Posts tagged ‘Elizabeth Warren’

February 8, 2012

Four Hyperactive Parenting Trends and the Fight of the Shrinking Middle Class

Buy this book.

More and more parents of at-least-modest means are taking their children’s education into their own hands. Without further ado, four trends:

1. Homeschooling (a.k.a. “DIY Education”)

In Why Urban, Educated Parents Are Turning to DIY Education (Newsweek/Daily Beast, January 30, 2012), education writer Linda Perlstein interviews homeschooling moms – only moms – who answer the “why” of the article’s title in highly personal ways. None talks about finances. Linda (I know Linda, or I’d call her Perlstein) mentions that some homeschooling parents work full-time or take on part-time gigs. But I have a hunch you’ve got to have a pretty conventional family dynamic – married, with male parent winning the bread – to pull this off. Maybe I’m wrong. But someone needs to pay for health insurance, cover the mortgage and clothes and food, maybe make a car payment and put some money away for college.

What about household finances? Securing high-quality childcare and school options, especially if a couple has more than one child, often costs more than a second income could bring in. That has to be a factor – at least one among the many others – in a middle class family’s decision to homeschool. Now, I know there are stay-at-home dads. But why is it so often the moms who are staying home? Could the choice be more forced – not only by finance, but also by persistent gender discrimination in the workplace – than we’d like to think? The labor market still favors men. So it would make sense to wonder whether homeschooling moms are giving anything up by becoming their children’s educators. Professors Cynthia S. Levine and Nicole Stephens at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern have been looking into it. They published an article this summer called “Opting Out or Denying Discrimination? How the Framework of Free Choice in American Society Influences Perceptions of Gender Inequality.” (Read the press release.)

2. Co-operative and Community Supported Education

Did you catch mom Soni Sangha’s The Pre-K Underground (New York Times, December 16, 2011) on illegal parent co-ops in New York City? This is what it looks like when middle class parents are forced to get creative because the public schools can’t offer them what they need and private school tuition is impossibly out of reach.

I would also lump into this category of “trend” community-supported education. In “Can a Community Support Education?” (Cooperative Catalyst, January 29, 2012), Donna Mikkelsen introduces a private, community-based school called The Garden Road School, which she founded. The school’s story sounds very much like that of a private school in Baltimore called The Greenmount School, and I’m sure there are others like it in cities across the country. These schools are started by parents and represent an affordable independent school option for parents who want an alternative to both the high-anxiety world of upper-crust prep schools – with the endless homework and drive to perform – and the welfare-state interventions of soul-crushing testing dished up by the public schools.

3. Neighborhood School Renaissances

Jacqueline Edelberg and Susan Kurland’s How to Walk to School: A Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance (Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2009) is an account of the transformation of a public school in Chicago called Nettlehorst. The book includes a foreword by Arne Duncan and a short essay by Rahm Emanuel. It’s a story of what can happen when the grit of mostly not-full-time-employed urban gentry moms meets the unstoppable force of a principal extremely open to change.

I credit Edelberg’s book talk of January 19, 2011 at the Enoch Pratt Library with reigniting my passion for working with my neighborhood public school. A number of parent groups in Baltimore are hopping on this train. I think it’s fantastic and – like all the other tactics listed here – fraught with complexity. Freelance writer Amy Landsman interviewed me and several other parents for “School Choice: Options for City Parents” (Baltimore’s Child, October 2011) at the request of the editors there, one of whom is my neighbor. The article also features Judy Chung O’Brien, president of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance and a mom at a traditional public school called Federal Hill Prep. Parents are organizing themselves around schools in Charles Village, Hampden, Bolton Hill. Speaking for myself, if I didn’t feel some serious financial pressure to make my neighborhood public school work for my family this blog wouldn’t exist and I wouldn’t have founded a parent group. It’s more complicated than that, sure. But why not admit money is a driver? A savvy District could do great things for schools now that the housing market downturn will force middle class families with young children to stay in Baltimore City.

4. Parent-Spawned Charter Schools

It’s impossible to talk about charter schools in Baltimore without talking about Bobbi Macdonald and City Neighbors. (In fact, the day after I wrote this sentence, yet another post came out singing its praises.) City Neighbors Public Charter School, which now has two campuses and a high school, has become a shining utopia in what is otherwise painted as an apocalyptic public school landscape. It’s worth remembering that what spawned its founding wasn’t just love but money, or lack of it. The City Paper piece reported by Anna Ditkoff (Late StartBaltimore City Paper, May 12, 2004) starts where the school did, with Macdonald’s wish to find a great school for her eldest daughter. When she couldn’t find one that she loved – and could afford – she started her own, with public funds and pro bono legal services from DLA Piper.

City Neighbors is not the only parent-founded charter school in Baltimore. As far as I know, Patterson Park Charter School, Southwest Baltimore Charter School, Montessori Public Charter School, and Roots & Branches have similar stories, as does the charter-school-in-progress Creative City. The Green School was founded by teachers and a strong cohort of parents. Midtown Academy predates the charter law but is now a charter school, and it includes many parents on its board. I have met parents from every one of these schools. I know some of them very well. We all agree that the charter school model is not an unqualified good – just like every other approach on this list. Though I think the charter school trend represents a social and political menace that none of the others do. (Read this blog.)

What’s It All Mean?

These “trends” – or maybe it would be better to call them “tactics” –  are each a kind of reaction to anxiety among parents who aren’t poor enough to benefit from social services nor rich enough to sniff at the cost of child care and excellent schools. We are the monkeys in the middle. We are often outsiders, new to the communities in which we live, wary of membership in the traditional institutions that used to offer middle class families support. For those of us doing well, affordable childcare and free public schooling add immeasurably to our quality of life. For those not doing as well as our parents did, the anxiety of our kids’ slipping further downward in the class ranks is too much to bear. So we are taking up arms – some alone, some together. We are not going down without a fight.

If I didn’t have a full-time job – a job I truly love, but also very much need – I would write a book.

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September 15, 2011

Middle Class News Roundup

It’s been a big week for the middle class. At least in my Internet meanderings.

I woke up to this:

The income of the typical American family dropped for the third year in a row, putting it at 1996 levels when adjusted for inflation, according to a new Census report. The median earnings for men who work full-time year round is particularly troubling, hitting a low not seen since 1978, when adjusted for inflation.

From the ThinkProgress Morning Briefing for September 14, 2011

Then I read this, in that same morning briefing, which is a nice antidote:

Consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren announced her intention to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) in the 2012 election. Warren built President Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from the ground up. In a statement, she said, “The pressures on middle-class families are worse than ever, but it is the big corporations that get their way in Washington. … I want to change that.”

(Here’s a link to her campaign website: http://www.elizabethwarren.com/)

An antidote to the antidote, this article was in my Yahoo! news slideshow this morning: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/How-to-Escape-the-MiddleClass-usnews-1418898375.html?x=0#mwpphu-container

Then I learned that Blue Chip companies aren’t doing anything to change the situation. What can they possibly do? (Besides promote changes in the tax code. Why would they do that? Or maybe manufacture products in U.S. factories. Again, why would they do that?) What they are doing is changing the way they market goods to respond to a market that’s looking more and more like an hourglass – haves on one side, have nots on the other. “The decline and fall of the American middle class” by Paul Harris sums it all up.

Before I read any of that, this Michelle Rhee tweet led me to an article in the Wall Street Journal from Sept. 12 titled “Middle Class Schools Miss the Mark” by Stephanie Banchero. Apparently, a few days before the 2010 Census data made headlines, Third Way put out a report called “Incomplete: How Middle Class Students Aren’t Making the Grade.” As the title suggests, it’s on the lackluster achievement of middle class public schools – defined broadly as schools with anywhere from 25 to 75 percent of students living in poverty. Apparently it’s not only the poor schools that need Superman. Middle income earners who send their children to underachieving public schools need an intervention as well.

Middle class public schools are “underachieving.” Whether or not that’s a reasonable claim to make, I’m waiting (cynically? logically?) for the specious reasoning that links the decline of the middle class to their lackluster education, rather than to an economy that has shifted capital from manufacturing – which requires a robust middle class – to finance – which has no such need. The education reform establishment is talking that way about people already in poverty. What’s to stop them from doing the same to the people next in line?

Highly educated yet middle class people like me, I guess.

Thoughts?

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