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    Public schools and why we leave

    A personal tale of frustration, regret and, ultimately, white flight from Seattle Schools.
    Graduation, Bainbridge High School, June 2007.

    Graduation, Bainbridge High School, June 2007. Chuck Taylor

    Our broad, broken system of public education has always reminded me of the book Animal Farm. Not because I read Orwell’s work in school — though, of course, I did — but because every brilliant new plan that’s supposed to fix schools in America only succeeds in making them worse.

    Take desegregation. I’m a huge fan of desegregation on a community-wide level. But even as teary-eyed as I get watching black-and-white footage of little black girls being escorted into historically white schools under armed guard, I believe deeply that integration does not work when it’s practiced only by 8-year-olds. It must (why is this such a hard concept?) be practiced by their parents as well.

    Brown v. Board of Education led to widespread busing, which led to sky-high transportation costs, which led to untold damage to the environment and children being snatched out of their own cozy neighborhoods before dawn so they could be driven to schools dozens of miles away. It led to riots and white flight and — according to several educators I know — a higher level of segregation within each school building. It turns out that in forcibly integrated schools, kids are even more prone to cluster with their color. Thus far, no legislation has been able to change this.

    Then, of course, there was the epic disaster that was No Child Left Behind, a blighted government initiative that purported to use benchmarks in order to educated kids equally but resulted in kids being tested rather than taught.

    Worse, the system began rewarding schools and teachers financially if they could prove success, on the head of a child. This, in turn, caused teachers to tell their underperforming students to stay home on test days. Seasoned pros who once went in Sidney Poitier-style to “save” at-risk kids began trading them. I’ll take your ADHD if you’ll take the behavior problem with the meth-addicted mom. And teachers who once dreamed of working in the inner city began clawing their way toward upscale and suburban schools because the pay rate was better. They could buy nicer cars.

    It’s a common problem. The New York Times, in an editorial last month, called it the Highly Qualified Teacher Dodge.

    And who could blame them, these educated workers who want to better themselves and live well? Certainly not I. Yet, when my life and decision were affected by the broken education system, I was — and remain — furious and confused.

    It was July. My husband and I had been living in Seattle for three weeks, in a temporary home provided by his brand-new employer, looking for a house to rent. We toured neighborhoods and looked at schools, measuring the distance. Our daughter, nearly 15, would be joining us in August. She was timid and frightened, moving across the country and away from her brothers, so we wanted to be sure we chose an environment that was good for her.

    Finally, after scouring every niche and corner we could afford, we found a little two-bedroom in Green Lake and were ready to write a check. Luckily, someone at John’s company had recommended we sign our girl up for high school, using our future address, before making any decisions. Her registration went through quickly and we received her assignment: It was a school on the south side of Seattle, at least an hour away by bus.

    That the school was largely minority didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I was pleased. My daughter was coming from a Minneapolis school more Jewish and black than Caucasian. But it was also the highest-rated in the city — one of the top-performing public high schools in the country. There, she’d been about to enter the International Baccalaureate program, along with a handful of multiracial friends.

    But this, the Seattle school to which she’d been assigned, was, I discovered, notorious for two things: crime and a graduation rate of 44 percent. There were no AP classes. And the materials I received from the school — including emails and the official welcome packet — were riddled with grammatical errors.

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    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 8:14 a.m. Inappropriate

    I have two kids, one of whom started here in Seattle in kindergarten this fall. Our cluster would send him to Garfield, and I have some real issues with that, none of which revolve around race. I have heard the same problems to varying extents exist in nearly all the high schools in Seattle, no matter what the racial balance.

    We're sticking with SPS in the hopes that the current superintendent, who is not afraid to fire people and overturn long-held traditions, will actually beat the high schools into shape by 9 years from now. Otherwise, Minneapolis or Bainbridge Island might start looking attractive to us, too.

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 8:40 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm shocked. Social engineering 1) fails to achieve the desired results, and 2) produces a host of unintended consequences.

    The left's answer will probably be "well, we just need better social engineering."

    Here's a radical idea: give parents choice among public schools, rather than having a central buereaucracy or scheme assign their children to a school.


    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 9:07 a.m. Inappropriate

    It's at this point, after finishing an article such as Ann's, that I turn to my wife and say, "Thank you," which in our family is shorthand for "Thank you for not wanting to have children."

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 9:12 a.m. Inappropriate

    bthornton, Seattle has had school choice for decades. Next year it will be all different. Soon, Ann would be guaranteed a spot in the Greenlake neighborbood school, or in any neighborhood she could afford to live in. Will it help south end schools? Unlikely. Will it end white flight? Unlikely.

    The most compelling piece of this article is the evidence for horse-trading. All you merit-pay fans, listen up.

    And Ann, please keep writing from Minnesota!


    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

    Bashing Bainbridge leads one to believe that there are other issues at play beyond 'the perfect school'. The Seattle assignment was poorly handled and the writer should have rented on Mercer Island and not fretted over parties that do not end until 1:00am.


    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 9:22 a.m. Inappropriate

    Under the new plan, Ann could move into that cute house in Greenlake, and her daughter would go to Roosevelt next year which is a terrific school. She could move a little farther north, and her daughter could be part of the International Baccalaureate program at Ingraham, along with my daughter. Lots of other good options exist, without playing any games. That's why I like the new assignment plan. From other stories, we know this family has had a hard start on several fronts, and moving back to Minnesota to finish high school is obviously a wise family decision. But it's not about the schools. It's about lots of things going wrong for this family and their first few months in the northwest.

    And as for the fellow who's worried about Garfield, from everything I've heard that's a terrific school, and man, what an impressive remodel. I trust it will be wonderful in 9 years, when his child is ready to go there. There are many familes from my neighborhood who send their students there and they all seem quite happy. Indeed, they were quite surprised that we wanted something different.

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 9:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    I am a proud (white, middle class) graduate of Garfield High School. I would have never traded my high school experience for one at the best private school in Seattle - or for a life in Minneapolis - those were the kids we always made fun of. Yes, I had classes in damp, creaky portables, and in classrooms with falling ceiling tiles and with teachers who sometimes didn't care enough to learn my name. But, I also had other amazing teachers who taught about surviving in not only the wilderness, but the SPS system. I had teachers that inspired a love of learning. I learned the rewards from self motivation at a young age; I learned that I had to take responsibility for my education or no one else would - and I think this was more valuable experience compared to floating through a well laid out track of AP classes at any north Seattle school. The SPS has a huge achievement gap and is only making baby steps to close it, but I think there is also a rich cultural experience that can be gained from going through it. When I got to college, I already had life experiences that set me apart from most of the sheltered middle class students from the suburbs, preparing me not only for college coursework, but for life as well.

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 9:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    @bthornton - Umm, up until this year, Seattle did give parents choices, which is different than pretty much every other public school system in the country. It didn't help, and arguably made things worse.

    The Seattle Public School system is one of the heart-breaking things about living in this city. And the system is so intoxicated by political correctness that it seems incapable of making wise decisions. It's a case study of well-intentioned liberalism gone amok, and I say that as a flaming lefty liberal.

    Take the WASL, for example. The whole thing is premised on the idea that if a kid can't pass this standardized test, it's entirely the teacher's or school's fault. Absurdly, we all pretend that the inconvenient and obvious truth - that kids/people vary widely in their intellectual abilities - has nothing to do with it.

    Or consider the schools' futile obsession with eliminating performance disparities. So much time and energy is dumped into the worst performing students at the expense of challenging the high achievers in the class room. And that's a virtue?

    Wish I knew what the fix was.


    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

    Funny & sad. A liberal doesn't want to live with the consequences of liberal social policies. It's unfortunate that after 60 years of social engineering and unionization, our schools are failing and no one seems to realize that it's the result of 60 years of social engineering and unionization.

    Why is the answer so difficult to comprehend? Hire the best teachers, pay them according to merit, fire those that don't perform, and let parents choose the schools they want to send their kids to. This is how the world works and how our College & University system works, which is the best in the world. Why are monopolies in business bad, and yet monopolies in the public sector which eliminate competition and innovation good?

    In nature there is "survival of the fittest". In the Private sector, there is capitalism where companies have to compete to survive every day. At the College & University level, schools have to compete for students and are measured by results.

    Why not apply the same tested concepts to primary education?


    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

    A fine and important piece, Ann. I admire your integrity.

    We do need to find a way to cut through our current mess, to ask what matters most for students. Do we want to end teacher flight from poorer schools? Let's raise their pay. Do we want to get parents involved in their children's education? Don't make it harder by sending kids all over the city, even in high school. And if kids aren't spending an hour or two a day getting to and from school, they can spend it doing homework.

    If schools are to be an instrument of social justice, then we need to aim at making all students college-ready. Other schools and school systems have done that, even in highly segregated settings -- there are good studies that show what individual schools that are 90% minority and 90% free or reduced lunch have done to make 90% of their students proficient at reading and math. None of it is rocket science. What it takes is knowledge and leadership at the level of the individual school.

    Reading, writing and math remain the most important subjects for all students, regardless of where they go or what they do after high school. That's where our money needs to be -- and our children's time.


    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 9:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    As one who works in the SPS and is quite familiar with the discrepancies, inadequacies and issues I have to say that the we had to move back to Minneapolis in order to find a decent school is the biggest crock of crack I have heard. Let's face it you really hate Seattle and its weird way of doing stuff. Which means it takes months to get ANYTHING done here in any meaningful way. The school system is a response to it. We cannot DO ANYTHING here without debate, discussion, avoidance and finally complaint about costs.

    You mean you could not move to Mercer Island, Bellevue or Redmond area where the public systems rival any private institutions. You could not with all liberalism send your daughter to Holy Names Academy or The Bush School or any other reasonably priced school? Please. I was not Catholic and I managed to find the Catholic experience fine and my faith uncompromised for the "sake of education."

    Blame the schools they are a MESS but blame the commnunites, socieities and the failure of government to address the real problems why schools in minority areas are such "failures." It has little to do with the teachers, the school system or the school itself. There are greater issues there. Perhaps the poor in Minnesota are a little "less black"

    I know exactly what Seattle is and isn't. But honestly you can afford to maintain two homes in two seperate states and tax structures but not find education here suitable and affordable. Calling your bs here.

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 10:13 a.m. Inappropriate

    @cato -- "If schools are to be an instrument of social justice"

    This is fundamental problem. Schools should be first and foremost an instrument of *education*.

    The irony is that by providing strong academics to the public for free, public schools would be a more effective agent of social justice than they are now.


    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

    A couple of things. I think that Bainbridge Island is a beautiful place to live as I lived the first four years of my life there and then moved to Los Angles. And when growing up, we had neighborhood schools and no problems. While in Jr High forced bussing started, students from a poorer neighborhood went to our schools and surprise, surprise crime and fights went up. I tried to make friends, but almost got beaten up for putting my hand out. These kids were black. In High School, there was no bussing and had some blacks and Mexican-Americans and there was no problems, other then middle class school problems. This was in the San Jose area.
    Keep merit pay for good teachers and the only choice is the public neighborhood school or private school. Also bring back staying back a grade if the student does not pass and discipline kids by suspension or expulsion. Teach ONLY English, Math, History, Geography, and along with that bring back Latin as English words for the most part come from Latin.


    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 1:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    Well, as hard as this must be on you and your family, your daughter will get an education in a state that boasts, arguably, the best public schools and university system in the country.

    Take the time to look up Minnesota's tax structure in the Taxation & Economic Policy table that Matt Fiske linked in his piece on Washington's Taxation Identity Problem article last week. Compare it to Washington's. Then cross-reference that information with the Annie E. Casey's Kids Count Data Center. Minnesota, surprisingly, comes in second. I would have guessed first. Washington, surprisingly, comes in 13th. I would have guessed much lower.

    greengoddess: There are certainly many black kids in the Cities, in fact, President Obama has suggested Minneapolis/St. Paul will be the location of one of his 20 promise neighborhoods.

    Bryan: There are smart liberals and there are bully liberals.

    Dos Equis

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 2:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    The painful dilemma Ms. Bauer so eloquently describes -- impossible choices inflicted by Seattle's "inherently corrupt" public school system -- is nothing new.

    But after half a century of writing about education policy here and in four other states, I must disagree with Ms. Bauer’s notion our schools are “well-intentioned.” The lesson I learned from my encounters with the education establishment is that the failures of U.S. education are deliberate, enduring and ultimately purposeful.

    That’s why education remains the easiest major on any college campus. A U.S. public school classroom -- though occasionally brightened by true pedagogical genius -- is mostly a lifetime sinecure for mediocrities. Which is exactly as it was 50 years ago when Sputnik One momentarily terrified the nation into real education reform.

    Reflect though on how quickly those reforms died. Soon the public schools were again producing the most ignorant graduates in the industrial world, creating an ever-more easily exploited workforce in what has finally been downsized into a permanently jobless national economy.

    While the same problems exist throughout the 50 states -- the reason I so often label us Moron Nation -- education is still somewhat subject to local conditions.

    For example Ms. Bauer’s Minneapolis defiantly remains home to the Humphrey/Wellstone working-class social-conscience and the Midwestern socialist/populist intellectual tradition in general. It therefore has some of the best public schools in the U.S. -- much as, for example, parts of Michigan did (for nearly identical reasons) during the 1940s and 1950s.

    Meanwhile Seattle -- despite its former radical history -- is the domain of what has been documented as the nastiest urban xenophobia in the U.S. Beneath that toxin flows an even darker undercurrent of racism and anti-Jewish sentiment that surfaces in euphemistic froth: the venomous anti-transit bigotry of the past, the vehement pro-Arab bias of the present.

    This combines with a nationally infamous statewide hostility to funding honors programs for exceptionally bright kids. Washington is often at the bottom and in many years has been dead last in dollars and percentages so spent. As that education-Antoinette Dixy Lee Ray said to a delegation of honor-student mothers at the governor’s mansion in 1979, if these kids are so intelligent, “let them use the libraries.”

    And as I implied at the beginning, the plight of Ms. Bauer and her daughter is all too familiar. During the mid-1970s, I watched a dear friend struggle with similar adversities that had a far worse outcome.

    Like Ms. Bauer and her daughter, my friend and her two honor-student children were victims of corporate transfer, brought to Seattle by the careerism of the husband and father.

    My friend’s son had been doing rocket physics in a San Francisco public-school eighth-grade honors program and her daughter had been making college-level art in a comparable tenth-grade curriculum. But Seattle “mainstreamed” both kids -- shunted then into oppressive classes geared to the lowest common mental denominators.

    When my friend protested, school officials first shunned her, then rebuked her: “We don’t pander to intellectual elites. If you don’t like how we do things here, go back to San Francisco.” The local Parent-Teacher Associations were more forceful: “We don’t want people like you here: go back where you belong.”

    Both kids were quickly embittered by boredom and outraged by mandatory conformity. Within a year each had embraced the “why not?” rebellion of angry criminality -- eventually with predictable results.

    Obviously the policies and attitudes that destroyed the lives of my friend’s children prevail in Seattle today: note the spit-in-the-face rudeness of the school officials who refused to return Ms. Bauer’s telephone calls. The only difference is that nowadays the officials (and Seattlites in general) are more passive in their aggression.

    Such is the education system bequeathed Washington by its elected politicians.

    Themselves "inherently corrupt," these politicians will neither confront the obstructionism of the Washington Education Association nor force the malevolently reactionary wealthy to pay their proper share of state and local operating costs.

    Hence the relevance of class-struggle to reform: when viewed from this perspective, it becomes clear how bad schools are an essential part of the ruling class agenda: the expansion and preservation of capitalism at any cost -- absolute power and unlimited profit for the ruling class, total subjugation and bottomless poverty for the rest of us.

    Which explains, despite a half-century of controversy, the education establishment’s Big Lie a teaching certificate gives some barely literate football coach the skill to effectively teach history or English.

    The result -- emphasis on rote form over analytical content -- demands unquestioning obedience and reflexive conformity: the requirements of neo-serfdom. Content on the other hand is potentially dangerous. It may teach the skills of thinking -- and may therefore also inspire rebellion.

    Meanwhile, as Ms. Bauer has so painfully discovered, competent parents have no choice but to go elsewhere -- eventually not just beyond Seattle and Washington state but far beyond the borders of Moron Nation itself.

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 2:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    Seattle Public Schools cannot succeed without attracting middle class children. They have failed miserably at this so far. Seattle has one of the lowest public school participation rates of any major city in the US. Only about 68% of Seattle children attend public schools compared to 80-90% for normal US cities.

    Low appeal aggravates most of our other issues with our Seattle Public Schools. High market share is critical to have community support for public schools, to be able to pass taxes that fund the public schools, and to maximize the involvement of parents in helping the schools. Seattle Public School funding from state and federal sources also is directly tied to enrollment.

    This is a death spiral that has been going on for many years. Whatever we do with Seattle Public Schools, attracting the middle class back in our schools will have to be part of the solution. Until most parents see Seattle Public Schools as an attractive option, our schools will have little support, fail to improve, and fail to educate the children of Seattle.

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 2:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm glad some comment writers worth reading have (at this point, anyway) raised the level of discussion in this thread instead of letting readers who ridicule writers personally instead of responding civilly to their ideas shut the dialogue down. I wish Crosscut would delete ad hominem insults the moment they arrived, and I'm embarrassed by how rudely and provincially a newcomer to Seattle has been treated in some of the comments on her articles.

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 3:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    CORRECTION: two errors -- one that makes me look senile, the other an obvious typo -- each resulted from my aging computer's (occasional but perplexing) failure to copy highlighted material from the Word format in which I write longer posts. The former error is in the third paragraph: Sputnik One was launched 52 years ago. The latter error, in the 11th graf, was an arthritic-fingered substitution: the sentence in question should read, But Seattle “mainstreamed” both kids -- shunted them into oppressive classes geared to the lowest common mental denominators.

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 4:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    Public school choice would give Ann the ability to place her child where she and her husband thought best. It would have solved her problem.

    The reason public school choice hasn't improved the system as it potentially could is because of a stiled bureaucracy that is incapable of responding to the signals sent by parents choosing to not send their children to a particular school.

    The real crime is that principals control less than 90% of their schools' budget and staff decisions. They're not allowed to make the sort of changes that can respond to the fallout of choice--removing poorly performing teachers, re-allocating resources based on particular student need, etc. They're not allowed to be true leaders and entrepreneurs. They're cogs in a bureaucracy.

    Public school choice will only work if schools are freed from the shackles of a centralized system. Central planning and social engineering ad nauseum will not fix Seattle's school woes.

    Read this excellent study for more info on how to truly reform public K-12 education:


    @HowardBaldwin, your defeatist statement is so very sad. How will society change if good people don't raise up good children to change it?


    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 5:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    Consider online public education such as WAVA (Washington Virtual Academy) run through www.k12.com.

    Your child could learn while at home. WAVA has a great number of AP and Honors classes, there is no crime online, no peer pressure, no raunchy language, one can work more at one's own pace, there's no school bus, the SAT scores are signficantly higher than the WA state average, and the teachers are great. A student also can take an additional class.

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 7:50 p.m. Inappropriate


    Come on down to Federal Way. Rents are lower and you will have your choice of either the International Baccalaureate or Cambridge University programs. In addition we have the Public Academy which has some of the highest achievement scores in the State. With the new light rail and free parking it is an easy commute.

    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 9:49 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'll say this civilly, or try to.

    It's ironic that the parents who are complaining about the school assignments their teenagers are given (including the Ann of the article) were probably educated themselves at neighborhood schools. It's also likely that if their parents moved to a new area, their employer(s) did not give them a house while they looked around for the perfect one to buy, nor did their parents likely have the personal freedom from work to "scour" the city looking for schools. And it's also likely that Ann's generation simply accepted the education they received and (perhaps through great personal effort but still, they did it) got through higher education so they could have careers and financial freedom. Put simply, they made it without their parents and all of society turning cartwheels for them.

    The best thing you can do for your child is not have them be terrified of a move, or a new school, or a long bus ride, by your own reaction to it. They're going to have to live without you at some point. Fifteen is not too young to see your parents deal with reality in a relatively calm manner. Parents catastrophizing publicly about what most people experience as simply ordinary life is not a good behavior model for a child.


    Posted Mon, Dec 14, 10:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    Sarah, I am glad you posted and I think it was well said. I couldn't agree more. That was the most important thought I had spring into my head after reading this piece.

    Honestly, as a graduate of the Seattle Public Schools, a former teacher, and current mentor for local (public) low-income high school students in the area, I was worried about making myself upset by reading this article. What bugs me is that it these articles are most often written by middle or upper middle class parents who care a lot about their childs' intellectual development. Believe me; I know college is more competitive, scholarships are getting harder to attain, and these days with the economy tuition is hiking up while financial aid is drying up. There's a lot of reasons to be worried about your child's intellectual development these days.

    However, if a parent or family cares about the intellectual development of their child, then supplement their time in school. There are so many unique after school and summer programs for kids and teens here in Seattle. It just seems like lately people have expected SO MUCH from public school; yes maybe they are able to accomplish it in Bainbridge or Issaquah, places with smaller much more homogeneous populations of kids. But, face it. Unless something drastic changes, a big public school system like Seattle is going to on average have average education. I had some stellar teachers, and like all schools, some crappy ones. My admin was inconsistent, but not to my detriment - being in public school helped me adapt to change.

    Either way what frustrates me is the lack of empathy for others who don't have the choice. Think about children of immigrants, or children who will be first generation college kids; oftentimes there are big barriers (working night shifts, many jobs, not speaking english, etc.) for their parents to advocate for their school. I have no doubt your kid will be fine; I made it and am successful.

    Ann, I'm glad you wrote this piece. I understand your frustration. I'm frustrated every time I talk to one of my students and they relay awful stories about their teacher, or the mindless punishment in detention. But if this is such an awful, scary problem, why run away from it? If you care so much about your child's education, why only think about hers?


    Posted Tue, Dec 15, 8:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    Man, this woman missed the boat. She really didn't do her homework to get what she wanted. There is a whole enclave for limousine liberals, it's called Mercer Island.

    Apparently what she wants for her daughter's education is racial diversity without the class diversity that often goes along with it.

    Meanwhile, those of us who really are "city people" are sending our kids to public school and doing what we can day in and day out to make the system better by participating.

    Seems to me she really didn't have the investment in staying in town anyway, and that the school issue is a convenient way to get out of town. If you really want something to work, you find a way.


    Posted Tue, Dec 15, 11:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    I love the northwest but I would also be the first to concede that the Seattle School District has issues. And that the midwest has many fine schools.

    It seems to me that Ann has talked herself into a rather tight corner. She can't do many of the private schools (Catholic is a problem). She can't do the others (too expensive). She can't do the island life (not diverse, isolated). She can't do the far away diverse urban school (too far away, not a good fit). She can't do the solid local school (she might be displacing someone). I am certain that there are reasons why Tacoma, Bellevue, Mercer Island, Federal Way and the Puyallup districts would not work either.

    If the twin cities are where her friends and her heart are, that makes total sense. A fine part of the country. But the idea that one can't find a quality education here and still live ethically I find hard to accept. If going to another school besides the original assigned school would be white flight, what is going to Bainbridge? What is going to MSP anyting but running away from a failing school (albeit running much further away).

    First, there are a ton of other school districts in this area. Some with great reputations (Mercer Island, Newport, Bellevue, etc.). Would none of those work? The flight to better school districts may very well have a racial element but most parents are not fleeing as much as they are looking for a better result for their children. As much as anything, they are moving toward something more positive. Want something more diverse? There are tons of those districts as well; many with very good academic results. There are also activities (including those focusing on social justice) that one can participate in, as a high school student, that might broaden your horizons.

    Second, I don't understand how working within the system is a moral issue. To the contrary. You could both pick a local school to attend and still advocate improvement at that AND at other schools as well. Perhaps mentor or otherwise volunteer at some of the underperforming schools?

    Third, at some point soon, Ann will be helping her daughter select a college. Is displacing another potential student OK within that context? How is that really any different?

    Posted Wed, Dec 16, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

    There are four points to the compass. You've only eliminated two. Move north. Move east. You can live very close to Seattle and still find some of the grit and urbanity you want to expose your child to. Not all - I'll give you that. There is no island premium or ferry. Hundreds of thousands of new entrants to the region have gone to the near-burbs before you, and we are not all hopeless dullards. Our children are bussed to school. They attend with neighborhood kids. I moved to Shoreline on Sept. 1 and my children were in schools - safe ones, where people care - the next day. Guilt? Nope. Regrets? Sure. But the social conditions here are not a new entrant's fault.


    Posted Thu, Dec 17, 8:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    I don't have kids and had no idea that the school situation was that bad in Seattle. Wow. And I did not know that there is a high school in seattle with a 44% (!) graduation rate that sends out material to parents that is full of grammatical errors.

    Just wanted to say how much I appreciated the piece. For me it was very eye-opening, and incidentally, extremely well-written.


    Posted Fri, Dec 18, 4:21 p.m. Inappropriate

    Schools in any city are enough to make a parent's head explode: public schools (public alternative school?), private schools (religious? prep?), homeschooling, coops, unschooling, etc. My daughters are still preschool age and it's very difficult to navigate. When you consider that schools are a long-term time investment, the shrinking tax base in many suburbs is also very worrying: see recent layoff scares in Issaquah and LWSD.

    Seattle Public Schools does seem particularly bad at helping parents in this process, though. The life of the city has educational value beyond simple test scores: not just diversity but service orientation toward those less fortunate, the role of the built environment in human life, and our cultural institutions. Someone needs to market these advantages.


    Posted Tue, Dec 22, 7:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    I appreciate learning the writer's experiences -- and her moral struggle to adapt to the Seattle way. I think the decision to have her daughter finish her high school back in the Twin Cities is the best solution to a bad situation. But it's evident that the writer certainly learned a lot out here.

    I have a couple of comments on the remarks of previous posters.

    eyesopen writes
    The most compelling piece of this article is the evidence for horse-trading. All you merit-pay fans, listen up.

    But, if you were to think on it, what you call 'horse-trading' is in reality a 'market' at work, albeit a sub-rosa market. This is the natural result when rules and regulations interfere with the desires of the populace (cf. marijuana today, alcohol in the 1920's, etc. etc.). Thurman Arnold, in his classic book 'The Folklore of Capitalism' drives home that point that sub-rosa markets arise whenever desires are frustrated by law.

    So, what is castigated as horse-trading is simply inevitable, unavoidable consequence. It shouldn't surprise anyone.

    One might also benefit from reading Thomas Schelling's 'Micromotives and Macrobehavior', which explores and explains quite simply how & why people sort themselves in societies.

    — go_back_to_the_midwest writes
    When I got to college, I already had life experiences that set me apart from most of the sheltered middle class students from the suburbs, preparing me not only for college coursework, but for life as well.

    Nice screen-name, go_back. Say, I just have to ask: did you learn that dismissive attitude at Garfield, too? Or did you acquire it at college? btw: Is that a liberal attitude or a reactionary one? -- it's hard for me to distinguish.

    Posted Thu, Dec 24, 10:56 p.m. Inappropriate

    Either the author of this article did not exhaust her options or simply didn't write a complete description of the options she considered. There are, as others have mentioned, a number of different choices that should have satisfied - including Ingraham and Sealth (with IB), NOVA, Shoreline, and others.

    For those who blame "social engineering" and believe that school choice will somehow solve everything, they seem to be unaware that the District has been offering school choice. That's why Ann's child could not attend the good, local high school. So many people chose it that it was full. The popular schools cannot hold all of the students who would choose them, and therefore the choice system failed. Got it? They tried choice and it didn't work. Stop recommending choice.

    I also find it ironic that the people who support merit pay for teachers and paying them more to attract better teachers also tend to be the people who want to cut the very taxes that provide that pay and tend to be the ones who complain about how much teachers earn. The conservative movement needs to think through their perspective on public education. As it stands, it's inconsistent and incoherent. Hot tip: a free market will not work here because the state constitution and our society has determined that will we provide universal service. That requirement eliminates any sort of free market - as if there were a free market for anything anywhere.

    The problem that Ann, and others, confronted was the grosteque disparity between Seattle schools. The solution, of course, would be for the District to take a hand in setting a baseline for school course offerings, and for setting and enforcing curricular requirements. As chance would have it, that is exactly what the District is doing. This problem is directly a result of the mindless devotion to site-based management, or, more accurately, the abdication of central management, as practiced by the past three superintendents. Get it? John Stanford, Joseph Olchefske, and especially Raj Manhas were utter failures at their job. Not because they were incompetent but because they refused to do it. They saw schools spiraling down and did nothing to save them. The current superintendent will exercise the district's duty and authority to provide quality assurance. This superintendent is introducing the wildly radicaly idea of making people's jobs clear to them and then, amazingly, actually checking to see if they did their jobs. It's called management.

    Ann was ill-informed and therefore made ill-formed choices. That doesn't make here unique; there are lots of people who are ill-informed about Seattle Public Schools. The good news is that within a few years, if the Superintendent's efforts are successful, it won't be as difficult to become well-informed or to make good decisions.


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