How Far Do You Go To Secure Your Kid The “Best” Education?

Ahhhhh I am so torn about Alisa Quart’s Atlantic article about highly paid consultants who help affluent families find paths for their kids into the “best” urban public schools. Because, on some level, I get it! I too want my child to have a great education. I don’t want to spend the next twelve years fretting that it was selfish not to move to the suburbs.

The stakes can be high, so high they cause nose-bleeds: “the difference in a ‘good’ public school, where a PTA raises up to a million dollars a year, and a ‘normal’ public school can be the existence of basics such as substitute teachers or even recess.”

You don’t want to condemn your kid to 12 years without recess. I mean, come on. I definitely learned as much on the playground as I did off of it.

But the details in the piece are cringe-inducing. In a painfully segregated school system like NYC’s, questions like “Which schools have families like yours?” feel as dog-whistle-y as anything coming out of the Republican primary.

There’s this too:

“As many as 28,000 kids will be taking the test for schools but most have never done prep,” she told a crowd of parents who, despite a snowstorm, had gathered in Brooklyn last winter to hear about high-school admissions, many wearing heavy, knit sweaters and fashionably worn jeans. “They think they are smart but they walk out halfway through. They are not all your kids, who are beautifully prepped!”

UGH, GROSS. That makes me feel terrible for the kids who “think they are smart” but didn’t have access to the prep that comes standard for students from families with more resources. What kind of meritocracy are we playing at? Magnet schools shouldn’t simply be magnate schools. (See what I did there?)

It also reminds me of the parent who heard that his school district was going to futz with zoning to make education more equitable and objected even though he sends his kids to private school. Quoth he: “I’m not a racist” but, but! “we want the best for our property value.”

Quart voices some of these same concerns.

Who was going to give this information to those who can’t afford it? What about the kids for whom a great or a failing school will be the difference between a successful life and an economically and intellectually deprived one? I had reported on some of these economically struggling families — American parents who were caregivers, who were retail workers — and I knew how little they knew (and were told) about test dates, application days, and the relative benefits of various public schools for their children. Where could those parents turn?

“My work is about keeping the middle-class and upper-middle class in the public schools,” [the consultant] told me.

Well, of course it is. The consultant is not doing this pro bono; the middle-class and upper-middle-class parents are the ones paying her. Her job is not to steer affluent parents towards schools that may be less stellar — say, 7s on the Great Schools index, rather than 8s, 9s, or 10s — but that could really benefit from an influx of motivated students and their families. Instead, it’s to reinforce a status quo that begins in Kindergarten so that it continues to benefit only a thin slice of the city’s population.

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