Ask Kazzy #3



One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

Related Post Roulette

60 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    A great post. I would probably place more emphasis on student selection, which is just huge. So it almost goes without saying, to me, that they would have a feeling of superiority even if they had the exact same resources. And with the exact same resources, they’d be able to do more by keeping out those students that hijack a classroom and those who require greater resources due to learning disabilities, language issues, and so on.

    And even if you could control for all of that, you’d still have the relative nature of it all. Which is to say that there will always be “greater” and always be “lesser.” People to look down upon, and people to resent (or feel insecure around) for looking down upon you.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

      Student selection can’t be understated. Don’t get me wrong, the top students in most public schools are just as capable as the top students in most independent schools. But the range is much greater. And even if you ignore the social impact, the practical is still an issue: public schools have to offer remedial courses in a way most independents do not. That stretch means less can be put into taking the top group ever higher.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    One of the other advantages of the private school — particularly a private school whose charter is to prepare kids for college — is the difference in peer pressures. I’ll put it this way: from the perspective of broad social acceptance, the one thing that you don’t dare succeed at in a typical public high school is academics. At least that was the case for males, back when I was in high school. That was a long time ago, but my perception while my kids were in a public high school 30 years later was that little had changed. It’s fine to be good at athletics, or music, or art, but if the only thing you’re good at is academics, you’re going to have problems. I always regarded myself as fortunate compared to several of the other geeks in that I enjoyed playing a minor sport enough to letter, and wearing a letterman’s jacket with that big athletic letter (even with added pins for band and academics) “protected” me from a considerable amount of grief that those other guys went through.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain says:

      A great point, Michael. My high school was unique in that it sort of functioned as schools within schools. Not necessarily because of any explicit structure as such, but just the way things were. You were either an honors kid and did things primarily with honors kid or you weren’t and you didn’t. Add in a unique social dynamic that was much flatter than hierarchical and many of the typical pressures were avoided. But the expectation in just about every independent school is that you go to college, and a good one at that. Such is not necessarily the case in public schools.. it really depends on the specifics.

      To this end, a number of charter schools seek to reverse this trend, going so far as to name classes based on the anticipated year of their college graduation. So the incoming Kindergarten class isn’t called Kindergarten, but they are called the class of 2031 or whatever the math works out to. Some even go so far as to incorporate the teacher’s alma mater (so my students would be Boston College ’31) and require teachers to hang up paraphernalia. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the idea that everyone should go to college is a loaded one, but the effort is sincere and I think that argument takes on different flavors in different communities.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Michael Cain says:

      This really wasn’t true at my high school but my high school was probably far from typical because almost 100 percent of us went unto university and many people went to select/elite schools and not just the state flagship schools. Many of my classmates from high school have professional or advanced degrees.

      It seems to me that a lot of suburban high schools are all college-prep now so I find it kind of surprising that “don’t excel in academics” is still true. Maybe it is different in the Northeast because the goal was not merely to go to college but to go to a very good college/university*

      *Even though I was from New York, University of Michigan, Boulder, and Cal were probably more acceptable as schools than SUNY-Albany or Buffalo because those are still Tier II research schools while the former are Tier I. The more economically minded students aimed for the parts of Cornell that were part of the Land-Grant Act. Fun fact: Cornell is part private and part public so New Yorkers who attend certain schools at Cornell pay state tuition prices and get an Ivy League degree. The state schools at Cornell are Industrial-Labor Relations, Agriculture (which includes communications and a lot of other non-agriculture stuff), Ecology, and maybe Hotel management.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Michael Cain says:

      I went to a private Christian high school (not an ‘elite’ one on the level Kazzy is talking about – we had less electives than the local public high school and typical class sizes were 20-something students) and excellence in academics was never looked down on or a reason for being unpopular; it was generally admired. Most of the popular students were smart and friendly, nothing like the the nasty-clique stereotypes of high school.

      So I’m inclined to agree that academic success may be more socially positive in private schools than public ones.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to KatherineMW says:

        I should note that the numbers offered for NAIS member schools are nation-wide and include rural and urban, parochial and secular, boarding and day, etc. Not every single independent school is a NAIS member school, but pretty much every one worth its salt is, so it is fair to say the numbers are comprehensive. So buried with that “average” are NYC schools that spend twice that and schools like what KMW discusses that might be more on par with a public school. There is a good deal of range within independents, which NAIS does have data on for anyone interested.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Michael Cain says:

      I went to the same high school as ND and it was definitely a very academically oriented public school. Succeeding in academics was not dangerous. In many ways it was I between a public school and an independent school. We had the academics of an independent but the atmosphere of a public school.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Michael Cain says:

      Half my calculus class was on the football field.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Good point on student selection. Will is right that this is probably a huge issue.
    Even my very good public school (which did offer a lot of AP classes and canceled Home Ec out of a lack of interest and turned the kitchens into science labs) had special needs students and a few students on a more vocational track. We also probably had less of a budget despite being an upper-middle class town that never turned down a school budget and believed in arts and electives.

    Small class sizes are also an issue and from what I understand many elite private schools teach everything as if it were a seminar under the guise of the Harkness Method/TableReport

  4. Avatar Mo says:

    I wonder if part of it is your competition. I was the top student at my decent sized (~2,000 people) public high school. However, the school ran the gamut from high school dropouts to high end UC students with one to five a year going to an elite school. So you perceive yourself as the best against somewhat middling competition. Whereas my college classmates that went to elite private schools peers went to, at worst, mid tier state schools, but had a significant proportion of going to elite universities. So they saw themselves as the cream of the cream.

    To make a sports analogy, a football player that plays for Alabama is going to be more confident in their abilities when they go pro than a kid that went to Middle Tennessee State because the former will see themselves as the best of an elite program in an elite conference.Report

  5. Avatar roger says:

    Well done. Please let me add a few thoughts.

    First, there is another type of selection bias. Parents that care a lot about investing in their kids and care enough about their own success to be able to afford it are in no way average. We are seeing multiple levels of performance bias, with some of it passing down to the kids via genetics and cultural upbringing. My guess is this overwhelmingly surpasses effects of teacher ratio or cost per pupil. Just an informed guess though.

    Second, there are the effects of multidimensional competition. Parents are competing to get their kids in, kids are competing to stay in, schools are competing for business, teachers are competing to get ino these schools, investors are competing in best returns (assuming for profit), and so on. I know a particular political spectrum around here has blindness on the potential constructive benefits of competition (this does not apply to the author), so I think we need to state what is obvious to others.

    Third, different parents have kids with different needs and goals, and the variety of private schools allows them to choose the best match of school to need. Perhaps this is really an extension of point two.

    Fourth, additional investment is unlikely to accomplish much in public schools. I can easily link to all the studies which show the US is near the top in spending per and average at best in performance. The trouble being that we have regional bureaucratic monopolies which have been captured by the bureaucrats and politicians for their benefit more so than the kids. We should do like Sweden and experiment more with free market charter schools.

    Further reading…

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to roger says:


      I think your #1 goes hand-in-hand with the per pupil spending and how it manifests via class size to send a message to the kids, “We invest in you. We believe in you. You’re worthwhile and, goshdarnit, people like you.” Parents might send that message to public school students (my mom sure did, being a teacher herself), but I didn’t necessarily get it from my school. Maybe individual teachers, but not the system as a whole.

      Regarding your #4, I won’t argue that capture et al. is a problem in the public system, but I am unswayed by international comparisons because I don’t know what laws they have regarding special education, which can’t be understated in how it impacts funding. The federal government mandated services via the “least restrictive environment” yet offers paltry funds, if any, to actually achieve this. Which means if a school has a budget of $10M and a family moves to town with a student with severe needs that requires $250K to properly educate, that school just “lost” 2.5% of its budget with no guarantee of offsetting that from the federal government, though the money went to servicing a federal requirement. I don’t know how other countries approach this. For a long time, this was not the law-of-the-land in education, which is also why I’m not moved by comparisons of per pupil spending over decades, since it is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

      There is a really interesting conversation to be had about the unintended consequences of the ADA and similar legislation that thankfully and rightfully corrected our approach to supporting students of special needs. It is hard to have because of how delicate an issue it is (see my putting “lost” in quotes above because it feels unsavory to say the school lost those funds when they ultimately went to the education of a student but they did leave the budget for all the other students).

      I think we all believe in providing quality special education services, but most people are ignorant of the true costs of such and thus balk at what would be required to truly fund it. The number of students who don’t get the services they require and are theoretically entitled to because their simply isn’t any money left in the budget would offend most people.Report

      • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to Kazzy says:

        I was pretty stunned at how much of district resources Redstone schools put into special ed, where I spent a disproportionate amount of my assignments. (This isn’t really a criticism)Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to trumwill mobile says:

          The fact that you have to temper an objective observation thusly indicates how fraught the topic is.

          I wish we could spend MORE on SpEd. But I wish this didn’t come at the expense of regular ed. I wish there was more money for education (and I do mean education when I say that… not just district spending). But since that isn’t a reality, advocating for the one feels de facto like rejecting the other.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

        special education, which can’t be understated in how it impacts funding.

        Sure it can, quite easily. But it’s hard to overstate.Report

      • Avatar roger in reply to Kazzy says:

        I am sure ADA needs to be considered, but I am extremely skeptical that this is a driving force in our wastefulness and inefficiency compared to other wealthy nations. I am open to being persuaded though if someone has data.

        The link supplied shows the value of competition and markets in improving education in terms of educational outcomes and efficiency within the various nations.

        PS, am I the only one who has to re-enter my name and email on every comment? Overall, I am not happy yet with the new site. One step forward and two or three back.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to roger says:

          I have to re-enter my name and email time. This is less than pleasing.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to roger says:


          The wastefulness and inefficiency is all on us. No denying that. But it is possible still that the per pupil costs will be higher in a country that has mandates like our own than in a country without.

          As we’ve discussed, comparing the outcomes of different nations is useless if we don’t first analyze their goals. America is committed to education all of its student, special and regular ed, smart and dumb, etc. Not all countries have a similar charge.

          This doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right. There certainly is fat that can be trimmed and a good amount of inefficiency in the system that ought to be eliminated. I’m just pointing out that comparing America and other countries (or other countries to each other) isn’t really an apples to apples comparison.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to roger says:

      I agree with you that there are also parental biases at play but I don’t necessarily think that this is necessarily healthy or speaks to private schools being superior.

      Kazzy can tell you this as well but the New York City private school scene is balls off the wall insane. We are talking about interviews to get into pre-school and kindergarten and even more going forward. There are also a fair deal of kids who grow up with a lot of money but very little parental involvement (because their parents are super-busy Masters of the Universe). The stories about the antics/misbehavior of these kids is legion (note: this does not reflect all NYC private school parents) People willing to spend a small fortune to educate their children. It is probably like this in other major metros but to a lesser degree. You also have a lot of parents who are willing to game the system to get their kids extra time on exams and papers because of a “learning disability”.

      I think there are a lot of well-educated parents who care deeply about the education of their kids but think all of the above is nuts (and I think they are right for finding it absolutely off the wall crazy).

      People do burn out because of all these pressure to succeed and compete from a young age or they are tutored to death and given so many advantages and extra time that they don’t quite know how to operate in a real work place with real deadlines that can’t be granted extratime.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

        I think I should make clear that this essay speaks more to the sense of confidence independent school students tend to have relative to their public school peers than their actual outcomes. As many have noted, they got into the same schools and were likely of similar intelligence and potential. But they didn’t feel as such, which is what I understand ND’s question to be about and is what I attempted to tackle here.

        Were the kids with sophomore standing at BC smarter than me? Maybe, maybe not. Did they seem like they were and carry themselves accordingly? Yurp.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

          You are correct about that intent.

          I wonder how much of it also comes from growing up in a city vs. a suburb or rural area.

          You can still be sheltered and grow up in a city obviously but I think kids who grew up in cities also had more roaming freedom during their free time. Easier to get places and all.Report

  6. Avatar roger says:


    I have doubts about how healthy some of it is too. And personally, I am anti elitism. It rubs me wrong.Report

  7. Avatar Dale Forguson says:

    The Public versus Private comparisons stated above do a good job of pointing out the economic disparity but one additional point should be mentioned. The Public school district numbers include a wide range of school districts. In some districts the financial fabric of the community has cratered. School districts often rely substantially on local taxes. High drop-out rates and state de-certification are sometimes facts of life in some districts. In addition the lack of support for academic goals in the home as well as domestic instability can’t be over-stated.

    Rather than expect more of our schools and educators I would prefer to see more of the responsibility shifted to parents. Without parental support for academic goals and for acceptable student behavior more funding will have limited effect. A shift in attitudes of parents (expecting more from their children and less from their government as well as becoming more involved in their children’s education) is where I believe this needs to begin.Report

    • Avatar Roger in reply to Dale Forguson says:


      I basically agree with your focus, but the follow up question is HOW?

      We constantly buy or check out books for our grandson. We read to him. Require him to do self study on the Internet. Give him weekly fun assignments that stimulate him. Play knowledge games. We take him constantly to the library. Help him and encourage him to do homework. Reinforce 24/7 the importance of education and development. Etc etc.

      But what about those parents and grandparents that don’t? And we all know there are a lot of them. How can these kids possibly meaure up to the advantages of love and investment and encouragement that my grandson gets?

      What about those parents that are so ignorant that they detract as much as add from older kids’ education? I am amazed at some of the crap I have heard ignorant parents tell their kids. Furthermore, as the kids grow beyond their parents in various subjects, the parents sometimes denigrate the topic do as not to admit their own ignorance.

      A great school is unlikely to make up for bad genetics and bad parental culture. But what effect can “we” have on either of the latter two?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

        First off, Roger, you have a grandson? One old enough to do the things described? How old are you? I pegged you in your mid 40’s!

        More importantly, while I’m sympathetic to the idea that parents bear a certain responsibility, in large part because the facts demonstrate that parental involvement is a huge predictor of future success, there is a part of me that thinks saying to a kid, “Sorry little guy, but the education system has done what it can for you. If your parents fail you… well… tough shit,” is sort F’ed up.

        How we fix that? Oi…Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Kazzy says:

          I am an old retired guy. Just turned 54. My grandson is 11 and lives near us. My wife and I spend ten times as much time with him as we did with our kids. But back then we were too busy to pay attention to what really mattered.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Roger says:

            You and Tod, man, retired in your early 50’s. You’re doing something right. Mazel! And what a fortunate grandson to have someone like you in his life. I trust you are teaching him the value of markets and the danger of regulatory capture, yes?Report

            • Avatar roger in reply to Kazzy says:

              My father planned on retiring at 52 and died at 51. It made an impact…

              When I was in my early twenties I decided to retire at 50 and pursue a second stage of life. At the time it seemed ancient and way off.

              My wife and I have always been pretty good at planning for the long haul, and we seemed to go through the life stages about a decade before our friends. We had kids in grade school when most of our friends were still dating.

              The odd thing about being retired is finding that everyone else on this site comments more than me and they AREN’T retired. Granted, I type with only three fingers ( I consider my other seven to be free writers)Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to roger says:

                Good for you, ol’ man.

                If everything, EVERYTHING, goes according to plan, Zazzy and I will have our three kids off to college (or out the door, at least) and the house paid off by the time we are 51 or 52. Now, that requires a lot going right, as we currently have just one child (3.5 months old) and are only about a year and a half into our mortgage. BUT… it’s a plan. And we tend to be good planners. More importantly, we have goals.

                Whether we’ll retire at that point or not, I dunno. I am someone who needs to stay active, engaged. I could follow a path similar to what it seems you are doing… retiring from one career but then carving a new path. However, that path can’t be too dependent upon quiet time at home. That just tends not to be how I work. Of course, that is 29-year-old me talking, so, who knows where I’ll be.

                Again, congrats on what sounds like the first half of a life well-lived and godspeed on the next half… for both you and your grandson!Report

      • Avatar Dale Forguson in reply to Roger says:

        Because of the diversity of lifestyles and opinions which are considered acceptable in our culture the answer to that question is necessarily complex. Beyond the scope of this format. I think our society has been grappling with this issue for well beyond my entire adult life and it would be preposterous to assume that an answer can be suddenly arrived at. We can’t even agree on what we do and do not want taught to our children by professional educators (a question that has been argued at least since Socrates).

        I have some faith in the people who get involved with children, mostly volunteers, tutors, little league coaches, maybe just someone who includes the kid down the street on a fishing trip or family vacation. People who lead by example and teach generosity and character to children who need a mentor or example. I believe this can accomplish more real good than any other avenue open to us. Cultural change happens slowly but the course of change is altered on a daily basis.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Dale Forguson says:

          Perhaps a “It Takes a Village” approach? Or something thereabouts? I can get on board with that. Unfortunately, the fear mongers and their “stranger danger” and the statists attempting to legislate away childhood are putting a real crimp in that.

          Lenore Skenazy certainly can go to extremes at times, but she is a good counter weight to the current trends.Report

  8. Avatar Dale Forguson says:

    to mod; I’m seeing exclamation marks in odd places. Am I missing something or is this a bug? using Chrome.Report

  9. Avatar Don Zeko says:

    Kazzy –

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about how tracking plays into this dynamic. This comes out of my personal experience: I went to public school, but one with a very substantial tracking element, easy access to lots of AP classes and so forth. I tested into a gifted program in the second grade and remained in some sort of advanced program or another for almost my entire public school career from then to graduation from high school. So in high school, while this certainly wasn’t representative of the 2000+ students at the school, I took classes with and interacted with mostly other smart, precocious kids who were all taking bunches of AP classes and college-bound. For this reason, when I arrived at my selective private liberal arts college, I didn’t experience the lack of confidence that Newdealer described, or at least I experienced it in a much more limited way. Was this a good thing, or would I have been better off with a primary school experience where I had more contact with the rest of the student body? Was it perhaps a good thing for my very particular situation, but not a good thing in general? Should we not be discussing this in a judgmental way at all? Do you have thoughts about tracking in general?Report

    • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Don Zeko says:

      And by “easy access” I mean “easy access if you have a car or a bunch of friends with cars.” Privilege is an insidious thing.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Don Zeko says:


      Tracking is hard for me to comment on because I don’t have experience with it as either a student or a teacher: my high school had different tracks for AP/honors, regular ed, and something called Alternative 2 (Or A2… technically regular ed was A1), which was a combination of remedial and special ed. Theoretically, anyone could take any class they wanted. This came about when the testing system that had previously existed (before I entered high school) had been abandoned because it led to largely segregated classrooms along racial lines (my school was about 50% black with large populations of Asians and Hispanics as well). And while you still ended up with a certain divide… my AP and honors classes tended to be with the same general crew of kids, there weren’t as stark a line. This wasn’t a perfect system and was fraught with it’s own headaches no doubt.

      When it comes to tracking, I tend to see it as something that could work when done thoughtfully but which so often was not. I don’t like the idea of a kid’s path being set by a test or a grade in 5th grade. Or even 9th grade for that matter. However, I am also opposed to a one-size-fits-none model. Ideally, we’d have a system with multiple tracks…. from vocational to college prep and everything in between… and we’d ultimately leave the decision to individual students and their family, with knowledgable guidance counselors who knew the kids personally advising them on the decision. You might wind up with kids who ultimately choose a track that is not ideal for them, but sometimes you have to let that be; for the most part, though, you’d get kids where they ought to be. Of course, this is an ideal.

      However, I’d also want to see there be opportunities for kids to cross those lines. Perhaps more “academic” subjects would function thusly but gym, arts, sports, clubs, student government, etc. would allow kids to still mingle. And I wouldn’t even begin a system until junior high at the earliest, if not later. The research I’ve seen shows that having kids of mixed abilities tends to lead to better results for all students, both academically and socially. Of course, this requires talented teachers who are capable of scaffolding and differentiating… yet another tall order.

      tl;dr… It’s complicated… as is most things in ed. But I think your questions are fantastic ones that I’d like to see more thoughtful research and discussion of.Report

      • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Kazzy says:

        Thanks for the response. Without getting into the arcane details of the gifted programs and their organization in the Winston-Salem Forsyth County School system, i’ll just say that it’s interesting to see how the arrangements that they arrived at mix in some of your preferences and other things that you are pretty strongly against, which is in turn similar to the complex way that, say, desegregation has both happened very impressively and barely happened at all there. All of which is basically to say that I need to keep thinking about this in hopes of one day having a semi-informed opinion about it. But while I’m asking you education-related questions, do you think there is a right or a wrong answer to a parent’s decision on when to enroll their kid in school?Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Don Zeko says:

          There are so many things in education wherein good intentions lead to lousy outcomes. And sometimes lousy intentions show the promise of good outcomes. It’s tricky. Very little of education is “hard” science. It is not a field that has a predictable input-output model. Things are very, very complicated.

          For instance, on the whole, desegregation was the right thing to do. And in most instances, either deliberately or accidentally, it was beneficial. However, I’ve also come to see a small but interesting movement… or perhaps movement implies more organization… line of thinking? Anyway… that calls for a de facto form of segregation. Some folks posit that black kids, particularly urban black kids, might benefit from being in schools that are predominantly if not exclusively filled with urban black kids and led by teachers and educators adept at working with urban black kids. Not because of anything different with the brains of black kids, but because of certain cultural differences (e.g., the use of language, the relationship with authority, the structure of conversation, the role of the teacher). So many educational practices are normed against middle class white kids with little thinking about why this matters. As a result, these practices aren’t necessarily exportable to groups with different demographics. The argument is often couched more in localism than in racial politics, which I think is a real piece of it, but the impact of such a policy would serve to re-segregate a great number of schools. And without having thought it fully through, there is a part of me that is sympathetic and intrigued by the idea. Yet, if a similar idea were being pushed in service of suburban white kids, it’d give me the heebie-jeebies.

          So, yet again, I will repeat that it is complicated. And what I think is most often missing is comprehensive thoughtfulness. Do I think you could set up a “tracking” system of some sorts that benefits all students, top to bottom? Yes. But it would take a lot of work… a LOT of work. Most attempts at tracking that I’ve seen or heard about do not have this much work or thought involved, and whatever gains they might make are often either A) accidental or B) offset by great losses. When B) is the case, it is often at the expense of already marginalized groups, making it easier to ignore.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Don Zeko says:

      In my defense, I did not feel completely overwhelmed all the time or even most of the time. It just seemed like every now and then at parties or whereever, the private school kids had all these mini-adult experiences already and opportunities that even attendees of good public high schools lack.

      Most of the time, my undergrad felt a lot more like home than my high school ever did because I was equally smart and precocious. A lot of the honor students at my HS felt like they were getting good grades to get into a good college and get a good job. They did not seem to truly care about the material.

      Now I feel a bit odd when I meet people who automatically decided on practical majors like marketing, business, accounting, and even economics and engineering. The idea of an 18-year old who just decided to study business is a bit perplexing to me* Didn’t they have a passion? What kind of 18-year old just dreams of life in an office park?

      *I take it as a source of pride that my undergrad had neither a business major, an engineering major (you had to do a 3-2 system with another university nearby to get an engineering degree), or a Greek system.Report

  10. Avatar Kim says:

    I had sophomore standing at college. Went to a public school, took two college calculus classes (including Calc 3) in high school, as well as two college chemistry courses.

    Of course, I went to one of the top 10 public schools in the state (no, i was not the only reason why we were one of the top 10. I know someone who pulled that trick off, though.)Report