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.