Monday, June 29, 2009

Proof It Really Is a Buyer's Market

We went to a party a couple weeks ago at the home of one of DH's grad school classmates, who lives in one of the towns where we're househunting. DH's friend bought the house one year ago this month. So when a listing came into my email for a home in the same neighborhood, I decided to check public records on the friend's home. I knew prices had come down quite a bit from last year, but it's really something to see it.

DH's friend paid $881.5k for a 3 BR/2.5 BA 1608 sq ft home with a pool, or roughly $550/sq ft.

This current listing is for $725k for a 4 BR/2 BA 2012 sq ft home with a pool, or roughly $360/sq ft. Now I've not actually seen the inside of this house in person, but the photos look similar to the one owned by DH's friend.

Unfortunately, we've had to postpone our purchase due to difficulty finding attractive financing. Although we've got excellent credit and a good, stable income, all the lenders we've talked to won't touch us because we have <20% to put down. A couple of the lenders we talked to want 30% and one even said 35%. So we're staying in our current rental townhouse as cramped as it is and trying to save up a larger downpayment.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An Experience is Worth 1,000 Textbook Pages

Remember how I had mentioned about a month ago that I had never been to the Northwest? Well, I can now say that I've been to Oregon, Washington state, and British Columbia. DH had 3 weeks in between when he left his old position and when he begins his new one. So we decided to road trip up to Vancouver. Along the way, we saw Redwoods Natl. Park in Northern CA, Crater Lake in OR, Seattle, and Mt. Rainier Natl. Park.

Miss Scarlet checking out animal tracks on the banks of the Rogue River in OR.

Crater Lake, OR
The Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, WA designed by Frank Gehry.

Mt. Rainier Natl. Park in WA

Saturday, June 6, 2009

On Overrated Rich Schools

Via the "Kitchen Table Math" blog, I came across an interesting debate about "nominally high performing" schools. That is, schools located in affluent neighborhoods that score reasonably well on standardized tests because of their demographics but in reality are actually mediocre. Like the one my own children are zoned to attend, which is ranked in the top 10% statewide but the bottom 20% when compared to other schools with similar demographic profiles. I was especially struck by the following:
"Parents and school boards in affluent communities may not want to hear that the teaching in their schools is mediocre. The accountability system does not call attention to the problems of instructional quality in these schools, nor does it reinforce efforts to solve them....Unlike low-performing schools, which may be galvanized by external pressure to improve, so-called high-performing schools must often swim against a tide of complacency to generate support for change."
I get so frustrated at the perception gap in my town. "We're a California Distinguished School!" the school boasts. "We moved here because of the good schools!" beams an acquaintance. I just smile politely but inside I want to scream, "wake up and smell the coffee, people! Things aren't as hunky-dory as you all seem to believe they are!"

Laura McKenna over at the "11D" blog takes a more blase view of the problem of underperforming affluent schools:
"First of all, you should not rely on your schools to educate your kids. I spend a lot of time with my kids teaching them random things. If Jonah's doing his homework, I will be there in the room using the homework as a jumping board for my own lesson. If he does sloppy work, I make him redo it. I reteach the math lessons. We'll go up to the computer to look up a country in Africa. No school does this."
If a parent has to "afterschool" in order to make up for the academic deficiencies of the school, then what's the point of enrolling the child in the first place? Why not just homeschool and free up the child's afternoons for enrichment activities and unstructured play?

Laura follows up with a post detailing a number of the things she dislikes about her kids' school:
"Jonah's teachers have been terrible about math. They don't do enough repetition of math facts, and they just explain things really badly.

They don't do handwriting anymore, because the teachers tell me that all work will happen on laptops in the future.

Their time in specials (art, library, computers, health) is a complete waste of time.

They don't do enough writing.

They are not preparing the kids for good colleges. In fact, the head administrators seem to think that college consists of kids working in groups on laptop computers. They aren't preparing the kids for big lecture halls and blue books.

They assign book reports that consist largely of art projects that the parents complete.

They assign stupid homework like word searches and crossword puzzles."

So again my question is- if the academics are so lacking, why bother sending her kids there in the first place?

Is it "socialization"? I discussed that issue a couple weeks ago. Also, just today I was reading the newsletter from my town mothers' club when I came across a humor piece in written by a woman whose oldest child is a kindergartner. Here is an excerpt from it:
"They say a parent's influence only makes a difference for about the first seven years of a child's life. Well, make that five years. As soon as they enter the stream of public education and co-mingle with the throngs, they soak up everything like a sponge: the latest YouTube videos, the trendiest fashion fads, the most in-vogue vernacular. Soon you'll find yourself made obsolete as the go-to source of all things hip and happenin' and you feel as redundant as yesterday's newspaper (wait, make that newspapers, period)."
Yeah, I think I'll take a pass on this kind of "socialization" of my kids.

Now, quite possibly Laura is employed outside the home and is looking to her kids' school to provide childcare while she is at her job. I don't know her situation so I'm not going to make a judgment about that one way or the other. But for me personally, I'm a full-time homemaker and (God willing) plan to stay that way for a while. So that's not a reason for me to put my kids in a subpar school. I'm only going to enroll them in a school that would do a better job educating them than I can do myself. And that's definitely not my local government-run school...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Are Homeschoolers Motivated by Racism? Pt, II

The demographics of homeschooling families has come under quite a bit of scrutiny recently, particularly the findings that an increasing percentage of them are white, college-educated, and have incomes >$50,000 than in 1998 (though it is unclear whether that particular number has been adjusted for inflation). These findings play into the belief among certain critics of homeschooling that racism/ethnophobia is a major factor driving families to choose homeschool.

I discussed this topic back last December. You can read the full post here, but the key part is this:
"Is there any evidence that homeschoolers are disproportionately likely to reject integrated schools? I'm not aware of any research on the topic, but anecdotally it doesn't hold true for the homeschoolers I know personally....The school my children are zoned to attend is only 2.8% Hispanic and a mere 1.8% black. Low-income students of any race/ethnicity make up only 3.2% of the school's enrollment. So obviously my decision to homeschool is not due to a 'fear of mixing with the opposite race or class' because there are hardly any black, Hispanic, or poor kids at our neighborhood school. In fact, I'm pretty sure the percentage of black and Hispanic kids in our homeschool support group actually exceeds the percentage at the school (it's certainly not less)."
The fact that homeschoolers are disproportionately white, college-educated, and higher income means absolutely nothing if the schools they are rejecting are filled with students of the same demographic. If critics want to make an argument that homeschoolers are motivated by racism, they need to provide some data to show homeschooling rates are higher for families zoned to attend a diverse school than for those zoned for a non-diverse school.

Jesse Scaccia of the "Teacher Revised" blog asks in his post "The Case Against Homeschooling":
"How can a young person learn to appreciate other cultures if he or she doesn’t live among them?"
That is a fair question, but his proposed solution of enrolling in the government-run schools is no guarantee that a child will encounter a diverse set of classmates. The above quote from my previous post shows how faulty that assumption can be. And the school my kids are zoned to attend is hardly alone in its lack of diversity. Consider the demographics of the following government-run schools from across the country.

Located in Massachusetts, where the statewide numbers are 8% African-American, 13% Latino, and 29% low-income.
  • My alma mater: 2% African-American, 1% Latino. Less than 1% are low-income.
  • My dad's alma mater: 4% African-American (many of these are bused in from Boston through the METCO program rather than town residents), and 3% Latino (again many of these are METCO participants). 2% of the students are low-income (again most are METCO kids).
Located in Ohio, where the statewide numbers are 15% African-American, 3% Latino, and 36% low-income.
  • My mom's alma mater: Less than 1% African-American, 1% Latino. Less than 1% are low-income.
Located in California, where the statewide numbers are 7% African-American, 49% Latino, and 51% low-income.
  • The high school in one of the towns where we're considering buying a home: 1% African-American, 4% Latino. Less than 1% are low-income.
  • The high school in the second town where we're considering buying a home: Less than 1% African-American, 3% Latino. Less than 1% are low-income.
  • High school #1 in the third town where we're considering buying a home: 7% Latino, 4% African-American. 3% of the students are low-income.
  • High School #2 is: 8% Latino, 1% African-American. 3% are low-income.
Homeschooled children therefore are far from alone in having there be "probably only one race/background in the room" as Mr. Scaccia puts it. De facto segregation is still a real problem in the U.S. four decades after civil rights legislation put an end to de jure segregation. But regardless of how important a challenge it is for our society to overcome, it is not a homeschooling issue. So don't try to make it into one.