kitchen table math, the sequel: They Do What They Do

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

They Do What They Do

After an exhaustive and exhausting school search, and an additional exhausting soul search, we chose to send our eldest to a private school for Kindergarten. It was not my first choice, nor my second, but those two were charters on which we're 100+ on the waiting list. It was, literally, the last school of the 10 I visited.

It had only 1 of the 4 "wants" on my list, making it 1 more than most schools I visited. (Only one school had 2: one of the charters we're wait listed at.) (The 4 wants were: 1) half day, 2) use phonics, 3) use Singapore Math, 4) have recess in addition to lunch recess.) They use Orton Gillingham to teach phonics. But they do have music, art, gym, library, and an ice rink, with ice skating for the kindergarteners. Still, I wanted to believe. They have been working with MSMI, and they have some very experienced teachers. The kindergarten teacher we wanted had a concrete plan for how to work with our child, who reads anything you hand him, does arithmetic already, etc. etc. And the principal, when I asked him "what will you do for our son?" answered "I don't see why we don't do whatever you want".

What sealed the deal was that they were conveniently located near 2nd child's preschool, and ended at 3:00 pm, allowing me to pick up 2nd child from preschool between 3:15 and 3:30. The preschool is outstanding, and I was not going to deny 2nd child this preschool for such mediocre kindergarten options.

But then two weeks ago, I got an email from the school, a welcome letter. In it, in small print at the bottom, "this year, class ends 10 minutes later, at 3:10. 10 minutes more instructional time a day translates into ...."

I read this at 3 AM, at the height of sleep deprivation due to the newborn 5 week old. Needless to say, I was irrational. I burst into tears. I could not for the life of me figure out how I missed that school was ending at 3:10. I'd only visited 4 times, had a dozen conversations with admissions folks, met the principal 3 times, met the K teacher twice, been to the kindergarten readiness day with the asst principal, read all of the paperwork for admission, read all of the paperwork for acceptance and payment. Right then and there, I blasted off a short email to the principal, telling him that I didn't know how I'd been uninformed about this, but I couldn't possibly have our son enrolled unless I could find a way to pick him up at 3, and that even a ten minute change was devastating to us.

He wrote back that he would find a way to accommodate me. I calmed down for a while, though how we'll manage I still don't know.

But today, I met the Kindergarten teacher, and explained my predicament. She told me that she appreciated my problem, because *the staff returned from summer break to find this change in the school day too*.

I didn't miss it. It was never mentioned in any of the prior interactions, because they consulted no one. No parents. No teachers. Not even the pretense of focus groups asking our opinions. No, the principal and asst principal thought it best to solve a non existent problem and add 10 minutes to the end of a day to "increase instructional time", so they did.

They do what they do.


ChemProf said...

Maddening! I would have had to peel my husband off the ceiling.

Congratulations on the little one! I am just now getting used to being a mother of two.

Glen said...

Allison, maybe you should just quietly show up ten minutes early each day and pick up your son. They may not like it at first, but as long as they don't immediately expel your son, it will quickly become part of the daily routine, and they'll forget about it.

Then go add your second and third to the waiting list of your first and second choice schools.

Allison said...

Our charter school waiting lists don't work that way (they are lotteries, redone every year) but they do have sibling preference, so at least with each additional child, my odds improve. :)

But yes, the sentiment is about how I feel.

Thanks for the congrats! 3 boys! It's exciting and exhausting. ChemProf, congrats on #2. It gets easier almost every day!

Catherine Johnson said...

Congratulations to both of you!

Catherine Johnson said...

You guys are rookies -- you don't really know what "they do what they do" means 'til you attend 4 or 5 information sessions given by college admissions officers.

Catherine Johnson said...

We returned from vacation to find a 40-page viewbook from Reed asking the question "Are you right for Reed?"

That wasn't my question, but never mind.

Catherine Johnson said...

A $50K/year college that thinks "Are you right for us?" is an appropriate marketing tool is not the right college for us.

Glen said...

College application is a job application. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize this until recently. It never felt that way when I went to college, and I didn't have kids until recently. I just never noticed.

Now even I can see that if you want to go to Stanford, Stanford wants to know what you're offering. Fame? If you're a celebrity, or your parents are, they won't care about your test scores. You'll bring celebrity to the institution.

If you're very rich, or your parents are, you will potentially bring riches to the institution. If you have very high test scores, you'll raise the institution's rank in US News & World Report. If you're black or hispanic, you are a political asset, serving as a shield against criticism by fellow liberals. If you are a winning athlete, you can boost the institution's reputation by defeating their rivals.

Your job as an applicant is to bring a resume that shows how you will boost their fame, fortune, competitiveness against rivals, liberal political credibility...something they care about.

In return, they offer YOU a certificate of credibility.

The education stuff is a secondary issue. That's what books and TAs and "you get out what you put in" are for. You're welcome to educate yourself while you're there. The real job of the institution is aggrandizement of the institution.

Cranberry said...

A $50K/year college that thinks "Are you right for us?" is an appropriate marketing tool is not the right college for us.

Why? I think the entire college admissions process is so corrupt at present, it's refreshing to encounter a college which raises the possibility a student might not be "right" for it. (Rather than encouraging every possible applicant to submit an application, knowing from the start the vast majority will be rejected.)

Catherine Johnson said...

Actually, it turns out the page before asked "Is Reed right for you?"

Then the next page asked "Are you right for Reed?"

In the middle of our trip upstate we went to an info session at a SUNY that was appalling: the entire presentation was about the many, many hoops our kids would be expected to jump through, the extreme difficulty of gaining acceptance, the importance of the applicant sending personal emails to the admissions director just to check in, the wonderfulness of the applicant who wrote her essay about hockey (but now no one else should ever write an essay about hockey because the admissions guy wants originality), and on and on and on.

At one point, he said, "This is the time in my presentation where someone, usually a parent, asks me whether it's easier to get in when you apply early admission. Answer: I don't know."

I was so exhausted from the trip that I wasn't on my game; if I had been, I wouldn't have let that one go by.

I'm contemplating filing a FOIL request for his admissions data.

"I don't know our early admissions stats" coming from the director of admissions at a state college doesn't cut it.

Alternatively, I could shot him an email offering to do the math for him.

Catherine Johnson said...

The guy didn't mention one word about academics. Not one. Nothing.

Crimson Wife said...

Actually, I thought it fairly refreshing when I did a group informational interview at Princeton with a prospective applicant who was on the national volleyball team of some country (Portugal?) and another who had won some prestigious national writing award, and the admissions officer candidly told me not to bother applying to the school unless I did something equally outstanding my senior year.

His candor saved me the cost of the application fee, postage (this was back prior to the electronic common app), the College Board score report, and the hassle of filling out the paperwork.

Amy P said...

"We returned from vacation to find a 40-page viewbook from Reed asking the question "Are you right for Reed?""

Could you write a five-page paper on the nuances of several different marijuana varieties without either additional field research or consulting the internet?

OK, that was mean (and one of the smartest guys I've known went to Reed), but Reed's reputation is well earned.

Allison said...

yes, it is earned. Dear any prospective parents, do not do not do not do not send your kids there. The dominant culture is drug culture, with high usage of hallucinogens. and their administration will not help you in the least when your son or daughter has been admitted to the ER or psych ward--they will do everything in their power to prevent you from finding out that happened, claiming the existence of laws prevent them from helping you--misiniformed at best, and purposely misleading at worst.

Cranberry said...

Catherine, we've made a couple of college tours with our rising junior, just to give her a feel for the process. I agree, you hear a great deal about food and lodging, and very little about academics.

You don't have to FOIL for good admissions stats, though. Google "Common Data Set (Institution Name)". For most colleges & universities, you'll find their common data set, full of information about admissions stats, retention, financial aid, etc.

Bonnie said...

It isn't surprising that you hear about food and lodging, and not academics, because that is what most parents and kids care about. Schools are only responding to the market. Personally, I find it appalling that universities spend a fortune on luxurious dining options, fancy buildings with two story fireplaces for student clubs(yup, they just opened a building like this on my campus), expansive party-abroad programs with hordes of administrators to run them, and dorm amenities that I don't even recognize - but the majority of undergraduate courses are taught by gypsy adjuncts earning $2000/course or TAs who have never taught before, classrooms are falling apart, and book spaces in libraries are converted to coffee shops. It is clear, especially for private undergraduate schools which have to be especially sensitive to the market, that families want the social experience, not the academics.

ChemProf said...

Man, I see why we can always find adjuncts -- we are paying a big $5000 per course which I still feel awful about. Our dorm amenities are also pretty limited.

But yes, it isn't clear how much academics matter for parents and students choosing a school. A lot of what matters is the credential and "name brand". And the admissions people and student life folks also aren't academically focussed -- the faculty at my institution have asked for years to have a faculty member be part of the opening ceremony of orientation and so far we haven't won the argument.

ChemProf said...

Oh, and thanks, Allison. I'm glad to hear things get easier. Actually, they are already -- I'd forgotten how tough the first few months are -- but my two year old is busy giving the terrible twos a bad name right now!