"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

It's the Family Income, Stupid!

A piece in WaPo on the growing Montesorri movement, especially among the middle-class minorities who can choose something other than the KIPP chain-gangs that remain the preserve of the "left behind." A clip:

And it is appealing to some African American professionals. The private Henson Valley Montessori School in Temple Hills has grown 50 percent over the past decade and plans to move to larger quarters in Upper Marlboro in the fall.

On a recent day at Henson Valley, children were putting together map puzzles, blowing seeds in the air to demonstrate plant dispersion and planning the construction of a space station. "They are learning how to learn," said Stephanie Carr, a federal government manager who has three children at the school. Despite the free-form nature of lessons, "they get very good test scores," Carr said. "My children are testing above grade level."

Pamela Hayes, an accountant in Fort Washington, has three children at the school. "There was a feeling that we were part of a family," she said. The school serves 260 students from preschool through eighth grade; tuition is $9,190 through sixth grade and $12,160 for seventh and eighth.


  1. The expense of the Montisorri school ($9-12K/yr) brings to mind my experience; my daughter attended a local Waldorf school; and although I'm not completely enamored of all of Mr. Steiner's ideas, my daughter got a fantastic education from them - she attended pre-school to 4th grade - now she's at a Catholic school with an A average and standardized test scores in the upper 10%-ile.

    However, many (Kozol et al) argue that mine and my wife's income (>$100k), education (undergrad and post grad) "stacked the deck" WRT her achievement anyway. This begs the question, was the $9k/yr we spent on my daughter's early education just "icing on the cake" or a real investment (and not just, consequently, a $9K/year hole in her college fund)?

    In her current school, the previous year teacher was phenomenal; very experienced and adept at juggling multiple achievement levels, while this year's teacher is enthusiastic but quite green. However, the content covered does surpass the local public schools and is offered at 1/3 the price of the local Waldorf.

    Therefore, I'm left with two questions:

    Is a large yearly monetary output on our children's education simply a monetary doppleganger to the effort we already spend at home (my wife's up late with homework, my reworked career allows sit-down meals with conversation daily)?

    And second, if it really does require lots and lots of $$$ to create a quality, child-centered educational program (with Catholic schools as the exception) then how will we ever achive a TRUE NCLB if there's no possibility of ever finding the money required to spend that on *every* child no matter the level of means of the family - that is, if the Henson Vally project "works" in Upper Marlboro would that offer any more assistance for the other x-thousand kids in PG county than my local Waldorf offers to the 120K students in the local district?

    In short, does education excellence simply come down to those who can afford to send their kids to "boutique" schools, rather than sending them up the street to the local "Walmart" school?

    More succinctly, if one spends $200 on a pair of jeans at the boutique - are the jeans 8X better than the $25 pair at Walmart or does the lifestyle of a person who can buy $200 jeans enable the wearer to keep them in better shape than the $25 jeans wearer? Certainly the buying experience is in the boutique is designed to be more enjoyable than the "rack and stack" at the megamart; so too must be the learning environment at a $9000/yr, 15 kids/class, 200 kid school be different than a publically funded, 25-30 kids/class, 1000 student school. Would not any child, enrolled at the latter then transfering to the former, gain greater academic success? And wouldn't the expectations of any parent, contemplating the investment necessasary to send his kid to the boutique, be equally enabling/encouraging/insuring greater student achievement?

    If this is true, it's discouraging, because we'll *never* be able to fund enough boutiques for all of our kids.

  2. Anonymous8:11 AM

    I am a Waldorf school teacher who is completing a manuscript about my teaching experiences. My hope is that this book is read by poeple who want to change the public school system so that all chidren can experience what Waldorf students experience.

    It is heartening that both Waldorf and Montessori schools are able to operate with tuitions near 10K. This is very close to the funding levels for students in many public school districts. This means that with the economy of scale offered by a larger school district,public schools whould be able to offer the same quality of education.

    In fact, the growing number of Waldorf Charter Schools shows that this is indeed possible.

    It is not about money. There is plenty of money to be redirected if we have the political will to do so. It is about understanding childhood and developing education laws based on a philosphy of education that has children at the center.