I’ve lived in my new house for 4 years now. It’s 3 blocks away from the apartment I’d lived in for 3 years after my divorce, and a block and a half away from the condominium where I lived with my family for 13 years. The first year here saw my youngest daughter’s senior year in high school.
The condominium complex where both of my daughters spent most of their formative years was masterfully carved out of the bones of my old high school: Classical. Both the exterior and the interior of the building are magnificent and many of the condos in it are surprisingly spacious. We bought our unit after the real estate crash of the late 80’s here in Massachusetts and paid 40% of the original asking price. It was about 1,500 square feet, and we bought a big “hobby room” a few years later that served as a game room for the girls.
The girls were the only children I ever knew of in the building older than 5. The complex has many units over 1,000 square feet with multiple bedrooms, but every family with children, though there weren’t many, moved out when the children reached school age.
I’m not going to pretend that anyone ever hid the fact that the reason for their departure was ever anything other than the quality of the schools. It was treated as though the underlying facts regarding education were such that any other decision would have been unthinkable, bordering on the insane, (or even as abusive) as it related to the children involved. City schools are bad. Suburban schools are good. Standardized test scores show this, ergo, if you care about your children you will move to the ‘burbs.
The truth is almost nothing is assumed more totally than these “axioms”; so it should not surprise anyone that they are generally groundless and false. Period.
The evidence, yes even the evidence from state standardized test scores, shows NOT that the suburbs have better schools, but that the suburbs have better students (If by that you mean the type of students who do well on standardized tests).
The website fairtest.org has an archive of reports and analyses which demonstrates that all standardized tests do at the aggregate level is tell you how wealthy (or poor) students are in a given school or school district. The best predictor of outcomes on standardized tests is parental income and it is so strong a predictor that it overwhelms most other factors when analyzing amalgamated data.
We don’t WANT that to be true. But it is simply, numerically, true. The correlation is so strong that it continues even into the stratospheres of parental income until the income levels are so high, and the number of children taking the tests so low, that data becomes meaningless. It seems to be true that the children of billionaires outperform the children of multimillionaires.
A quick aside: No, that doesn’t mean that no poor child has ever outperformed a rich child. It does mean that rich children outperform poor children.
When the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System or MCAS was given for the first time and the results were released comparing communities in the Bay State I was serving on the School Centered Decision Making team at my daughters’ school and I took all of the data published in the newspaper about all of the school districts surrounding Springfield along with the city’s data and I crunched all the numbers. I could show NO correlation between the outcomes on the MCAS with any of the information available; from per pupil expenditure to teacher salaries, and class size, except for one: The percentage of students on free or reduced price lunch. The scores showed a perfect correlation top to bottom with only one tiny flip flop at the bottom, (the two bottom districts exchanging places, more on that later). The correlation was so exact that between East Longmeadow and Wilbraham there was only a one tenth of one percent difference in the percentage of free and reduced price lunch recipients, but it would have accurately predicted which school would have outperformed the other.
We do not want to believe this. Regardless, it simply is.
The “flip flop” at the bottom by the way, involved Springfield and Holyoke. Springfield had slightly higher percentage of students on free and reduced price lunch, but many fewer students (% wise) who did not speak English as a first language.
Again, no correlation between any of the things we probably want to matter, like teacher quality, class size, and the like, and a near perfect correlation to parental income (how eligibility for free and reduced price lunch is determined).
In simple terms this data, along with the much better elaborated data at fairtest.org, implies, and thorough analysis has demonstrated (and this is the point of the essay and needs to be shouted from the rooftops) that YOUR CHILD WILL LEARN WHAT HE/SHE WILL LEARN AND DO AS WELL AS HE/SHE WILL DO AT ANY SCHOOL. We don’t want that to be true. We want our decisions in this regard to matter much more than they do, but that does not mean that they do any more than lucky socks help baseball players to get on base.
There are lots of nuances to this of course that do relate to “your child”. But this is like analyzing the wearing of seat belts: There are particular crash scenarios in which not wearing a seat belt is preferable to wearing one, but overall wearing a seat belt makes you safer. There are particular dynamics regarding specific schools and specific children that are important to keep in mind, but it is important to know that the actual numbers demonstrate that YOUR CHILD is just as likely to succeed if he or she attends an urban, yes even an “underperforming” urban school, as if he or she attends a school in the leafy green suburbs.
In part two I’ll talk in more specific terms about my experience and, more importantly, the experiences of my offspring.