40 Proof or Stronger



Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.

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39 Responses

  1. Avatar Kazzy says:

    “I realize that this may not be the case in your particular state, but here in California, people who have children with behavioral or learning issues or even physical disabilities don’t send their kids to private school. They typically send them to public school, because the public school system is legally required to provide them advanced support private schools don’t have to offer.”

    This tends to be the case if a child has undiagnosed* or undiagnosable needs. They might not qualify or even necessarily need formal support but benefit from smaller classrooms or a more intimate school environment or a more individualized program.

    * In certain social circles, there is a huge social stigma on having a child diagnosed with a need. Some parents avoid this by going to an IS to get support off-the-record.Report

  2. Avatar Cascadian says:

    Good piece. Don’t disagree with anything except the lack of a title.Report

  3. Avatar Kim says:

    This is the message folks need to hear.
    That you really can make an entire neighborhood better.Report

  4. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    It’s getting that 20% in place & moving that is the trick.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      Getting it in place is harder than moving it, from the standpoint of policy.

      If they get there, they’ll organize. You’ll get spontaneous combustion if you put enough fuel in one spot.

      The interesting thing to me is how tightly this is coupled to how the wealth is distributed in the neighborhoods in a geographical area. The zones of poverty or wealth need to be archipelagos or peninsulas instead of continents.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        When I lived in Madison, WI, I was always amazed at how you could transition from poor neighborhood to wealthy very quickly. Sometimes by just crossing a major street.

        Madison tends to have pretty good schools. Probably because it’s hard to draw district lines that segregate so completely.

        But that is an aspect of city planning, not school districts.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Yeah, I was thinking that it might not be so bad being the parent who tipped things from 18% to 19%… but it would be “the suxx0rs” to be the parent who tipped things from 2% to 3%.

        And because there are so many parents who are unwilling to be the latter, it doesn’t really matter that there are so many parents willing to be the former.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        But that is an aspect of city planning, not school districts.

        And, really, this is why ultimately this isn’t an educational policy problem.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        And, really, this is why ultimately this isn’t an educational policy problem.

        Agreed. Cities should be much more proactive about preventing such enclaves from forming. If an area is starting to slide, reversing the trend, or at least keeping it small should be a top priority. I always liked the idea of creating small pockets of affordable housing in an effort to keep the “broken windows” blight from spreading. Never seen any studies of it’s effectiveness, though.

        Or if an area is starting to look decayed & housing prices are falling, wouldn’t a city be smart to go in & start talking to the residents & find out why it’s sliding? Go door to door if you have to? Maybe you’ve got some residents who need help, or some bad landlords? Who knows? Well, the city should…Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        Being form Madison, obviously I can confirm what you’re talking about for folks, but I can also say that I haven’t had the experience of street-to-street, and seemingly somewhat random (though I’m sure it’s not) variation in overall feel (sense of safety, upkeep of buildings, etc.) anywhere as strongly as I did the first couple of times I went to Milwaukee (past Country Stadium, that is). They used to say that Milwaukee was the most segregated city in America. Though I’m sure that’s changed, I still wonder exactly how that’s determined and how the phenomenon you’re talking about plays into that.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Once a neighbourhood has become a destination target for poor people, it’s not as hard to keep the poor out as to keep the former residents from leaving. It’s not always White Flight but often it is. Used to play in a band with an urban planner, a city administrator. He thought it was impossible to keep a neighbourhood from sliding into decay. Once it gets to a certain point, you’re better served to bring in the bulldozers and start over.

        But there are things which can be done to save a neighbourhood. Elgin IL enacted some zoning ordinances to clear out several crack houses, beautiful old Queen Anne carpenter’s gothic buildings. The ordinances were effective, if somewhat less than Politically Correct:Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        You get both Virtuous and Vicious cycles. Well, at least in cities. Suburbs are pretty much Vicious from the get go, and they do NOT improve.

        Detroit stands as an example that Vicious cycles happen citywide, more often than not. Ditto with Virtuous (lookit pittsburgh or NYC).Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Back in the 40’s (I think, maybe earlier), Madison had a big problem with crime that it was felt stemmed from the tight knit ethnic enclaves that had grown up in certain areas (I used to live in the old Italian enclave). The city quite forcibly broke up those enclaves. Some buildings were leveled, but mostly they just made everyone move & scattered the residents all over.

        It was a big deal, & not popular at the time, but it seems to have worked, & the people displaced assimilated.Report

  5. Avatar Cascadian says:

    McMeagan chimes in. I think her position is more closely related to this post.

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Yeah, she makes a point similar to the one that I have made: private schools and charters/magnets prevent flight-to-suburbia.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

        Is this what we see in countries with fewer charters and private schools, Will?

        I’d say very much not, and the empirical facts available suggest your worry is misplaced.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        First, Shaz, we are not other countries. We already see people choosing housing on the basis of schools. I see little or no reason to believe that those who send their kids to private schools would behave in a completely different manner. I am not suggesting something new would happen. I am talking about the furtherance of something that has been happening longer than I have been alive.Report

  6. Avatar Will Truman says:

    Wherever we end up*, I intend to give the public schools every opportunity. I doubt, pretty strongly, that there will be a problem. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t going to keep an eye on the local schools when deciding where to live, of course. When I was substituting in Redstone, I mentally etched out where I would and wouldn’t live, if we settled there. But if the lines moved, I wouldn’t move with them necessarily. Nor would I pull my kids out and homeschool them.

    That said, I’m not going to put my kids on the firing line so that I can Make a Difference (not that Patrick is advocating thus). The collective action problem isn’t my problem, or my kids. Back when my folks lived near where I do now, Mom tried mightily to turn things around for the school district (the vice-president of their first-ever PTA!), to no avail. And, contra Benedikt, I am not under any obligation to.

    Which, I admit, is a pretty depressing situation.

    * – Okay, except Deseret. In Deseret, you consider the Lutheran school so that your kids can get a secular education without religious harassment.Report

  7. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    I think the thing that irked me most about the Slate article was not the idea, because she doesn’t advocate for requiring people to have their kids sent to bad schools, it was the whole shaming bit. Saying such parents are bad.

    Are people who do not mark themselves as organ donors bad people? The world would be better if 100% of people were organ donors, but does that make people bad because they don’t?Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      Eh, I look at this differently.

      “Are people bad because of (foo)?”

      Well, sure. They’re bad for lots of reasons. Human beings can be stupid and venal and self-absorbed and self-obsessed and self-righteous (cough, cough) and many other things.

      Since we are we expecting people – including ourselves – to be good all the damn time? Isn’t that a crappy way to design public policy?

      Oh, wait… we’re not?

      Then aren’t you sort of just blowing off some self-righteousness? Hey, congrats, you’re a bad person too. Come join the club! First drink is free!Report

  8. Avatar NewDealer says:

    How many CalTech faculty members send their kids to public school?

    I lived in Brooklyn from 2006-2008. My neighborhood was a classic gentrification story for Brownstone Brooklyn. The original and very nice rowhouses were built in the 1800s but by the 1930s-40s, it became a very rough neighborhood and largely populated by Irish and Italian dockworkers. Most of these dockworkers fled during the 60s and 70s. Starting in the 1980s and continuing at a good to accelerating pace, the neighborhood starting filling with families priced out of Manhattan (if you were daring and willing to buy a fixer-upper you got a classic piece of NY housing cheap) and young professionals started coming in later (probably around the early aughts).

    My apartment was between Smith Street and Hoyt Street. Smith street was a main shopping drag with nice bars, fashionable boutiques and some relatively upscale brands (Lululemon, Lucky Brand, Brooklyn Industries) and restaurants and bars. Hoyt Street contained a massive public housing complex.

    When I was apartment searching, the real estate agent (you need a real estate agent to get a good apartment in NYC) made sure to point out which apartments were located in the good school district. As far as I can tell, the good school district was about ten-twenty minutes walking distance from the bad school district. Being childfree, I could not tell what made one school district better over the other.

    There were also some public middle schools and high schools in my neighborhood. As far as I can tell, the elementary schools had a pretty diverse student body. The local middle and high schools had student bodies that were pretty much black and Hispanic.

    Now I wonder it is about NYC public schools that parents feel like they can get involved at the elementary school level and make it a good or decent experience but once the kids reach middle school, it becomes much less so. Though there might be issues about where kids go to school. I think NYC and other cities tries to keep elementary school kids in local schools but once they get to middle or HS, they can be sent anywhere or almost anywhere in the city.

    LeeEsq lives in a different NYC neighborhood. His neighborhood until recent history was always poor and filled with working-class immigrants. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn takes place in poor Williamsburg, so does A Summer in Williamsburg, and the Chosen. Now the neighborhood is one of the richest and trendiest in Brooklyn. Instead of Chaim Potok’s immigrant Jews who are fresh from the Pale or first generation Americans, you have Lena Dunham’s third generation Girls. Sometimes the neighborhood is called Billyburg with affection. The other nickname is Babyburg because of the amount of strollers.

    A lot of these gentrifiers are not departing for the suburbs but are trying to be that 20 percent you talked about and changing and challenging the standards and subjects of local public schools. Interestingly this puts them at odds and war with the poorer Hispanic community that has different wants and needs than wealthier whites. I would see a lot of “take back our schools” activism from the hispanics posted on billboards in protest of the white gentrifiers reforms and changes.

    Does this happen in Pasadena?Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      How many CalTech faculty members send their kids to public school?

      Hm; that’s a good question. I don’t know. To clarify, just in case this is still unknown in these parts: I am not faculty.

      A lot of these gentrifiers are not departing for the suburbs but are trying to be that 20 percent you talked about and changing and challenging the standards and subjects of local public schools. Interestingly this puts them at odds and war with the poorer Hispanic community that has different wants and needs than wealthier whites…. Does this happen in Pasadena?

      Also a good question.

      Yes and no. There’s a lot of rancor in the public school district between parents and teachers, between teachers and administrators, between administrators and the board, between the members of the board, themselves, etc.

      Some of this is borderline crazy contentious, but a lot of it is driven by a desire for the schools to be better, generally… just really strong opinions (often conflicting) about what is the best way to make the schools be better. There are pro-testing, anti-testing, pro-charter, anti-charter, etc. etc. groups.

      I’m a member of the District Advisory Council, so I sit in meetings with representatives from each schools’ Site Council. My wife is former President and current Treasurer of the kids’ school PTA, and she’s active in the regional PTA.

      In my personal experience, I don’t see a lot of this broken down at the racial level. Generally, the racial tensions in the public school system are more closely coupled to group norms towards things like volunteerism, than an idea that “that group” is trying to take over the schools to “our groups”‘s detriment.Report

  9. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I’m moved by her argument, but unfortunately I don’t have kids to send to public school. Instead, I’m going to quit my job and go on welfare, so that I have some skin in that game.Report

  10. Avatar roger says:

    Why are we disregarding the census data which shows that poor parents have substantially more leisure time than the other classes?

    It does not take money to be involved if you have time. At least some poor parents clearly do have time. So why don’t poor parents get involved in the kids’ education?

    Are poor parents worse at taking responsibility for their kids? If so, what is the real reason, since it does not appear to be time?Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      Why are we disregarding the census data which shows that poor parents have substantially more leisure time than the other classes?

      Can you post a link to the data you’re talking about, specifically?Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Wasn’t it because poor people tended to work less. So a highly questionable assumption was made that working less equaled more leisure since that lack of work might be involuntary or the result of other issues. So someone with a serious medical problem would have extra leisure by virtue of being bedridden. Or someone might have extra leisure but be spending their time looking for work or lack a car because they are poor.Report

    • Avatar roger says:

      Here are the studies of leisure. Leisure for the non retired is increasing across the board, but most in less educated segments. Note also the data by marital status and work status.


      This approaches the problem from the working angle. It shows actual Census data on hours worked and FT employment by class.


      68% did not work. 17% have a full time job. Statistically, almost none are two income.

      Obviously we are looking at the same issue from many sides. I believe there is a myth that some have that the poor are especially busy. I am confident it is not true. 

      Thus, you should at least consider that one of your central premises in this excellent post may be incorrect. Do the poor actually get involved less at school? If so, if it is not because they are too busy, then why not?Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        I’m reading the PDF as time permits. Immediate thoughts follow.

        I believe there is a myth that some have that the poor are especially busy. I am confident it is not true.

        I’m not confident that it is untrue, but I think we’re throwing around extremely diffuse blanket terms that are very likely clouding things.

        Do the poor actually get involved less at school?

        In my experience, economic cohort is correlated with activity levels. The farther away you are from the poverty line, the more likely it is that you will be an active parent. This obviously is just a correlation; but if you take the N most active parents in the school, a disproportionate number of them will be the higher-income/wealth families.

        If so, if it is not because they are too busy, then why not?

        Well, granted there are potential cultural factors. In some cases of fairly recent immigration, the parents may come from nations where the cultural norm is that you don’t mess with the schools, you drop your kids off and let the school do its business. To the extent that this is also correlated with poverty, you’ll see overlap there, sure. Just for one contributing factor.

        However, I don’t know that “too busy” is the right metric. It seems very uncommon for the people near the poverty line to be the same type of busy as the middle class folk. Middle class folk deal with a lot less overhead, as it were.

        For example, one of the most active families in our PTA is a double-income couple where the wife has a very flexible work schedule. They work their asses off; they are fairly solidly middle class. They have very little “leisure” time, as I would use the term, but they have discretionary time… they just choose to use the discretionary time in a way that I don’t really call it “leisure” (lots of volunteering, for one thing).

        On the other hand, we have some very invested people on the other side of the poverty line who spend as much time as they are able at the school… but that discretionary time is much less effective than the previous couple, as far as the school’s practical needs are concerned.

        A few common reasons: they don’t have free time during school hours and it’s difficult for them to get it (they don’t have flextime; this is a very large factor, they are much more likely to be in low-wage jobs with little flexibility in work hours). They don’t have reliable transportation (they take the bus). They don’t have reliable child care. They are more likely to have larger families (again, cultural and religious factors), thus they are more likely to have younger children that require time dependencies that you can’t meet at the school (hard to volunteer with a baby under your arm).

        The overhead cost of spending time at the school of the second example can be quite high.

        So while the second family may have more “leisure” time as defined for the purposes of the FRB paper, they may simply not have time that correlates with available time slots to volunteer, at the school.Report