The achievement gap



I got this flyer in the mail today from a summer camp called International Ivy Summer Enrichment Programs in the tonier neighborhood of Short Hills, NJ.

I scoffed. Pre Law? Anatomy and Surgical Techniques? For an 8 year old?

What idiots would drop that kind of cash on something so absurd?

But then I realized: Me. I would. If Sam showed interest in anatomy or law at that age, I’d probably drop the cash to explore that niche. 

In fact, I’d drop any amount of cash on any kind of future enrichment program because I already do.

Two weeks ago, I wrote out a check for $4K for summer camp for my 5-year-old; his summer will be filled with STEM enrichment and theater 

Is this privilege? Yes. No shit it is.

But is it also a necessity? Yes. Yes it is.

It’s a necessity because we don’t have many options for where to put Sam in the summer when we both work. I could do a sitter and save some cash, but the sitter could call out. Or not come in. Or quit halfway through the summer. And then where would I be? In deep shit. That’s where.

So, we shell out mad cash so he has somewhere safe, inviting and steadfast to be while we work. And, sure, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I like that he’ll also be learning during the summer months. 

And here, my friend’s, is the yuppie parents secret. We pat ourselves on the back for putting our children in local public schools like the good, earnest liberals we are….

….but then we spend hours and thousands of dollars on after-school enrichment classes, tutors, summer camps, music lessons, traveling sports teams, therapists, SAT prep-classes, travel, books, videos, educational apps, etc.

Many parents do this because they want their children to achieve, sure. But many parents are parents like me who need to put their kids somewhere  while we work. So they might as well be really, really good places.

Right? Right.

Yes, we do well. But as about as well as any two college-educated, married people do. Whatever extra cash we have goes right into our kids and their care and enrichment. (The other extra cash goes to Jeff Bezos.)

I am also going to say here the reason we pay so much for after-school classes and summer camp and music lessons and everything else? Because there are deep, deep holes in Sam’s public school education we have to pay to fill up.

If you don’t have that money and/or devoted parents dedicated to teaching you on the side, you’re just going to have that hole. And while Sam’s hole will (hopefully) become a mountain over the years, other kids will be lucky to just get to ground level.

This article that just came out about the achievement gap in Seattle public schools. It states:

The inequity appears to have gotten worse: In their 2016 report, Stanford researchers found black students in Seattle tested three and a half grade levels behind their white peers. In an update in 2017, they found that gap had widened to 3.7 grade levels.

Sam’s school district, due to a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights by the New Jersey ACLU, is also trying to address the racial disparities in the classroom.

It’s all dire. It’s all horrifying.

The needle isn’t moving. It seems to only be getting worse.

Are school districts solely to blame to for the achievement gap?  My son is in kindergarten; I have no idea what high school is like. I have no insight into what is going on in the classrooms. I’ve just started reading into it and I would say, yes, there are deep, entrenched problems regarding race in our school system we have to address.  And I’m buoyed by the fact it seems school districts are talking about it and steps are being made.  

But I’m also saying that things are terribly stacked against poorer children due to us, other parents. Parents who want the best for other children. Parents who volunteer and help and care about other kids and who are involved ….but who will never, ever stop pouring money into their own children’s development.

But what if society leveled the field a bit so those holes don’t get too deep or too high? What if everyone had the same access to all the same after-school and summer programs? What if we paid teachers $150K a year but they had to do a full year and could get rid of uninspired, untalented teachers? Make the school day 9 to 5? Have quality after-school enrichment classes for everyone, not just the ones who can pay? Have a safe and nurturing place for all children to go in the summer, not just those with means. 

This, of course, will probably never happen. There isn’t enough money. The unions are too strong. Pensions are too expensive. It’s very, very hard to turn around a giant barge.

So, those of us with means, who find ourselves on this barge, will pay to put our kids into a life raft. And the rest stay on that slow moving ship to their future, while other kids zip on by.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. rfink2014 says:

    Hi there!

    Long story short, your essays have made the last few days as a new, sahm in a new state and during a dreary winter a lot more enjoyable and less lonely. It’s like having one of my friends close by to laugh and retrospect with whenever I need. Keep up the great writing and I look forward to more!


    1. Dorothy Robinson says:

      Oh, that is so nice to hear. Thank you!! hang in there. Winter is almost over…right? right? right?


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