Author Topic: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)  (Read 1512 times)

jamesbond007

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Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« on: April 22, 2018, 08:31:14 PM »
We live in Fremont. Fremont Unified, in general, has good schools. I never paid attention to ratings on greatschools.org. I always felt that parent involvement is what matters the most. Our DD starts going to school next year. A friend of mine has an 8 YO who goes to a 10/10 school. I never cared about it until now. We just had a discussion and they told me that some schools, although all schools are common core, don't have the obligation of teaching the entire curriculum. So they gave some example like one of the worse schools in the area in FUSD don't teach anything in depth compared to a 10/10 school in the area. Is that true? Does it happen that way? How worried should I be? The state dashboard for schools definitely puts our assigned school slightly above the state average. I tried to be objective till now but the fear of potentially messing up with my child's career is bothering me a lot.

canisius

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2018, 10:22:48 PM »
I canít speak for California schools, but I can speak as a public school teacher and father of two children in public schools. The great schools rating isnít a bad metric, nor are the state scores. That said sometimes it doesnít say all. For example my daughter first atteneded a school that scored a 10. It was a good curriculum, good teaching, and good school. However, we always felt the teacher neglected our daughter more than the other students (perhaps just helicopter parents, perhaps because she was the only non-white kid in the class). In addition the parents were involved but very materialistic, very instangrammy. Not very Mustachian. When we moved to our current house, the school has the same metrics with staye tests, but a six according to great schools. We love it.  The teachers go above and beyond, there are always volunteers, many community nights and ití packed and the school is bery diverse. Our daughter has more confidence and now four years later in the fourth grade is the VP of the kids coding group. When I volunteer there, Iím always jotting down ideas to use in my classroom.

As a teacher, Iíve taught in the worst schools and the best schools (seriously, Science and Engineering Magnet, look it up). A curriculum is just a guide. A school can go over a curriculum thatís a mile wide, an inch deep, and just become good at recall. A good guide to a school that Iíve seen as both parent and teacher.

1:) Are the community and the parents involved? As much as politicians like to bash teachers, this is the buggest reason to success. They are called ďpublicĒ schools for a reason.
2.) Is there a school wide discipline plan in place. It doesnít matter so much what it is, as long as all are doing it.
3.) This isnít scientific polling but ebery good Principal and every bad principal has responded the same way to this statement. When I meet with a new principal, I always tell them, tha I cannot promise all my students will pass the atate exam. I can promise however, that I can build and put in learning strategies to make the student an autonomous thinker and that in three years he will pass the test in my subject and others. A good principal is excited to hear that strategy and understands that eith young learners sometimes you have to individualize and play small ball to make it home. Bad principal want to hear what Iíll do to ensure all pass now, which results in teaching testing strategies and not learning strategies.

I hope this helps a bit.

jamesbond007

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2018, 07:59:00 PM »
Thank you. It does help. But the fear I have is that everybody is going overboard to move near a 10/10 school and the daily conversations I am hearing are driving me nuts. The other two options I have are to send my daughter to a private school which cost me, at least, $2000 a month or sell my current house and buy one near good schools which still cost me $$$. Rent this place out and rent near good schools.


Can I just walk-in to a school and set up an appointment with the principal. Just curious. I did not study in the US so I don't know how this works here.

cchrissyy

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2018, 11:04:06 PM »
8/10 is very high!

I don't care much for the greatschools rankings. My kids elementary, middle, and high schools are currently rated 7/10 and I have been thrilled with every one of them!  I am also somebody who paid for private school in grades K-2 and while I did like that school a lot, it was definitely not enough extra value for the money.  Try not to listen too much to the people who say you need a 10/10 school or a switch to private. 8/10 is great, and if you have any doubts about it, just go spend some time at the school and see for yourself. Get on the email list or whatever to hear what is going on there.

canisius

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #4 on: April 24, 2018, 07:19:23 AM »

Can I just walk-in to a school and set up an appointment with the principal. Just curious. I did not study in the US so I don't know how this works here.

Actually, more often than you think; especially since we elect their bosses. Iíve met with all my kids Principals and it was no problem. In fact, when we were deciding where to enroll my son for next year (in bilingual or the comprhensive campus) I walked in merely to ask for more information and got a tour and an in-depth conversation with the counselor and AP on the spot at one campus and a teacher head and the principal at the other campus.

historienne

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #5 on: April 24, 2018, 08:07:36 AM »
The scores are really not a good indicator of quality.  Not saying that quality doesn't vary, it absolutely does.  But scores measure the demographics of the school more than anything else. 

Talk to the teachers and school admin, but also talk to current parents at the school(s) you are considering.  Ask them what they like about their kid's school, and what they would like to change.  See if their answers map onto your own values and your sense of your children's needs.

It seems like your concerns mainly stem from hearing people around you talk about their efforts to get into the "best" school.  I mean this gently, but that's not really different from thinking about buying a Lexus just because everyone else you know is getting one.  You're considering spending lots of money for something that you don't have any concrete reason to believe is better, just a vague sense that other people think it's better. 

jamesbond007

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #6 on: April 24, 2018, 08:42:27 AM »
Thank for the words. I will go to the school and talk to the principal or teachers. Will try to talk to fellow parents as well. FWIW, we decided to just have one kid to keep costs low and so we could spend more time with our DD and take care of her. That's the reason I could afford to buy this house 2 years ago. At that time the rating was 7/10 and now it is 6/10. The dashboard from the state shows improvement from Spring 2017 to Fall 2017. Spring 2018 report is pending. I am thinking about the worst case here. Is homeschooling an option to cut out the noise?

cchrissyy

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2018, 08:58:55 AM »
yes, homeschooling is legal in California. also, some school districts have independant study programs

Don't worry about the changing greatschools rating. you are thinking worst case like something happened with the school but maybe the site just changed their algorithm.

charis

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2018, 09:01:03 AM »
The scores are really not a good indicator of quality.  Not saying that quality doesn't vary, it absolutely does.  But scores measure the demographics of the school more than anything else. 

Talk to the teachers and school admin, but also talk to current parents at the school(s) you are considering.  Ask them what they like about their kid's school, and what they would like to change.  See if their answers map onto your own values and your sense of your children's needs.

It seems like your concerns mainly stem from hearing people around you talk about their efforts to get into the "best" school.  I mean this gently, but that's not really different from thinking about buying a Lexus just because everyone else you know is getting one.  You're considering spending lots of money for something that you don't have any concrete reason to believe is better, just a vague sense that other people think it's better. 

To the bolded, I just check my children's school on greatschools and discovered that they break scores down by demographics.  By most accounts, the school is great, but has a very poor score  - 3/10 (I'm not just saying that, my 8 year old reads at a 7th grade level).  But the economic and racial breakdown is absolutely atrocious.  Basically, if the student is not a low-income student of color, the school is 9/10 as far as they are concerned, but everyone else is out of luck (1-2/10).  This is beyond disturbing.

jamesbond007

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2018, 09:24:22 AM »
The scores are really not a good indicator of quality.  Not saying that quality doesn't vary, it absolutely does.  But scores measure the demographics of the school more than anything else. 

Talk to the teachers and school admin, but also talk to current parents at the school(s) you are considering.  Ask them what they like about their kid's school, and what they would like to change.  See if their answers map onto your own values and your sense of your children's needs.

It seems like your concerns mainly stem from hearing people around you talk about their efforts to get into the "best" school.  I mean this gently, but that's not really different from thinking about buying a Lexus just because everyone else you know is getting one.  You're considering spending lots of money for something that you don't have any concrete reason to believe is better, just a vague sense that other people think it's better. 

To the bolded, I just check my children's school on greatschools and discovered that they break scores down by demographics.  By most accounts, the school is great, but has a very poor score  - 3/10 (I'm not just saying that, my 8 year old reads at a 7th grade level).  But the economic and racial breakdown is absolutely atrocious.  Basically, if the student is not a low-income student of color, the school is 9/10 as far as they are concerned, but everyone else is out of luck (1-2/10).  This is beyond disturbing.

Wow! just WOW! Is that even legal if that is what they are doing?

Psychstache

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #10 on: April 24, 2018, 09:54:10 AM »
The scores are really not a good indicator of quality.  Not saying that quality doesn't vary, it absolutely does.  But scores measure the demographics of the school more than anything else. 

Talk to the teachers and school admin, but also talk to current parents at the school(s) you are considering.  Ask them what they like about their kid's school, and what they would like to change.  See if their answers map onto your own values and your sense of your children's needs.

It seems like your concerns mainly stem from hearing people around you talk about their efforts to get into the "best" school.  I mean this gently, but that's not really different from thinking about buying a Lexus just because everyone else you know is getting one.  You're considering spending lots of money for something that you don't have any concrete reason to believe is better, just a vague sense that other people think it's better. 

To the bolded, I just check my children's school on greatschools and discovered that they break scores down by demographics.  By most accounts, the school is great, but has a very poor score  - 3/10 (I'm not just saying that, my 8 year old reads at a 7th grade level).  But the economic and racial breakdown is absolutely atrocious.  Basically, if the student is not a low-income student of color, the school is 9/10 as far as they are concerned, but everyone else is out of luck (1-2/10).  This is beyond disturbing.

Wow! just WOW! Is that even legal if that is what they are doing?

Well, the issue with greatschools is that there ratings are heavily based on the required state testing results. For a vairety of reasons, low SES students and minorities on average perform worse on these tests than students who are high SES and white students. So the effect is like what others have said: greatschools scores tell you more about demographics and SES than they do about the school quality.

I agree with others about admin being a great resource. Principals are like mini-CEOs when it comes to the culture that is set by a school building (please note they are not like CEOs in any other way. More like middle managers when it comes to decision making and operations). Getting to know the thoughts, beliefs, and attitude of a principal is going to tell you a lot about what the climate of a school is really like.

Honestly, as an involved, caring, educated parent, your child will most likely do fine in any elementary school that is safe. Just always keep tabs on what is going on and make sure that teachers know that you are comfortable having conversations about any struggles your child is having so you can work together to address them (Also, be comfortable that your child is going to have struggles. Otherwise, the teachers will just learn they have to lie to you so they don't invoke the wrath of angry parent.)

Source: have worked in K-12 education my whole adult life.

Cranky

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #11 on: April 24, 2018, 11:06:10 AM »
The biggest predictor of state test scores is demographics. We can debate forever and a day why that is and what can be done about it, but ultimately, the only test scores that matter (and they don't matter a ton, frankly) is your kid's.

Go look at the school. Ask to see some curriculum and to observe a classroom, and then don't sweat it. Does it seem like a place your kid would thrive in? Is this not like... kindergarten?

School lasts 6.5 hours/day, 180 days/year. The stuff that goes on outside of school is at least as important, educationally, as what goes on inside that school.

charis

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #12 on: April 24, 2018, 12:16:12 PM »
The scores are really not a good indicator of quality.  Not saying that quality doesn't vary, it absolutely does.  But scores measure the demographics of the school more than anything else. 

Talk to the teachers and school admin, but also talk to current parents at the school(s) you are considering.  Ask them what they like about their kid's school, and what they would like to change.  See if their answers map onto your own values and your sense of your children's needs.

It seems like your concerns mainly stem from hearing people around you talk about their efforts to get into the "best" school.  I mean this gently, but that's not really different from thinking about buying a Lexus just because everyone else you know is getting one.  You're considering spending lots of money for something that you don't have any concrete reason to believe is better, just a vague sense that other people think it's better. 

To the bolded, I just check my children's school on greatschools and discovered that they break scores down by demographics.  By most accounts, the school is great, but has a very poor score  - 3/10 (I'm not just saying that, my 8 year old reads at a 7th grade level).  But the economic and racial breakdown is absolutely atrocious.  Basically, if the student is not a low-income student of color, the school is 9/10 as far as they are concerned, but everyone else is out of luck (1-2/10).  This is beyond disturbing.

Wow! just WOW! Is that even legal if that is what they are doing?

As explained better above, the school is not actually treating* some of its students differently base on race and economic class - the school's "score" is based on test results.  This just illustrates how useless the score is unless you review the demographic breakdown.   The point is, that if you like the school, it's safe, your child is happy there and the child is not a low-income student of color, it's likely a defacto 9-10/10 (or similar) for YOUR kid regardless. 

*This is obviously debatable in a way that's not really relevant to this specific conversation.

MaybeBabyMustache

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #13 on: April 24, 2018, 01:44:10 PM »
Live in the Bay Area, have kids in public schools. One in middle, one finishing up elementary school.

The elementary school is rated 9/10. Middle school was just recently lowered to 8/10. I took a look at the scoring. The school was dropped from 9/10 to 8/10 based on two factors:
1) In summary, all students place 10/10 on test scores. However, when broken apart separately, Hispanic students score 7/10 on test scores.
2) In summary, again all students place 10/10 on test scores. And, again when broken apart, low income students score 4/10 on test scores.

The call out on the lowered scoring is described as this:
Disadvantaged students at this school may be falling behind other students in the state, and this school may have significant achievement gaps.

A few thoughts. 1)In total, the school is exceptionally well performing. Any gaps where students of any kind are following behind is worrisome as a citizen, but others in the thread do a better job of explaining why this is a significant & systemic problem. 2) I'm super impressed with the public schools in our area, although the schools my kids attend are very underfunded and are primarily supported by strong parent donations & fundraisers. Note: I live in a super expensive area, but that's not what sets state funding in California.

mm1970

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #14 on: April 24, 2018, 02:12:20 PM »
Thank for the words. I will go to the school and talk to the principal or teachers. Will try to talk to fellow parents as well. FWIW, we decided to just have one kid to keep costs low and so we could spend more time with our DD and take care of her. That's the reason I could afford to buy this house 2 years ago. At that time the rating was 7/10 and now it is 6/10. The dashboard from the state shows improvement from Spring 2017 to Fall 2017. Spring 2018 report is pending. I am thinking about the worst case here. Is homeschooling an option to cut out the noise?

In Fremont I wouldn't worry about it.  I have friends there, and they actually transferred their kids to a slightly lower ranked school to avoid the craziness of intense competition from the Asian community (and they are Asian!)

FWIW, I'm in So Cal, and our school district (that we live in) was ranked a 1 when we bought it.  The school we attend (there are open transfers) was a 5.

Now the school we attend is a 2 (went down because they now factor in "equity", and our English Origin kids score WAY better than the English Learner kids, so we get dinged.)  The district we are in score a 3. ( Because almost their entire demographic is English Learner, so there is no "inequity" issue.)

Teachers, curriculum haven't changed.  The tests have. 

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #15 on: April 24, 2018, 02:51:52 PM »
I’m on the other side of the bay from OP so I am pretty familiar with this debate. Note; our kid hasn’t started school yet but we have a program picked out for her at a local public school. The school itself isn’t rated that well because of poverty/English language learners, but we toured the particular program we are interested in, spoke with the principe, and were pleased with what we saw.

I wish I had bookmarked the thread. I read on these forums in the past year a debate on the same subject. Anecdotally I have also seen that school scores are correlated to English language learners and those getting free or subsidized school lunches. Someone else though on these forums, a statistician, was able to download a bunch of school data and was all set to do an analysis to see what factors predicted school performance. This user didn’t even get started on the analysis though because he/she just plotted it in excel and saw that it was a straight line correlation between school score and poverty/English-language learning.

Bottom line, and one I have to remind myself of all the time: your kid will probably be just fine if you fit the typical MMM demographic of being well educated and invested in your kids. Choose a school based on other factors like what feels comfortable to you, what programs are offered, proximity to home, etc. and not what greatschools.com says.

cchrissyy

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #16 on: April 24, 2018, 03:27:27 PM »
if it is helpful, here is a write up about one of my local schools getting awarded as a California Distinguished School

it is 7/10 on greatschools. maybe reading this will show you how much good can happen at a place that is "only" a 7

http://www.berkeleyschools.net/2018/04/more-about-emerson-elementarys-california-distinguished-school-recognition/

SimpleCycle

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #17 on: April 24, 2018, 07:24:33 PM »
Iím on the other side of the bay from OP so I am pretty familiar with this debate. Note; our kid hasnít started school yet but we have a program picked out for her at a local public school. The school itself isnít rated that well because of poverty/English language learners, but we toured the particular program we are interested in, spoke with the principe, and were pleased with what we saw.

I wish I had bookmarked the thread. I read on these forums in the past year a debate on the same subject. Anecdotally I have also seen that school scores are correlated to English language learners and those getting free or subsidized school lunches. Someone else though on these forums, a statistician, was able to download a bunch of school data and was all set to do an analysis to see what factors predicted school performance. This user didnít even get started on the analysis though because he/she just plotted it in excel and saw that it was a straight line correlation between school score and poverty/English-language learning.

Bottom line, and one I have to remind myself of all the time: your kid will probably be just fine if you fit the typical MMM demographic of being well educated and invested in your kids. Choose a school based on other factors like what feels comfortable to you, what programs are offered, proximity to home, etc. and not what greatschools.com says.

This is not me, but I did the same thing with Chicago Public Schools data.  I wanted to see what schools were testing above their predicted scores based on demographics, which involved building a model to predict test scores.  % ELL and % free and reduced lunch predicted something like 80% of the variation in test scores.  FWIW, most schools that tested above their predicted demographics were very disadvantaged schools that outperformed their dismal expectations.

Great Schools did just change their methodology to include equity, and a lot of high performing schools fell in the rankings because they are not as good at serving disadvantaged students.

mm1970

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #18 on: April 25, 2018, 10:11:04 AM »
Iím on the other side of the bay from OP so I am pretty familiar with this debate. Note; our kid hasnít started school yet but we have a program picked out for her at a local public school. The school itself isnít rated that well because of poverty/English language learners, but we toured the particular program we are interested in, spoke with the principe, and were pleased with what we saw.

I wish I had bookmarked the thread. I read on these forums in the past year a debate on the same subject. Anecdotally I have also seen that school scores are correlated to English language learners and those getting free or subsidized school lunches. Someone else though on these forums, a statistician, was able to download a bunch of school data and was all set to do an analysis to see what factors predicted school performance. This user didnít even get started on the analysis though because he/she just plotted it in excel and saw that it was a straight line correlation between school score and poverty/English-language learning.

Bottom line, and one I have to remind myself of all the time: your kid will probably be just fine if you fit the typical MMM demographic of being well educated and invested in your kids. Choose a school based on other factors like what feels comfortable to you, what programs are offered, proximity to home, etc. and not what greatschools.com says.

This is not me, but I did the same thing with Chicago Public Schools data.  I wanted to see what schools were testing above their predicted scores based on demographics, which involved building a model to predict test scores.  % ELL and % free and reduced lunch predicted something like 80% of the variation in test scores.  FWIW, most schools that tested above their predicted demographics were very disadvantaged schools that outperformed their dismal expectations.

Great Schools did just change their methodology to include equity, and a lot of high performing schools fell in the rankings because they are not as good at serving disadvantaged students.

I'm pretty sure this was me.

Of course, Great Schools has changed their algorithm now, so it's not quite linear.  Like I said above, they added a "ding" for inequity.

ysette9

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Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #19 on: April 25, 2018, 10:38:32 AM »
This is then my opportunity to thank you, @mm1970, for that lovely analysis that really opened my eyes a while back. I appreciate your input.

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Re: Educate me about public schools (SF Bay Area)
« Reply #20 on: April 26, 2018, 08:31:16 AM »
Thanks so much, everyone. I feel much better now. I knew I made the right decision when I bought this house. We are dedicated to providing our DD what she deserves. Being a son of a teacher myself, although in a different country, I knew that parent involvement is 100% necessary irrespective of which schools kids go to. But these "conversations" with friends and colleagues drove me nuts. Thanks to you all, my sanity is restored.