kitchen table math, the sequel: Carmen Fariña's grandson has a tutor

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Carmen Fariña's grandson has a tutor

She cited her experience with her 10-year-old grandson, who she said worshiped the high school boy her daughter had hired to tutor him. “Charlie goes like this” — she mimicked an expression of rapt attention — “every time Abe walks into the room,” she said. (Ms. Fariña’s frequent references to her grandson have become a running joke among principals.)
Chancellor Carmen Fariña Changes New York City Schools’ Course
American parents spend $7 billion annually on tutoring, in some cases as much as $400 an hour, to reassure themselves that they are giving their children every advantage in the academic rat race, and research on the impact of tutoring backs them up.
Closing the Math Gap for Boys
I was talking recently to a member of the school board here, who told me s/he didn't mind hiring tutors, but s/he did mind hiring tutors for "basic education."

That makes two members of our school board, that I know of, who pay tutors to teach their children at home. (Last year the then-board president told the administration, on camera, that he had hired a math tutor for his daughter.)

I don't know whether the other three members of the board employ tutors. I'm guessing two of them do. If they haven't hired tutors already, they will, because everyone does.

Our current superintendent's take on the matter: the reason Irvington parents hire tutors is "culture."

That's what his predecessor thought, too.

Her observation -- this is close to a direct quotation -- was "Everyone knows Westchester parents hire tutors because they push their children to get ahead."

I always get my back up, hearing this.

What is it about my culture that makes me waste money on tutors, exactly?

And how is my culture any business of yours, anyway?

And why am I, the parent with the supposedly wonky culture, the focus of analysis?

I don't think I know a single parent, in my district, whose children went through all 13 years of K-12 without tutors, and all but one hired tutors because their children were having trouble, not because their children were at the top of their class but the parents wanted more.

Just one parent I know arguably fell into the "culture" category, but even that parent wasn't hiring tutors because of her culture. Pushing her kids to get ahead because of her culture, yes. Hiring tutors to do the job, no. Hiring tutors was simple realism. She had worked in the schools herself, and was matter of fact about their failings. Rely on your public school for the basics, she told me; for anything beyond the basics, hire a tutor.

That's not culture.

That's survival of the fittest. Her household had assessed the situation they found themselves in, and they had adapted.

My question is: when did this happen?

When did it become taken for granted that kids--all kids--have trouble learning at school, and the solution is for parents to hire tutors?

Echoing my board member, I don't actually mind if (some) parents are hiring tutors just so long as the superintendent minds and is working to reduce the need for tutors.

But he doesn't and he isn't.

Ditto for Carmen Farina, apparently.


Auntie Ann said...

The undercurrent of the superintendent's comment seems to be that equality is paramount, and any subculture that wants a better education than is being provided in the public schools must be automatically suspect and denigrated.

SteveH said...

"My question is: when did this happen?"

There are a lot more K-6 private and charter schools around here now. When I was young very few went to other schools, and those were mostly Catholic schools. I blame it on full inclusion and social promotion. You can't increase the spread of ability in the classroom and expect to do the same or better than before. I would like to know the last time our K-6 schools ever held a student back a year or required summer school. They just push kids along and then point to successful students who probably got help at home. I know that our schools are concerned about the exodus of better students. It's not because they feel sorry that they couldn't give these kids what they needed, but because those student made them look good.

I've heard those elitist and tiger mom arguments before - even in our local paper. They know it's not true. It's like when they claim that your complaint is the first time they every heard it. The solution is to force them to send parental help and tutoring questionnaires home to parents.

A long time member of our school board (and a big supporter of full inclusion) indicated that it's really the duty of parents to help with education at home. Schools now give open houses to try to educate parents on how to be, in effect, adjunct teachers. At the time, it made me wonder what, exactly, did they expect from us? When did this all change - from just turning off the TV to becoming a teacher? BTW, her kids are now at a fancy prep school. Idealistic philosophy is great except when it comes to your own kids.

Auntie Ann said...

When did schools expect parents to be teachers?

Around the time they decided that school should always be fun and students should spend their days doing projects. After all, if school isn't fun, kids will lose their love of learning. That would be super-bad!

However, in order for students to actually get from one grade to the next, they have to put in a certain amount of non-fun, serious work. That, then, gets assigned as homework with the parents expected to supervise, cajole, advise, and teach. Homework ends up consuming hours of family and play time--killing what should *actually* be the fun part of kids' days.

Anonymous said...

What Auntie Ann said!

Froggiemama said...

In Germany, school gets out at noon, and kids bring home huge stacks of homework which is expected to be supervised by Mutti. Generally, women with kids do not work in Germany. Yet, I would not think anyone would accuse German schools of being "fun"!

Anonymous said...

I certainly can relate to Auntie Ann’s comment. Our school’s mantra was definitely “the most important thing is that the kids are happy and having fun.” Which necessarily led to some kids having too much fun and some parents using after-school time to catch up. Of course there were still all the “fun” projects that the kids were supposed to do “by themselves – No parent help please!” Needless to say organizational/planning skills and materials were not provided by the school. What parent doesn’t enjoy making a diaorama/collage/puppet/Powerpoint presentation on a sunny Sunday morning that drags well into the evening? It seemed like they really believed that parents sat at home hoping for opportunities to take over their children’s (art) projects for their own glory. It is always a mixed message: on the one hand don’t get involved it’s not your work, on the other hand please have your child practice their math facts (translation please use flash cards at home and don’t tell us about it). Of course this fairly predictably leads to more, not less, of a range of skills in the classroom. Which leads to more complaints about over involvement of parents. In the article about the Chancellor the points that seemed the most concerning were quotes like “. . . (she) cut off the official who was presenting the data. “I know a good quality school when I’m in the building,” she said”, “Ms. Fariña’s school-by-school, principal-by-principal approach . . . visited a few classrooms and offered him several detailed suggestions, from displaying more student work on bulletin boards to starting a buddy program for his sixth graders with eighth graders at another, more successful middle school.” As she is an advocate for “student-centered” learning the translation is we will look at the schools, if the kids seem “happy” and the teachers have lots of fun hands on activities planned, then the test scores aren’t reflecting what a great school we know this is.

froggiemama said...

My district has largely gotten rid of the "fun" projects in the past two years because of Common Core. Yay! If nothing else, I love Common Core for that. But you know what? THis is the reason our parents are in an uproar. They want the fun projects to come back. At the school bus stop, at the PTA meetings - this is what I hear. "School isn't FUN anymore for my kids". Our parents WANT the fun projects.

lgm said...

Schools expected parents to be teachers when they gave up academics and went to the social agenda. For us, that was the full inclusion policy brought in just before nclb. Nclb needed test scores, or heads would roll. Parents were sent home test prep wkbks while little was accomplished academically in class, as grouping by instructional need and enrichment were banned. That is how I came 3rd grader was not offered 3rd grade math at school, so I looked for alternatives and to see what was happening in other districts.