Gentrification: That pesky school thing … coping patterns, part 1

Big disclaimer: I am not a parent. Therefore, I know squat about education and parenting.

Well I finished a chapter in the London Calling book about the middle classes in gentrifying neighborhoods regarding education. Education, apparently everywhere, is a major concern of middle class parents. In DC it is one of the big reasons people mention in saying why they wouldn’t move to the city. Even associates who didn’t have kids or weren’t even sure they were going to have children would bring up the DC schools. And it is well known that the DC schools suck. Yeah, there are nicer ways of saying it but compared to MoCo and NoVa. Compared to PG Co., we’re not that bad, we might even rock.
Anyway, back to the book…. The parents in the various neighborhoods profiled had different coping strategies when living in gentrified neighborhoods while still trying to do right by their children’s education. The one strategy, which most of us assume many DC parents will take is to move. That is move away and out of the gentrifying neighborhood. For one, parents who have ideological qualms about selective schools and private education, they will send their kids to the non-selective public/state schools. However, when the kids age out of the primary schools there is a great impulse to move. Rather than stick around and send their children to selective or private secondary schools, they move. Of course, one could see that as a glass is half empty or half full thing. The parents do take a chance on the local public schools and send their kids to schools where they interact with kids from different classes and ethnic backgrounds. But this only lasts for so long and parents do not have any faith in the area secondary schools. From the book I am left with the impression that families wind up moving to staunchly middle class homogeneous neighborhoods with good public secondary schools. That way the parents do not have to compromise their ideological beliefs regarding public education for the sake of their children’s education.
Another coping method was similar to the first but with no qualms about selective state or private schools. Parents would send their kids to public primary schools with the plan to send them to selective or private secondary schools later. Interestingly enough, the primary schools served a purpose by helping middle class parents find each other and provide support and information regarding the move to secondary schools. The DC equivalent of a selective secondary school might be the Ellington School. I need to point out that in gentrifying neighborhoods (in this study) the middle class is not the numerical majority, and apparently middle class parents are an even smaller minority, so they need a way make the connection with others in the same boat. Those who later send their kids to private school aren’t particularly thrilled to do so and would rather spend the money in other ways. Yet the option is pay up or move.
The last option is private school all the way. This option was chosen by parents who didn’t live in an area with any primary school infrastructure and where the number of middle class families with children was really low. There are no networks of other parents in the area to tap into and it is a given that the kids will go to private school.
So there are your options parents, move, mix public and private or just suck it up and do private K-12. As this post is running a little long I’m going to do part 2 covering an associate of mine’s story of educating his kids in private school (and reasons why that do apply to gentrification) and also briefly why (according to my reading of London Calling) an influx of middle class residents don’t necessarily improve the schools in a gentrifying area.

9 thoughts on “Gentrification: That pesky school thing … coping patterns, part 1”

  1. An interesting post, one that pretty much addresses my family’s situation. We’re a little different in that we’re a racially mixed family (I’m black, kid’s blakc, partner’s white), but that’s the only difference.

    We had a house in Logan Circle, which we sold last year, after living there about 5 years, after our son turned 2 years old. The hubby works with schools and knows alot about the public schools in the D.C. area. We ruled out the public schools in D.C. And since we planned on two kids we knew private school for two kids would be beyond our means. So, we moved to a neighborhood in Montgomery County, with the best public schools we could find.

  2. Mari nice blog, I read from time to time.

    Anyway my 2 cents: What do you mean DC schools suck? Please be more specific…(etc. School Infrastructure, Teachers, Kids, Management.)

    I believe that there is a negative perception about DC public schools that is portrayed by the media. Being a product of the DC public schools system(elementry & high school), I tend to believe that its not that bad. What concerns me more is the mismanagement or misappropriaton of funds that seem to take place.

    I’ve worked with the youth in DC (YLDI) and have friends that are now school teachers. I’ll be the first to admit that there are students in the school system with problems that stem from poor parenting and a lack of self didcipline. These children need help even more because they don’t have a good support system.

    SWW,Benjamin Banaker,Duke Ellington, Wilson are all excellent secondary schools. I believe that Banaker was even named one of the top 300 high schools in the country.

    Please define middle class (whats your definition in relation to gentrification)? I tend to disagree with HUD and the DCHA when it comes to there standars/guidelines. I make good money but still consider myself poor when it comes to real world living and cash flow.

    PS-I wish you could spell check before posting…

  3. What do I mean? I mean schools bad enough on various levels to make parents and people who hope to become parents not even want to buy in the District. I could point out decaying buildings. I point to regional test scores and other numerical guides. Depending on your politics or general belief system one could blame unions, how the DCPS fits in with the rest of the DC government, Janey, lack of discipline, teachers, the community at large, parents, and other things that might not (or coud be) be THE problem. I could also talk about a perceived “ethos” in the schools, but ya know, I’d decided to whittle it down to one word. Suck. I did ask Nathan over at DC Education blog (see the side panel) about the state of DC schools. He gave me one or two words summing it up, somewhere in the negative range.
    I work with the spell check Blogger gives me. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t. I could use my Liberal Arts degree and BS an excellent response that would excuse the misspellings but I AP’d out of English and didn’t have to take ENG classes in college. And that’s my excuse.
    My definition of middle class? For this education bit: professionals or other kind of highly skilled workers who have the ability to save, who are not under constant real threat of having to become dependent on state welfare or other similar corporation for survival needs (food, clothing, basic shelter and some medical care), typically college educated with certain expectations regarding living life. They have the ability afford to buy property of some state or other (a fixer upper in a questionable ‘hood) and do other such good things that would build up their net worth. They are not rich in that they do have to work/labor to maintain their status. And because they must work, education is important to them because what ever they can leave to their heirs will never be enough to support them completely. So the best thing they can give their children is a good education, which will be the tool their kids use to stay in the middle class.

  4. Not as in YOU need to use the spell check, but how do you use it. I did not see a link or icon before I submitted my comment.

    Anyway I totally understand the rational of why people are leaving, I have a sister that is leaving the area for the same reason. I was qurious as to how you formulated your own opnion, wether do to personal experience, talking to students, teachers, etc….

    You offer an interesting assesment. My idea of a middle class person is somone that is NOT insolvent. (meaning their assests/cash exceed their debts/liabilities). In this area, probably someone making around 100k or more. For example, 40k a year with no kids and a college degree owes 30k on a student loan 20k on a car, and pays 1100 a month in rent/mortagage. Even if they have 20k in the bank. 40k seems like alot until you get sick or get laid off. I guess what I’m trying to say is that working educated people are not necessarily middle class.

    Which brings me to my next questions perhaps for another thread. Who buys those 5,6,700k condos/lofts. I see plenty of them popping up, especially as I walked to the MCI center last night for the game. Whoever they are, they certainly must not be middle class…

  5. If those folks lost their job tomorrow they’d have to consider getting another job, so they are still middle class.
    When I was in High School I used to describe people being in one of three groups lower-middle class, middle-middle class and upper middle class. I considered myself lower-lower middle class, eventhough there were times (dad was self employed and when business dried up there was. no. money.) we fell into a state of downright poverty. The folks buying 1/2 million dollar condos, upper middle class. Also consider the wonders of the women’s rights movement (yay!) that allow women to make $100K or more (GS-13 step 10/ GS-14 step 4), no longer doomed to the depths of a stinking pink collar ghetto, if such a woman meets and joins with her equal then you’ve got a $200K household. That $200K household should be able to afford that condo.
    I don’t define the middle class on if they have a savings account or not, because the American middle class does lousy in the realm of money management. As a group we spend more money than we make on stuff we don’t really need. Believe it or not one can live (that is to not die) without a microwave, cable, car, cell phone, tv, your own private apartment/room, special coffee, fashionable clothing, and good food and wine. However, you’d be kinda grumpy because you have blah coffee, it would take longer to get to eat, you’d have to spend hours waiting for the the bus, your friends will find you annoying because it is hard to reach you, you dress funny and you know little of pop culture, you’d have little privacy, and dining might not be as enjoyable as it could be.

    I’m not writing this as an attack on anyone, but I just deleted my huge sermon/tirade on money management. That above, just a hint. Beware of the road you lead the webmistress down, it ain’t pretty.

  6. That DC’s schools are graded the same as VA and MD is irrelevant. DC schools simply do not compare to Montgomery, Fairfax, Alexandria and Arlington schools which are probably the best in their respective states. The funny thing about DC schools is that to see real growth they just have to get better than PG schools. And I would say that Mari was right by simply saying the schools suck and leaving it at that. There are so many ways that they suck in terms of capital spending, curriculum, and teacher qualifications etc, that saying they suck is the most economical description.

  7. To say all DC schools suck would be a inappropriate blanket statment. Again my school experience was a positive one for the most part. DC also offers alternatives forms of schooling (eg. Duke Ellington, SWW)that I’m unaware exists in those other counties. Now we all know that test scores are not the bottom line when it comes to measuring education, childrens potential, and future success. Agian 3 DC schools made this list of top highschools in the country:

    Many complain and make excuses to move instead of offering up alternative solutions to the issues at hand.

  8. I’m closing this thread for two reasons. 1- after a certain length in the comments I can’t bring everything up in my browser without some trouble. And if I can’t monitor my page I’m quite unhappy.
    2- It’s gone on long enough. It would be an inapropriate blanket statement to write that Florida State University sucks too. Moving is the path of least resistance. Charter schools might be a better bet, or not. In the end you are asking parents to entrust their heirs to DCPS, and it is up to each parent (regardless of class) to try to do right by their kids, and in that what is politically or ideologically popular or hard or brave may not be what is right for that individual or their future.

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