure they have all they need to succeed. It is mind boggling all that is required of me for my oldest who is a freshman in high school. And he is motivated enough to search for his own resources in education too. I am not sure I can organize a college fair for the kids in other high schools.


OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@booful98 

Fair enough. But why can't a parent organization pressure Superintendent Carstarphen to have such college fairs that are sponsored and put on by APS schools? I don't think anyone expects the parents to do this...and they don't have the contacts to arrange it like the schools would anyway. 


Also, I think the complaint as given above was how NAHS handled the accessibility to the fair from other APS schools. This too is something that school district administrators should be handling, not parents, it seems to me.

booful98
booful98

@OriginalProf @booful98 The article said they DID open it up to every other school, but capped it at 30 kids and then it was UP TO THE SCHOOLS to decide how to allot the 30 spaces.

The parents at NAHS had nothing to do with who was chosen to attend from the other schools.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@booful98 @OriginalProf That's why what I said earlier was that it was not the parents who were at fault, but APS.    With so many schools at the college fair, it was right for APS to open it up.  But then, they should have moved it to a larger venue so that more kids could have access.  Instead, they punted, let the various schools come up with their own arbitrary selection criteria, and turned it into an event for the elite students.    So I'll say it again - the fault is not with the parents, but APS.  They turned an incredible opportunity into a major logistical screwup that disenfranchised many students.  Shouldn't have been that hard to figure out.

booful98
booful98

@OriginalProf @booful98 I still don't understand what happened. This college fair at NAHS was organized by the parents. Why were they supposed to be able to handle every junior and senior in the APS system? That is A LOT of kids. It could be logistical nightmare in parking alone.


So the question here is that the parents at NAHS can do nothing unless they make it available to every student at APS?



Kathy Brown
Kathy Brown

Bottom line: The parents at any school can pretty much organize and get permission from....the school PRINCIPAL. Now, let's think about this...what media outlet would LOVE to run a story about a school where the principal said NO to any activity like Post secondary education? Especially when Georgia has Move on when ready legislation, dual enrollment, the the BRIDGE Law?

Kathy Brown
Kathy Brown

@redweather If it is in Georgia, have you approached your School Council? What did they say? If it is a Title I school, did the school provide you with the opportunity to request that SOME of the Title I funds be used to organize and put on a college fair?