There is one very straightforward way that well-educated, upper-income families could help improve the public schools.
Send your kids to the local public schools, and get involved.
Your kids WILL survive.
In fact, since they probably carry half of your genes, and since you nurture them every day, they will most likely still do well in school, well enough to get into a good college and have a good life. Your kids aren’t the fragile little flowers you may think. The sturm and drang of adolescence will happen no matter where they go to school, but all the evidence I’ve heard (including from my own two kids, who went K-12 through DC public schools, thank you very much) indicates that there is a lot LESS use of illicit drugs in the public schools.
Plus, you and your children will actually get to know kids and parents from all kinds of backgrounds: African-American and Hispanic and European-American kids whose parents do important work that keeps our society running — many of them in blue-collar or pink-collar jobs. Your kids would grow up with deeper connections, understanding, and sympathy for the kids and families who are not as well off as you are. If they grow up to be managers, they will know much better how to relate to the rank-and-file workers…
Evidence for that comes from a study of upper-Northwest DC students who attended Murch and Lafayette elementary schools. Some of them went on and continued in DC public schools, and others transferred at various grade levels to private schools. The study showed no statistically significant difference in whether those kids were accepted at selective colleges and universities or not.
What’s really alarming about this study is how self-defeating many of these affluent parents really are. Why spend a quarter of a million dollars on seven years of private school, when your kids could end up taking and passing AP classes at the local public high schools, for free, (as did my own kids) and still get into decent or excellent colleges? (see page 38 of the report) More evidence: when I taught at Alice Deal JHS/MS in the same area of town, my MathCounts teams were very competitive with the local private schools. Sometimes we were #1, sometimes the private schools beat us. My old school and I still have lots of “Mathletic” trophies to prove this. And my own kids did quite well on their AP exams, too.
Take a look at this table of data from the report (page 8):
If you look at the table, you can see that zip codes 2008, 20015 and 20016 in Washington DC are overwhelmingly composed of relatively affluent, well-educated, professional/manageral, white families. Who overwhelmingly send their kids to private schools.
What’s really sad is that many of those families claim to know exactly what’s wrong with the DC public school system and how to fix it: they were the core of the support for Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee and their totally wrong-headed approach to public education.
Seems to me that if these families were on the inside of DCPS, they would have a much better idea of what’s wrong and how it could be improved, rather than the facile answers provided by the billionaires who are simultaneously wrecking the world economy and telling the rest of us how to run our educational system.
And their kids do just fine.