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October 23, 2007


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well, that means my guess that you were a stuyvesant alum (like me) is wrong... i was so convinced, though! in any case, good for you and your commitment to public education. i went to nyc public schools all the way thru and plan for my kids to do the same.


As a fellow alum of your school, I agree with everything you're saying.

Don't you think the school has changed since we were there? Back then, it seemed like MOST of the parents struggled to send their kids there. Now, it seems as if it's filled with the progeny of the uber-wealthy.

mr. big dubya

So - how was that pie?

An Ask Marilyn reference and a quick quip using a revenge tragedy - not really public school fare. Hell, not even old school.

Maybe you could resort to, "I'm Rick James, bitch!"


Oh, Marilyn vos Savant. In our house, her first name was "Ask".

My husband is a high school math teacher in the school system of a fairly affluent community and it's never the kids who make him frustrated; it's the parents. At one meeting with a parent and other teachers about a bevy of missed homework assignments, the parent asked them when someone was going to teach her kid to get organized. Um. None of their subjects is Organization, especially in high school, when the kid has a car, an iPod, a TV in his room, and a laptop. Sometimes, his stories are too much. It's a real shame.


I love it when smart parents like you stick up for public education. I'm a former teacher who was paid so little that my own child could qualify for the free and reduced lunch. That's fucked.


//I've never understood why teachers aren't compensated better.//

That one is easy. Becoming a teacher is easy to do. Note, I'm not saying that being a good teacher is easy. However, an education degree is within reach of just about anybody that can get into college. And since just about anybody can get into college these days...

Contrast that with professional baseball player. It's insanely difficult to make it to the majors, thus ARod makes $300K every time he strikes out in a crucial situation.

I'm not aware of any studies, but my gut feel is that doubling teacher pay across the board would do nothing to improve educational results. It's not a job you are going to do better at just because they pay you more. Also, most of the problems with public schools are institutional and not within the control of the teachers in the first place.


COD...I totally agree with you that throwing money at the problem is unlikely to change the institutional problems with public education.

However, in the case of teacher pay, I think that the low pay serves as an extreme disincentive for bright people to pursue a lifelong career in teaching. The median pay for K-12 teachers in the U.S. is about $32,000. They really could make more flipping burgers at Mickey D's!

I know plenty of people who would have pursued careers in teaching if only the pay were just enough to even live off of.

It'll be interesting to see what happens in NYC as the mayor attempts to link teacher pay to performance.


I've been a teacher for 10 years and it has yet to surprise me how little or unwilling parents are in getting involved in their child's education. You'd think it would be the MOST important thing in their life, wouldn't you?


well, your assertion that teachers make $32k per year is possibly inaccurate since it comes from a lobby group, the american federation of teachers. not the most unbiased of sources. according to the bureau of labor statistics (http://stats.bls.gov/oco/ocos069.htm#earnings), the average salary for all public and secondary schools in the u.s. was $46,597 in 2004.

teacher pay isn't the issue. the avg. teacher isn't underpaid (except in NYC, since the cost of living is so high, but that is their choice. they shouldn't be surprised that when a bunch of people decide to live on an island, at some point you run out of room and the laws of supply and demand still applies, and if they are surprised, they should turn in their college degrees and not be teaching children, but i digress). the real issue is how teachers and school districts are managed and operated. the system is such that the average person would assume that school district operations were intentionally designed to be as inefficient as possible.

i know that most new yorkers are self-identified liberals, but on the issue of public education, i don't think anyone can afford to be "taken in" by the false statistics spouted by the AFT.

Kate C.

I'm here to rep the tiny Catholic Schools where parents struggle to pay even the minimal tuition charged and the school still churns out people who get your "hilarious" Shakespeare jokes. ;)

When I started public high school, I was shocked that so little could be done with so much.

dutch from sweet juniper

that's what mass popularity will do, I guess. most folks these days know far more about kimora than tamora, although I have heard the former prefers to feast on raw baby fat in her pies.

Mama Nabi

Ah... I, too, waffle regarding LN's education. It would be nice to be able to throw out a literary quip and have someone get it around the house. Although... I think Tamora references will have to wait along with Medea references... mothers who are too damn bloody.
Maybe I'll wait and see what YOU end up doing... :-)


The idea that it's easy to become a teacher is laughable to me. I'm currently in the top-rated teacher ed program in the state of Georgia (okay, so it's the best of a bad lot) and I'm working my BUTT off. I had to pass two advanced tests and get through a rigorous interview process before I was even accepted into the program. Every semester we carry 15 credit hours and put in 224 hours of field experience. It's a four-semester program.

On the subject of teacher pay... if you want teachers to be more accountable for things like test scores and 'organization', pay them the kind of money that accountable people get paid. Pierre, I'd venture to say that you're pretty accountable for every damn thing that goes on at your company and your salary reflects that. After I graduate I will earn between $28,000 (Fayette County) to $38,000 (APS) per year and will be responsible for 20 lives for 9 months.

Incidentally, most of the high-end quotes regarding teacher education is off-set by the fact that many teachers have advanced degrees and/or have been teaching for many years. While $46K may sound more appealing than $36K, it's out of reach for someone just looking at the profession. If I want to earn $46K I need to get two more degrees past my bachelor's and stay in the system for 8+ years.

Frankly, with my IQ I probably could be a rocket scientist (all humility aside). I'm choosing to go into education because I believe that I can worldwide change at a grass-roots level -- that whole "Think globally, act locally" notion.

I don't want to turn my blog into an Edu blog, but I've started writing the occasional post about it.


Bossy hates when everyone in her class wins a Pulitzer.

Angie in Texas

in the end (or the beginning depending how you decided to look at it) i decided to send the kids to public school. they had been in a private pre-school, but i went to public school as did most of my friends (one of which is a rhodes scholar, many more are attorneys, doctors and what not.) the thing that distinguished us from the other slackers in school were our parents - they were either hounding us to do well, punishing us bc we weren't doing well or made home life so miserable we *wanted* to be in school. teachers are there to teach reading, writing and arithmetic - not organization, how to behave like a civilized member of society or discipline our children. . . that's our jobs as parent(s)! (but let my child deserve a little discipline and it's on. i'm korean, i can't help it . . . )


"If I want to earn $46K I need to get two more degrees past my bachelor's and stay in the system for 8+ years."

then you should go to another system, the system you're planning to teach in pays less than the national average, apparently.

why would you teach in that system? in fact, someone of your caliber NOT teaching there would show that district that the market rate for quality is higher than what they are willing to pay. and in your time at school, if you've taken econ 101 you'd realize what that means.

if you, and those like you, decide to work in districts with at least average wages then you will drive the wages offered up in fayette county or APS. it's called market driven wages. something that teachers should realize instead of relying on the AFT to help them. teachers must help themselves or they can watch their profession go the way of the UAW job.


Guy, if your mom was a public school teacher and sent you to private school, doesn't that give you the hint that your kid shouldn't be in public school?


I suppose public schools vary depending on the funding of your local government, but here in Arizona, there are more private (we call them charter) schools than public ones. The reasons are numerous and varied, but the lack of funding for anything public in the southwest is one good reason, as is the huge numbers of illegal immigrants here that send their children to public schools (we have to teach them how to speak English per court order). As a nation, we get what we pay for. We haven't been paying much during our generation. I wonder if you would be willing to send Peanut to one of our schools?


Do you think you would have been able to make that hilarious Shakespeare joke if you had gone to public school?

Jamie E.

My son is a very bright kid in a terrible public school and it frightens me how much he's not learning. In the past several years, class sizes have gotten bigger while programs like art and music have been completely cut out.

I don't know what the public schools are like in NYC but I say if you can afford to send your kids to private school, DO IT!


"Besides, if public education is ever going to work in a city like New York, it's going to involve parents who can afford to send their kids to private school but choose not to."



Teachers need to get paid more and parents need to be more involved in the school.

Haven't we gotten past the point where parents just drop their kids off like it's a babysitter service.

The best schools I've seen (and taught at) are where the teachers are treated well and the parents support THEM and their kids' learning.

I love the idea of public school, but the thought of my daughter not getting exposed to the arts, and getting a 20 minute lunch/recess all so she can make the school look good with high test scores turn me off.

Something needs to change.

Thank God 2008 is coming!


//Thank God 2008 is coming//

If you think a change in administration will have any noticeable effect on the public schools you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Unfortunately, the institutional machine is well beyond the reach of mere politicians at this point. Both the kids and the teachers are victims of a system that as stated above, almost appears to be designed for failure.


I hate it when people leave comments like

"Marilyn vos Savant"

but that really was funny, MD. I like it when you salt your writing with A Tribe Called Quest lyrics, for what it's worth.

Paige Jennifer

I say public the Peanut up to 7th grade and then ship her off to boarding school. Yeah, I'm totally suggesting my childhood wishes that were ignored. But the connections people make at boarding school seem to be priceless in the real world. Don't understand it but definitely see it. And for the record, I went to a Philly prep. One run by anti-semitic Quakers and attended by practicing Jews. Talk about a quandry. It was insanely expensive, had a top reputation and scarred me until age thirty. What my parents spent on tuition I've spent on therapy.


Halim, those are my only real choices: the counties in my area or Atlanta Public Schools. If I could commute to NYC to get $46K, I would. All the advanced econ talk doesn't take away the reality of geography.

Sadly, I'm afraid that "2008 will change everything" is probably short-sighted. COD is right: the machine is too large for meaningful change to take place quickly. And if the teacher's unions were as powerful as people seem to think they are (as opposed to, say, the pharmaceutical lobby) then things might happen more quickly.


This has got to be parenting topic # 1 for bringing up a whole slough of paradoxes, at least in my mind. The state of public schools is pretty scary, but the thought of abandoning them seems more frightening still.

the other amy

I guess it's a trade-off.

I'm a Catholic school graduate circa 1984 and I'm right there with your Titus joke (and could probably even translate it into Latin) but my public school educated teen-agers can design a webpage, whip thru computer programming and understand things like industrial toxicology, conflict studies and quantitive economics that make my brain hurt.
Children today learn different types of things and educators tend to pay more attention to what will benefit them monetarily (technological stuff, etc) than to what will benefit their souls and spirits (language, art, literature, etc). Sad, but true.

Someone mentioned parental involvement, and that is so dead on. No matter how good the school is, nothing helps more than knowing that you have parents at home who will push you, challenge you and expect the best of and for you. That is a priceless commodity many children are missing. Heck, Sean Preston and Jayden what's his name are millionaire kids but I bet, given what they've experienced so far, they'll think Cymbalta is a Shakespearean heroine.


I commend you for wanting to have your daughter receive the benefits of a public school education. My wife and I had the same idea when our children were younger.

Ultimately we felt that the schools were failing our children. My oldest was extremely bright and, even after skipping a grade, was never being challenged academically. My youngest was a little slow developmentally and never received the special care he required.

Eventually we abandoned the public school system and sent the kids to private school. Yes, we're lucky enough to be able to afford it. However, it really wasn't our ideal decision. Circumstances changed and we had to do what was best for our children.

I hope things work out differently for the Peanut. It's the mark of a system's failure when parents who WANT to send their schools to public schools feel that they no longer can.


My husband and I argue about public vs. private school all the time (he's private, I'm public). What bugs me is that there's no evidence that private schools are better, once you remove the selection effects. If you're going to charge me $30k/year, I want to see some proof that you're not just coasting on the fact that I'm making my kid do math drills on a timer, as my mom did before me. I talk to parents all the time who apparently feel like they got their money's worth because the classrooms are pretty and there are lots of computers, but that has diddly/squat to do with learning. See for example our old pediatrician's office, which is kind of a dump (cracked vinyl, old formica), but offered probably the best care in that city.

All the literature I've read says that parents influence their kids more than teachers, with principals running a distant second. And I could buy the kid a LOT of enrichment for $30k even if it turned out that the public school is say, 30% less good. But frankly I am skeptical.


Yes, yes, and more yes about the whole public education situation. More and more teachers move to the suburbs to teach because theyg et paid a good 25% higher, and don't ahve to deal with the scary stuff - the suburbs have a bigger tax base, so they can quite afford great public schools.

It's the same thing with libraries. When I worked for NYPL, I was getting paid about the same as your average oarsman on a Roman trireme. NYPL doesn't keep its librarians long, 3 years is pretty average. About how long I stayed, too.

(And yeah, head pie is about as bad as head cheese, if you ask me.)


Education is in crisis pretty much everywhere around the globe. So much taht underpaid teachers should be treated as a worldwide issue at this point.

I live in a country where teachers get paid less that the guy that cleans the streets; and most likely that guy dropped out before finishing elementary school, while teachers undergo 4 years of tertiary education and fullfill a lot of other requirements to be able to teach. I mean, my own mother is a teacher and begged me not to go into teaching.

I don't really know how the system works in the USA, but here it really ain't that great. Still, teachers do find ways to put "pressure" on the goverment. Although that sometimes means students are left with no classes because of strikes.

Most recently, the state University (the largest one here and the only one free), the public Elementary Schools and HighSchools went on strike until the goverment aprooved the needed 30million dollars to increase the teachers' pay to a still shameful amount.

Someone on the comments said that if you don't want to make so little money, then you should stay out of teaching. I'd like to say that it is because of those teachers that choose to stay in teaching even though the pay plain-old s-u-c-k-s, that children get to have better educations. Imagine what would the Educational system be like if those who do it "por amor al arte" -as we say here- left. Ha! now that's a scary thougth!


(Wait, did you just call us uneducated and incapable of pithy observation?)

I almost applied to your alma mater (if I'm correct) until my parents discovered that they could ship me off to school. I was one of those public-to-boarding-school stories. I'm definitely not opposed to public school, but it would have to be a damn good public school after what I experienced.

Everywhere I turn in my family, there is a public school teacher -- a JADED public school teacher. Their stories are enough to scare me. It's not just about the pay (although that makes the rest not really worth it). As many people said: It's the system, the parents (and thus, the students).

And unfortunately, you are going to find fluff-n-fold parents at any kind of school. There are plenty of hedge-fund parents who expect their kids' teachers (or nannies) to parent for them.

Public School

I was attended a public school. I think I got a great education. I will send my kid to our great public schools so her can get a great education as me.
I hope our kids can meet one day at our great public school and grow up to be great minds of our future. Maybe one will become president, or discover something like the internet.

Yours truly,

rocket scientease


Interesting reason for sending Peanut to public school. I must say that my own public school education is a bit skewed (think San Francisco's version of Stuyvesant) but I can see why you would want to allow your daughter to experience it. If not for her sake, or the sake of the general public, then for the sake of your readers who really don't want to see you resort to using "Mother-Effer" as a catchphrase.


I just started reading your blog two posts ago, but I have to say I enjoy it so far.

As for the school systems, it varies from location to location. My (public) high school in NH was very good, with a 98% college graduate rate. The teachers were paid poorly and when they finally got a raise all the parents complained!

My husband, on the other hand, went to a public high school where the teachers were overpaid, go tenured and couldn't be fired. They didn't care about their students education and most students never went to college.

So it's maybe it's not about how much a teacher is paid but how the school system treats them, and how much the parents participate in their child's education.


aunrea brings up an interesting point. i went to a public high school where many kids didn't go on to college. instead, they stayed in the same small town and pursued menial jobs.

my husband went to a private high school in the same town where almost everyone went to college. in fact, many ended up going to ivy league schools (or equivalent.)

that experience alone has convinced us to send our kids to private school. 'course we don't have kids yet but that's a subject for a whole other comment!


Well, I'm with you on the public school thing. As another commenter said, there is no evidence that private school is better anyway.

Titus Andronicus makes Tarantino look like Sunday School. But did you really study it in high school? We read Hamlet, MacBeth, and Romeo and Juliet in my (rural, public) high school, but I didn't read Titus until I was in college. I'm sure teenage boys would love it, though!

Spencer at pinkbluecafe.com

If you severely reduced the salary and bonus, how many I-bankers would still tell you how much they loved it?

I think money is part of the solution. The ones who love teaching will do it regardless of the pay. But the pay could motivate, or de-motivate, potentially very good teachers who just decide to do something else.

Another issue is that we live in a quantifiable culture. And it is not easy to quantify good teaching/good education and therefore justify by how much budgets should be augmented. I take test scores as potential indicators of quality but far from sufficient measures and potentially harmful to quality education under certain circumstances.

Marcus Andronicus

On a side note, I think you have the smartest readers in the entire blogosphere. Fascinating to see both constructive debate and a healthy difference of opinions expressed so intelligently.


My kids attend public school. They've been in private, they've been homeschooled, and public school was, by far, the best option for our family. I LOVE the school my kids attend. They offer a lot of what Horace Mann must have offered you, but it's free.

However, if I lived in the CIty, there is no way I would send my kids to a public school. Not because the teachers are bad. They aren't. Not because the education isn't good. It can be excellent. But because the buildings are falling apart and the city doesn't maintain them. They're in decay and they're depressing. School should be in clean buildings with bright colors and nice sturdy furniture. NYC public schools, like Boston public schools, can't offer that.

I'd also worry about the violence, but not until middle school, where it tends to get really ugly even in the tony suburbs.

FWIW, NYC teachers are very well paid for teachers, and if NYC wasn't ridiculously expensive, they could probably live a comfortable life there. But when you have to spend $1500+ sq ft for a decent place, who can afford to live there?

I think the lower grades are the ones that would be better in private school. You could always put Peanut in a good public high school, one that tests applicants and has other motivated smart kids. She's get both experiences that way. But honestly, look at your local school VERY carefully, and ask questions about the infrastructure. Does the heat work? Do they have air conditioning that works? Is there asbestos in the school ceilings? Does the roof leak? Do they have enough books for both home and school? Are the desks sturdy and clean? Do the lights work? Is there a safe evacuation plan? A playground on the roof? A library that has books in it?

I think you'll make the right decision, but really...consider what advantages you got from going to Horace Mann. The connections you make, the things you were exposed to, the classes they offered... all that needs to be taken into account.


I saw a study a while back ago that showed that suburban high schools were no safer than the city schools parents flee to the burbs to ignore.

Link to study.


..flee the burbs to avoid.

Spell check should know what I mean, not what I type :)


Great discussion. One my husband and I haven't had to have yet, as we don't have children. However...I imagine I'd feel similarly if confronted with making
that decision.


I only wish more parents like you (who can afford to send their kids to private school) chose to send their kids to public school instead. Like everything else, real change will only come from the inside.


I applaud your desire to send you daughter to public school. And I also agree with you that parent involvement in a child's education is extremely important. But there is one extremely important factor you are leaving out, that of a child learning from her peers and being motivated by her peers. I attended the equivalent of Horace Mann (tack on a very competitive national exam to get in) , in another country. My classmates were wealthy, but also extremely intelligent, extremely motivated and competitive. We riled each other up and in a show of one upmanship, worked really hard, learned a lot and performed better than our own teachers. 100% of my classmates went to college, almost all are extremely productive, successful, competent, confident. My parents, especially my Dad, was more detached than a tissue box during my education and my mother can barely spell. She has no formal education. Your peers are extremely important. Horace Mann obviously provided the right kind of peer group for you and that's what you should be seeking for the Peanut, public or private.


Shakespeare went to a public school.


Actually, Shakespeare came from a fairly affluent family in and attended the King's New School. The school was technically a "free school" but was known throughout the area as an elite institution that emphasized an intensive education in Latin and the classics.


1. Teachers are poorly paid because we do not value work that involves children or service. Nurses are also underpaid. Child care workers are treated the worst. Even affluent parents don't want to pay a living wage to the person who is raising their child.
2. I really think it is important to match the school to the child. It is not about private v. public v. homeschooling. It is all about a good match. Different children need different things from their school. Hope you find the right match for your little sweetheart.


If you don't think No Child Left Behind hasn't negatively affected schools, then I'm not sure you're living in this country.

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