Back to school night

by Denver Dad

What do people thing about back to school night? We’ve usually found it to be pretty informative and worthwhile, but our school changed it around this year and it was pretty much a complete waste of time.

They used to do it the standard way where you started in your kid;s homeroom and then went to their classes where the teacher provided the syllabus and discussed the specific class. You got to meet all of their teachers and find out what would be covered in each class, what they were expecting from the kids, etc. It worked very well.

We have a principal who is starting her second year and she decided to change it up this year to try to fix what she thought the flaws were, which were time spent moving between classes, and juggling classes for multiple kids. So the new format was to have a room for each grade (there are only 2 classes per grade so space wasn’t an issue) and have the teachers come to the room. Then they had a second session, where they would repeat the presentations so you could go to one grade and then to another if you needed to.

However, in our opinion it failed miserably. First, they do performance grouping, and there was only one math and one language arts teacher in each room. I went to 8th grade and DS’ math teacher wasn’t there, and DW went to 7th grade and DD’s math teacher wasn’t there. And they just talked in generalities – all I found out from DS’ LA teacher is that they will read 7-10 books and have to do a 10 page research paper. No specifics as to what books or anything else. The math teacher said they are using a new curriculum this year, but didn’t give any info as to what will be covered at each level. DW said the math teacher in her room went over what they are covering in 7th grade math, but DD is in 8th grade math so that didn’t help.

Then the science and social studies teachers stayed in one room. So all we found out about 8th grade science is they are doing chemistry and physics, there was nobody to answer questions or provide more information. DW said all they heard about social studies was what they read on the PowerPoint slide because nobody in the 7th grade room knew anything about it. And because they were doing two sessions, it was too short. Time ran out before the SS teacher could start his talk in the 8th grade room, so he had to whip through it in about 60 seconds. The Spanish teacher did go to both rooms, but because of the time crunch, she only talked for about 2 minutes and couldn’t get into nearly as much detail as she has in previous years.

How do they do BTS night at your schools? Do you find it worthwhile?

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120 thoughts on “Back to school night

  1. Our elementary was more of you go to the classrooms, but not on a schedule. You started with the main classroom teacher, who usually talked for a few minutes at the beginning, but then your child rushed you around the school to see everything else, which there really wasn’t time for. However, K-1 we had one-on-one orientation time with the teacher. In grades 2-3 it was small groups (4-6 parents) orientation and in grades 5-6 it was by classroom. These did not include the specials – art, science enrichment, music, gym – you had to get those on gack to school night.

    Middle school has an entering 6th and new student orientation (all together) followed by a per grade orientation – it is mainly run by the two home room teachers with the specials popping in and out to be able to visit all the rooms. It is a high-level overview only. I can’t recall the MS doing a back to school night in the last 5 years we’ve had a child there.

    The high school had a whole school initial welcome with some general information that pertained to everyone followed by going to each of your child’s classes. Very similar to the approach DD prefered in the OP. There was a separate athletics (fall sports) orientation and meet the coaches/team members just as off season started. That was new this year and it was super helpful.

    Overall – I really liked the K-1 individual orientation as it was very appropriate to that age group. As they get older, I prefer the follow their schedule. In the big group – they come to you – the each gets is usually not well alloted or managed. Also, you get a better feel for the teacher being in their room and having them not speak in front of their peers. I think it is helpful to be able to ask some questions about expectations especially when you have an introvert…it may be the only way you get information.

    Any of these approaches is hard when you have multiple kids to figure out who is going where for which kid. When DD#2 has the same class and teacher as DD#1 did a few years before, I find it tempting to just say “Oh, it will be the same”, except that is rarely true.

  2. Funny, our schools do both versions of the above, but in a way that seems age-appropriate. DS’ ES does the “all in one room” approach, but that seems fine for 4th grade, where it’s mostly about explaining what the curriculum will cover and the tools available. Each area had a consolidated presentation, but the individual teachers had a few minutes to talk about anything particular to them (e.g., a website). Best of all, they were very efficient — none of the rambling 15-minute presentations of years past; they even ended early, and parents could ask individual questions before the bell (they had two sessions for parents with multiple kids), or just head out early. I was very happy to be in and out in under an hour. Yay.

    HS does it the class-by-class way. Agree that this made it all very rushed; DH covered that one, and he said that they had only about 10 mins per class, and what with people arriving late it left the presentations short. But I think it was really important to see the individual teachers, given that there is so much difference between the classes at this level, there are significant and varying components to each course (tests, labs, reports, etc.), and each teacher has very specific requirements we need to know (e.g., one teacher said students need to check Engrade every night and she will post assignments there without telling them about it in class; another teacher said there will be quizzes on Engrade, but that he would never do that without telling the kids in class — helpful to know which class falls in which category!). DH came home with a lot of useful info that is helping us understand the teachers’ expectations, what projects are upcoming, things to look out for, etc.

    I do hate BTS night on general principle; so much fluff and speechifying, not to mention the held-hostage PTA meetings (because they open with the PTA meeting, and you don’t know exactly when the presentations will start, so you have to come early and sit through it). But this year’s was I think the best we’ve had, in terms of efficient delivery of useful information. So I can’t complain too much (not that I let it stop me).

  3. One thing that I noticed that they do differently now: I have clear memories of going to BTS night with my parents, and sitting through each teacher’s presentation about what the expectations were. Now it is very clearly parents-only.

    Seemed rather ironic to me, given that the recurring theme amongst the HS teachers was “we want your kids to be self-sufficient and managing their own schoolwork.”

  4. Thanks for the link on the other thread Rhett. I am thinking the screening test and evaluation would be a good one for the firm to license.

  5. Both kids have teams of teachers teaching them. So for BTS we got we got to see the whole teaching team and each of them spoke about the subjects they cover and general information about what to expect each quarter as the year progressed. The other teachers also fill in any gaps the presenting teacher may have omitted. I think it is a good format. The parents stay seated, no rushing around and also you get a sense of the format for the year, what skills they expect the kids to develop, how they will handle communication with parents, what to watch out for etc. They have time for questions but also have firm start/end times for the entire deal so you know it will be down to business and then out of there.

  6. LfB – ours is also “parents only”. So both parents CANNOT attend unless you get a babysitter. This year I have a work event so either DH will go, or no one. Being laissez-faire has worked so far for us so I am happy to continue that.

    Last week we were in Disney part of the time – they totally screwed up our reservations and fast passes, etc., so I am going to write an angry letter and see if I get any $$ back. DH was NOT PLEASED.

  7. For middle and high school, we follow our kid’s schedule and go to each classroom. I really like this – from meeting all of her teachers to seeing the rooms to getting a sense of how long it takes DD to get from class to class. One year she had a class in one wing of the building followed by a class in a different wing. They were as far apart as you could get. I appreciated DD’s struggles to get to class on time after I was faced with the same challenge.

    For elementary school, it’s in your kid’s classroom.

    I never miss back to school night. When the kids were younger, we would get babysitters. I really like the chance to meet their teachers and get a sense of what their school days are like.

  8. At my kids’ school, (junior high and high school), you follow the kids’ schedule and go from class to class. There is only 7 minutes per class, so there is very little time for questions, and the passing bells don’t work in part of the school, so we got caught in that this year. It works ok if you have one kid at the school, not so much with two.

  9. Parents only, ~15min/class. Pretty organized. Almost all teachers have their talk/presentation down to ~10 mins so it’s pretty rote for both them and veteran parents by now.
    No ‘hold-hostage’ PTA meeting…that sucks and wouldn’t be tolerated.

  10. We have the kind where you race around between classes, in middle school and high school at least. I just did two of them on back to back nights. It was exhausting. I was at the high school from 7pm to 10pm, racing all over the school, late to every presentation. And there was only 15 minutes for each teacher so of course they ran over, and then we would all be racing out of the classroom trying desperately to get to the next before all the handouts were taken. Our high school is REALLY overcrowded, which added to the fun.
    I just wish each teacher would put the syllabus and a blurb about grading and content on the school website. It would be so much less stressful.

  11. When my kids were in elementary school, they had it on one night, and K and 1st grades would share one time slot, 2nd and 3rd, would share, 4th and 5th would share. With two kids, it was no trouble to get to both kids classrooms. And once we figured out that one presentation was in English, one was in Spanish, if we had one kid whose teacher didn’t speak Spanish, we could go to that one during the spanish presentation, listen to what the teacher said to the translator and figure out what was going on.

    It just dawned on me this year that the junior high and high school don’t have translators for back to school night. Weird.

  12. Our elementary school back to school night is parents only. It starts with a presentation by the principal (which unfortunately is all happy talk and no substantive information) and the PTA membership person, and then the parents go off to the individual classrooms.

    It seemed to work pretty well, but there is not a lot of time to cover individual subjects. There is also not enough parking – there is one session for the parents of over 500 kids, and there is not enough room for everyone to park or see the initial presentation.

    My main concern is the math curriculum, which no longer involves a textbook. I’m planning to teach DD ahead and hope she is compliant enough to do it their way later….

  13. I have to miss the elementary school one on Thursday because my oldest has a therapy appt at the same time (therapist switched office to one that is 40 minutes away, wah). My husband will go. My experience is that the elementary school version is useless. The teacher always plays a video of the first day, with sentimental music, and then talks very generally about the curriculum. The kids leave a letter behind for the parent, who has to then write a reply. That is how they make sure every parent shows – you don’t want your kid to be the only one who didn’t get a reply

  14. There is literally no parking at the elementary school, except for a Trader Joes lot (and they tow aggressively) so I walk the half mile. The middle school and high school also lack parking – everyone has to park on the lawn – but we live a block away so of course I walk

  15. “The teacher always plays a video of the first day, with sentimental music, and then talks very generally about the curriculum. The kids leave a letter behind for the parent, who has to then write a reply.”

    Shoot me now. I think my kids would be perfectly happy to trade a heartfelt letter from mom for, say, a trip to the ice cream shop that evening, if the options were presented appropriately.

  16. Not mine. Mine were always excited about the letter. They would come home the afternoon before, bursting to tell me exactly what they had written

  17. The good thing about the middle and high school open houses was that I saw each teacher in action. On Saturday, since it was a lovely night, we went out to dinner at a place with outside tables. I started talking about each of the teachers I had seen, and we moved on to comparing and contrasting impressions. This devovled into Silly Teacher Stories, and by the end of the evening, we were all rolling, in stiches, telling each other about all our funny teachers. It made for a nice bonding expereience

  18. Mooshi – I had NO idea that tiny lot is the only parking until you just wrote this post. I just assumed there was more around the corner. That is crazy!!!!!

    My BTS is tonight. It is exactly like Mooshi described in our MS. Three hours of going from class to class – following my DD schedule. I just pick one special to attend. 15 free minutes for “lunch” is usually spent joining the PTA or buying spirit wear. They split the 5/6 and 7/8 grades into two different nights so the hallways are not as crowded.

    I actually like BTS, but I really like the elementary school better than the MS/HS because you can sit with the classroom teacher for 45 minutes. I enjoyed seeing the class, finding out the plans for the year etc. The MS routine is very rushed and since they teach 4 or 5 classes, they don’t always know your kid if BTS is early in the year.

  19. “15 free minutes for “lunch” is usually spent joining the PTA or buying spirit wear.”

    I’d be outside smoking and checking the baseball scores.

  20. “Mine were always excited about the letter.”

    @Mooshi — it’s all in how you sell it. E.g., “I would SO much rather have a special evening all by myself with you, doing XYZ, rather than sitting in your classroom with everyone else.”

  21. @PTM: I spent the dreaded PTA meeting checking my fantasy football lineup (hey, it was Thursday, and I had to check for injuries and last-minute projections before the game that night!).

  22. My district is so strapped for cash due to the stupid Cuomo tax cap that without the PTA – there would be no extras. the PTA isn’t paying for toilet paper, but it seems like they are paying for everything else this year in the schools.

  23. Lauren, same here. Our PTA is charging an outrageous amount for membership, and then using the money collected to pay for everything else.

  24. I hate BTS night, but my kids really appreciate our attending and meeting their teachers, so we go. I hate running from class to class, but, like SSM, enjoy seeing the teachers’ classrooms and appreciating DS’ struggles to get to class on time. I have learned to outsource BTS night to DH, who does not mind it nearly as much as I do.

  25. BTS is a half hour presentation at my kids’ school, split into 2 grades/increment. Mr WCE was coaching soccer during it, which provided childcare for lots of kids. Some middle school girls volunteered to supervise the playground (hooray!) and I took Baby WCE in a carrier. The principal has six (now college-ish age) sons of her own so she is unbothered by whatever choices people make for their families to run. The big excitement Friday was a septic system backup, which necessitated a water shutoff and bussing all the kids to another school for the rest of the day.

  26. Here, we call this Capsule Night or Curriculum Night. DD’s is tonight. I’ll skip it. I don’t like to give the kids the impression that I am taking any degree of ownership over their school work. They can read the syllabus and figure out what’s due when. Or not. But I’m sure not going to sort it out for them.

    Also, and possibly not unrelated, I quit drinking caffeine.

  27. We are at private schools. One school is very clear about the gap between actual tuition and the cost to educate the kids. The PTA has a small fee that every family pays and the Booster Club is optional, but encouraged especially if you have a kids that plays a sport as there is no fee for athletics. The Booster Club base membership doesn’t cover much, but as you pay more you get things like game tickets, etc. On the academic side, there is an anmual campaign that is tastefully done and “any amount” is appreciated.

    All three of these things are mentioned in the full group BTS presentation. This year the most useful information was about the road construction going on near the school and how it is going to impact traffic starting in about a month and likely for the rest of the school year. Parts of it are positive, but parts are going to create a huge hassle,

    Our other school has a similar annual campaign, but it has a gimmick – for every $1K raised school-wide, the kids can wear jeans on Fridays starting the first Friday after the campaign ends. The PTA has no fee, but has two large events – one for elementary and one for MS – to raise funds for the school.

  28. “the stupid Cuomo tax cap”

    uhhh…beg to differ (says he who in his very first real voting experience voted for Prop 13)…we need it. Otherwise taxes keep marching forward at what, 4-5-6%/yr? In what’s already the highest-taxed place in the country?

  29. I don’t know how our MS & HS handle it, but ES has been good so far. To help with the parking situation, they schedule each grade on a different night. Actually, it’s at 5:30, so a little tight on timing for most working parents, but at least it doesn’t take up your whole night. I got a sitter so that H & I could both go, but most families probably only send 1 parent. I just didn’t want to risk any miscommunication causing problems while DD is in transition. Previously, we just met with the child’s one main teacher, but this year all the 3rd grade teachers combined for one presentation. I guess they will be trying to stay together a lot more than the earlier grades since this is the first year of SOL testing. Of course, they stressed to us that no one should stress out about the test!

  30. Reading MM’s comment after Lauren’s to which I reply above, it seems like their schools/districts have hit on the following plan: we’ll stay within the tax cap and make up for anything that might be cut through the PTA. That’s fine, since I presume joining the PTA is voluntary, all students benefit from the PTA largesse, and understanding that if you don’t join you don’t get to vote or participate in the decisions.

    I believe there is lots of room for cost cutting without sacrificing student learning. E.g. Scarsdale has about 5,000 kids in its schools and pays its superintendent $335k. Ardsley, right next to Scarsdale has about 2,000 kids and pays its superintendent $244k. You cannot convince me we really need separate school districts each having its own administration and cost structure. Combine’em and capture the savings.

    And that could be done all over New York. But no one really wants to give up their local identity. Nevermind the facts.

  31. Today’s topic reminded me to send out a round of emails to try to arrange a shift switch for BTS night this week. I usually work <10 days per month, and they always seem to fall on the important school dates. If not DH will go on his own and report back none of the details I find pertinent.

  32. “DH will go on his own and report back none of the details I find pertinent.”

    Men and women do think differently

  33. Fred, MM, and Lauren – how did the micro-districts get started in the first place? And why is there so much political will to keeping them? It seems like the popular majority would be able to overcome the teacher’s union lobby if there were enough political organization.

  34. And why is there so much political will to keeping them?

    Parents don’t want their kids interacting with “those” people. Homeowners like the high prices paid by parents who don’t want their kids interacting with “those” people.

  35. I have only lived in NYS, except for my couple years of grad school (said for Rhett) when I didn’t pay attention to this kind of stuff, for 25 years, so I really didn’t know. Here’s the link to what I found: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/mgtserv/sch_dist_org/GuideToReorganizationOfSchoolDistricts.htm

    it’s pretty brief so I won’t try to summarize here.

    And I’m not even talking about changing anything wrt teachers’ unions (though I do question why the teachers in even the smallest districts are unionized…that I’ll look up also).

  36. I don’t know the history of the micro districts, but even Gov Christie wasn;t able to fully get rid of the micro districts next door in NJ. You would need a Republican or a billionaire like Bloomberg to be the governor – and be willing to lose a huge portion of union and other votes.

    Someone has to have the guts to tell these districts to merge, or force them to merge. It isn’t just schools. It is fire, police and a few other services. The fire situation is even worse. Some fire districts around here are so tiny and the chief makes MORE than head of the NYC fire department.

    Also, some parents do not want to lose the school sports team for each micro district because their kid would never make varsity in a larger district. Throw int he impact on property values if you can’t be in “Scarsdale” schools as we know it, and I can’t imagine it is going to happen in my lifetime unless a governor with nothing to lose forces the issue, AND the state legislature votes yes. It will probably never happen.

    Also, PTAs and Education foundations that are responsible for the extras and neccessities are very common now in California. They seem to be even more efficient and blunt as they practically send a bill to each family – and it can be for several thousand dollars.

    Everything in my district is truly voluntary -and it is small $ compared to some of the suggested contributions in NYC and California.

    Our dues are $20, and the PTA keeps $12. The rest goes to the state PTA. The remainder of their fundraising and the local education foundation amounts to approx $175,000 per year.
    There is a district near Mooshi that is smaller than mine, and they raise at least 1/2 million $
    every year.

    There are districts in NJ – such as Summit that have education foundations with $5million endowments. My district is small, and doesn’t have the type of residents to raise that much money. There are PLENTY of public schools in NY, NJ and CA that are raising hundreds of thousands each year through their PTAs or foundations to supplement the public schools.

  37. Here is shout out to “All the Light We Cannot See.” I found this a wonderful book with compelling characters and STEMish and literary subplots. Also, the really smart people liked it.

  38. 5,000 kids is a district with a superintendent? They are building a new 3-school complex in my neighborhood (ES, MS, and HS in three separate buildings) which will house 5900 kids. That is a neighborhood school – not a district!

    We don’t have BTS night. Instead, there are parent teacher conferences in the afternoon (kids get out 1/2 day) for which you have to come and put your name on the sign up sheet outside of each teacher’s class. It’s a very inefficient use of my time, but I go and try to see the 3-4 I consider most important. Every single year I discover that none of his teachers have been notified of his learning issues or 504 accommodations. This year I emailed some already (didn’t have his, had them for other kids in the class), so hopefully this year I can just find out how he’s doing instead of wasting my allotted five minutes explaining dysgraphia and his accommodations.

  39. Our public school district has 14,000 kids and the super makes just under $200k with 45 National Merit Finalists. Flyover country.

  40. Our PTA dues are $7 per family. They want as many families as can to join, regardless of money. But then there is the direction donation campaign in the fall, and the auction in the spring. All the classroom aides are paid for by PTA money. The PE teachers were paid by PTA money for years because the district figured none were necessary. The library is funded by PTA money. Any art and music we have is funded by PTA money. Schools without PTAs raising money simply don’t have those things.

    On back to school night, the elementary does younger grades for 30 min in the classroom, 30 min rah-rah speech by the principal & introducing new teachers, 30 min in the classroom for upper grades. This year because we have two in younger grades, we had to divide and conquer to go to both classrooms anyway.

  41. I am not used to these tiny districts. I grew up in NYC and my high school had 3500 students with one Principal and 2 Asst vice presidents. My district had a number, and it was enormous.

    I definitely think (and know) that these micro districts could share superintendents and administrators. As mentioned, the problem isn’t limited to schools. It is many of the basic functions such as fire, police, sanitation etc. These same districts and “Towns” have a Director of Public Works, Fire Chief, etc etc. They make salaries that also approach the same figures as the school administrators.

    This is a set up that goes back many decades in NY, and one of the primary reasons that property taxes are so high outside of the four major cities in NY state is to fund the pensions and medical costs of the current and retired employees of these public employees.

    If you look at the money that we be needed to fund the expected pensions of public employees in NJ – it would bankrupt many of these towns and more. The laws are slightly different in NY state, and fortunately or unfortunately – tax payers have to make up unfunded costs in a more timely manner.

  42. My kids’ school does, similar to SWVA’s, a separate night for each grade through 8th grade. That mitigates the parking issue, and for many parents, eliminates the issue trying to juggle multiple kids (I only know of one set of triplets with all 3 kids in the same grade).

    When the kids were very young, we were fortunate enough to have friends and family that offered to watch the kids during our BTS nights. Later, the school started offering supervised study halls run by the same people who run the afterschool care program, for kids up through 8th grade, and they opened the library on the night of HS BTS night.

    In many cases, it seemed like the teachers looked at BTS night as a chance to meet their students’ parents. We just went to DS’ HS BTS night last week, and several of the teachers were trying to ID the students that went with all the parents

  43. Our public school district has about 180,000 kids. The superintendent recently got a raise from $150k to $200k.

  44. What school costs is always a tough question. Around here people try to compare the cost per student, with the lower cost being the ideal. The problem is that no two school districts are identicial – the geographic size, transportation requirements, number who are low income, number who enter school non-English speaking, age and number of facilities, number of kids with diagnosed disabilities that receive school-provided services, etc.

    We have had school finance law suits challenging the reality that your school experience is radically different in our state just because of where you live. They have tried to tax everyone the same and spread the wealth across all districts, but then the PTAs (or similar groups or just parents through donations/volunteering) contribute in ways that continues the disparity.

    The newest discussion relates to our public 84,000 student district. It has a math and science academy and the vast majority of the students are zoned for 4 of the 11 high schools. Of course, the 4 are the more affluent areas. Is the reason students aren’t coming from other areas by choice, lack of knowledge of the program or encouragement to apply, or is it because they are not prepared well enough to succeed?

  45. For HS BTS night, the kids make up a schedule for their parents based on a schedule of what teachers will be discussing what classes at what time. We get 10 minutes per session with 10 minutes in between; if you know where you’re going, it takes less that 10 minutes between sessions, so there’s normally some informal chatting with the teacher or other parents before the session actually starts (this is when some teachers try to match parents with students).

    Before the physics session, one parent asked us if we were at WDW and Universal Studios in summer 2014. She saw us from a distance at both places. That’s the third time we’ve seen, or been seen by, at least one of DS’ classmates at a Disney park. I guess families travel within the same vacation windows.

  46. “but then the PTAs (or similar groups or just parents through donations/volunteering) contribute in ways that continues the disparity.”

    This. It’s not wrong (as money = free speech, ref Citzens United). and what would we do anyway? Let’s suppose there were a law saying no PTA or parental donations allowed. Everybody has to do with exactly what comes from the state (or whatever official source). Then we get what I’ll call “1% flight”…and new private schools get set up with all the latest bells and whistles.

    Is the reason students aren’t coming from other areas by choice, lack of knowledge of the program or encouragement to apply, or is it because they are not prepared well enough to succeed?

    Probably some combination of all the above. In my experience sometimes kids motivate to do extra and / or special things that take extra effort if they are really interested in them. Sometimes. But most of the time it takes a parent or two to get kids to apply themselves and reach for the brass ring. And this is for something the kid likes and is interested in. If the parents are not looped in by reading the school announcements online about an interest meeting / tryout / audition, the kid doesn’t get the reminders to go do it / sign up, etc.

    So in your case 7 zones probably have a bunch of well qualified kids, but there’s no parental push to help the vast majority of kids who would be interested.

  47. Finn, SOLs are my state’s very poorly named Standards Of Learning tests. There were jokes all around when they first came out, but no one would change the name!

  48. SWVA– That’s all kinds of hilarious.

    There have been discussions about changing what the various school organizations can raise to level the playing field. I don’t know the answer. It appears that basic education is NOT being funded sufficiently by the state. Do we shut off parental involvement and $$ when we can get it? Are we willing to kick in more public funds to make it fairer? Do we just say “no PE or art or music” to everyone and expect people to deal (and be shocked when they leave)?

  49. Ours happened last month. The MS and HS both follow the go-to-every-class model, and the kids come along. It’s nice to meet the teachers. The MS and HS were on different nights this year so we were able to have at least one parent for each kid’s open house. The ES ran on the model of having half the open houses (20 minutes of teacher talking in classroom, no room-changing), then the PTA meeting, then the other half of the open houses. Babysitting of current students in the library. Unfortunately they split it up by even grades/odd grades and since our kids are all 2 grades apart, once our youngest hit K we couldn’t cover them all, and one parent had to jog between classrooms halfway through. Even when the oldest moved up to MS, it was on the same night. Last year the HS and MS were supposed to be on different nights but the schedule changed, so we had HS, MS, and ES to cover all on one night and just sent an e-mail to the ES teacher apologizing in advance for missing it.

  50. Art in my school is provided by a mom who is also a certified teacher but it’s on a volunteer basis. Everyone on this blog already knows what I think of how my school implements common core math, so I expect I’ll be working with a couple other concerned parents to sponsor the after school math club, with my involvement ramping up in a year or two. My school doesn’t have a ton of money, but it does have involved parents. We’re probably top quartile nationally but not top decile in family demographics, where that is an unquantifiable combination of income, parental education and parental time- a family income of $60k with a SAH parent is different from a family income of $60k with two working parents.

  51. Our school district is 12K students all in. That is still a lot bigger than the one I grew up with, which was approximately 4K students (K-12).

  52. School district is 8500 students. The super makes a hair under $200k, plus his $100k pension. He retired years ago, took his pension, and the school district hired him back less before the summer ended. He still receives his monthly pension. That being said, our taxes are nothing like NY.

  53. IIRC, the tax cap was intended to help nudge small NY school districts to merge, but as has been mentioned there is strong resistance against it. At least one study showed negligible cost savings. Most of the savings would come from administration, but other staff costs are really more of the problem. Also pension and health care costs from retired teachers would not be cut. Plus, transportation costs would usually rise.

    “Parents don’t want their kids interacting with “those” people. ”

    Ah yes, the peer factor. The adjoining school district has a much higher percentage of single-parent, low-income students. It’s no surprise that parents here would not welcome them with open arms.

    Gov. Cuomo has attempted to raise the cap on the number of charter schools, but wil limited success. I continue to support more choice for all families by raising the cap and vouchers. It’s not a perfect solution, but the status quo is not so great.

  54. The adjoining school district has a much higher percentage of single-parent, low-income students.

    Is it all that stark or is some of it the upper-upper middle class districts don’t want to merge with the lower-upper middle class districts?

  55. The school’s “Family Night” was last Thursday from 4 – 6 pm. An e-mail on it went out Wednesday and a flyer was backpacked Friday. Needless to say, we did not attend. I have a meeting with the teacher tomorrow afternoon at 2:50 pm (cuz that is oh-so convenient). Why say you want parental involvement and then make it so hard to actually get parents involved?

  56. My public school district has 145,000 students (covers a big geographic area) and the superintendent makes around $300k. Few candidates last more than five years.

  57. Montgomery County where I grew up

    Total comp (including deferred and pension contribution) approx 300000 Enrollment – 144,000

    Cambridge MA where my kids grew up

    Total comp 267000 Enrollment – 6661

    I am sure there are several asst superintendents in Mont Co and lots of other layers of administrators. But the title, superintendent of schools, brings with it a fairly high salary in comparable COL areas, no matter how few students it covers.

  58. “Is it all that stark or is some of it the upper-upper middle class districts don’t want to merge with the lower-upper middle class districts?”

    In some cases it’s pretty stark, in some cases not. In the example I gave, the poorer school district has several Section 8 apartment buildings and the wealthier district has virtually none for families with school-age children. It has about 20% qualifying for free lunch vs. zero for the other district. And the next adjoining wealthier district has median SAT scores of 1821 vs. 1497 for the poorer district.

    Adding even one or two poorly disciplined kids into a classroom can change the entire dynamics, and not in a good way. I’ve seen this, and discussed it with teacher involved.

  59. It’s still so early in the election process, and Trump dropped in the latest poll. I don’t rule him out, but we shall see . . .

  60. In case anyone wants to offer, I am looking for restaurant recommendations in Rome, Italy and Bilbao, Spain.

  61. Our school district enrollment is 90,000 and the most recent salary I found for the superintendent is $216,000.

  62. Finn, the principal sent a survey following BTS night and I provided a thorough response. She sent an email summarizing the responses. The gist was people liked not having to switch rooms and having the two sessions. The “deltas” were not enough time and not covering the curriculum well enough.

  63. ” It has about 20% qualifying for free lunch vs. zero for the other district.”

    This is incredibly shocking to me. Our district is 76% free/reduced lunch. I can’t imagine a real city with that little poverty. Even 20% is really low.

  64. I have been talking to a lady who moved from – NY. It sounds like the micro district area – but I’m not exactly sure. She had a long chat with me and I could see that she was talking to other parents as well. Her kids are in public school here and I think she was expecting worse public schools even though they go to school in a nicer middle to upper middle class area. I think she was trying to find out why people send their kids to schools other than their neighborhood schools and I can tell she is having a hard time digesting the various options and the individual reasons for parents choosing these options.

  65. DW and DS went to high school night last week. Prior to then, he was pretty set on attending our assigned neighborhood HS because a lot of his friends were planning on going there. Then he saw the presentation from a new school and fell in love with it. It’s a new school currently in its first year with just 9th grade. I’m shocked because it doesn’t seem like something he’d be interested in, but he’s dying to go there.

    The school has totebaggers written all over it – http://dsisd.dpsk12.org/

  66. I will attest that the police and fire situation is even worse. I have a friend who is a reporter type who has been digging into their budgets. Our fire department is tiny, but has so many friggin’ trucks that they send out 3 for the stupidest of calls. The micro village within our small town has its own police force. Yes, the microdistricts are a very big problem.

  67. Interesting example of how the cost/risk/compliance costs for drugs in the US are far higher than in other countries. We really need to follow standards set by other developed countries or an international body rather than leave decisions solely/primarily in the hands of the FDA. In short, as a country, we need to accept higher levels of risk.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/22/business/big-price-increase-for-tb-drug-is-rescinded.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

  68. WCE,

    How is that an example of compliance cost issues? Isn’t it an example of the rapacious greed of a wannabe hedge fund mogul?

  69. Rhett, the reason Purdue was eager to get rid of the generic drug license was due to $10 million in compliance costs. You’re right that it’s also an example of rapacious greed. I’m becoming convinced that medical insurance should be run like utilities, natural monopolies with a realistic estimate of needed salaries and capital costs and a predictable 5% profit margin. Maybe that would limit insurance/pharmaceutical company profits while avoiding some of the problems of having the government regulating itself that occur in the VA system.

  70. I don’t really understand how Lilly can give the rights to a foundation and then the foundation can sell the drug to a company with such a terrible reputation (it seems like it wasn’t the first time they had done this).

    I’m also alarmed about the idea that they are exercising such tight control over the supply (not available at a commercial pharmacy) so that no one can get the samples needed to create an alternative. How is that legal (or at least ethical) for a drug to not allow competition when it is no longer protected by patent?

    I would argue they (the foundation) lost 10 million (over 8 years) because they didn’t price the drug appropriately. I would suspect regulatory costs and demand are pretty stable. But there is a happy medium between $500 (the cost the foundation was charging) and $13,000 per month.

  71. DD’s hs had a program last week for parents of 11th graders focusing on life after high school. T For those that are going on to college, they stressed that kids need to apply to five colleges-one reach, two sure bets, and two that are maybes. They also said that kids need to take both the ACT and the SAT. My dd was only planning on taking the SAT. What are other parents suggesting to their kids? Luckily, my kid has already decided where she wants to go so it makes everything a lot easier for us.
    SWVA-I had never thought about the SOL acronym. Kinda funny now that I think about it.
    Our school district is very small. Only about 1,750 students spread out between four es, one ms, and one hs. In the past few years, one es school and one ms school have closed.

  72. Sheep – they have changed the SAT (effective for all 2016 sittings), so there is some concern about their not really knowing how to grade it properly. For that reason, a lot of kids in grade 11 are planning on taking the ACT, which hasn’t changed and can be more accurately graded. So the thought is, anyway. I’m not terribly plugged in about all of this, but this is what I’m hearing/reading. Others here, who are more into this kind of thing, might have insight. My DD is also in grade 11 so we’re talking some about this. She’s going to take the ACT only. It might be worth asking a college admissions officer about though. The schools DD is looking at all take the ACT and like it as a measure. If schools on your DD’s list have some preference for the SAT, it’d be worth taking, certainly.

  73. “In some cases it’s pretty stark. . . . It has about 20% qualifying for free lunch”

    Ours is close to 30%. And to think I never realized I live in the slums.

    Our system has 110,000 kids; website says it’s the 26th largest district in the country. The contract on the web site (2012) says $255K/yr, with discretionary raises, plus a car and $25K annually into retirement. Plus 20 days vacation, 18 sick days, and 7 personal days, which doesn’t suck. Plus some life/disability insurance and $250/mo “communication allowance,” presumably to cover the cost of his home phone/internet etc. since he always has to be available. Not a bad deal — I’m especially jealous of the amount of time off. Then again, my job is probably way less stressful per $ earned, so I imagine he earns every bit of it (and likely can’t take it all anyway).

  74. Plus 20 days vacation, 18 sick days, and 7 personal days, which doesn’t suck.

    He should really push them to move to PTO.

  75. Some kids do better on the ACT, and some on the SAT. So it’s worth taking both and seeing which generates the higher score.

    ” If schools on your DD’s list have some preference for the SAT, it’d be worth taking, certainly.”

    It’s a myth that schools prefer one or the other test. I’d like to know if others have evidence to the contrary.

    “Luckily, my kid has already decided where she wants to go so it makes everything a lot easier for us.”

    That seems fine as long as her acceptance is pretty much assured.

  76. CofC – not sure there’s a preference at the college level but in our state, according to the HS counselors, most colleges “are moving toward the ACT.” Add this to the SAT changes and scoring issues, and the HS counselors here are saying the ACT is the way to go *for the HS Class of 2017* (as this is the first class with the new SAT testing).

  77. Somebody on my Facebook feed just posted the inspirational message, “Choose a major you love and you’ll never work a day in your life because that field probably isn’t hiring.”

  78. The large city school district next door has about 75% qualifying for free lunch. Median SAT scores are about 1150/2400. But yeah, most districts around here are small (3-4k students) and relatively affluent,

  79. Risley, that makes a lot of sense. There has been an overall trend toward more students taking the ACT.

  80. DD – that WF article made me smile because I stepped into WF this weekend after months.
    I wanted a custom cake and they could make it for me. Other than that I had no desire to browse as I used to do in years past. There used to be a time when the normal grocery stores did not carry products from smaller suppliers but now you get a variety of locally sourced new products from the normal stores. We used to shop at WF but have gone over to the dark side.

  81. “Choose a major you love and you’ll never work a day in your life because that field probably isn’t hiring.”

    Awesome!

    Regarding SAT, this year, I think you can pick if you take the old or new SAT. DS’ SAT prep class is teaching both. We have not discussed ACT.

  82. Just in case anyone has not read about the VW diesel emissions deception, here is a non technical summary from Vox. Coupled with financiers buying up post patent orphan drugs and raising the prices through the roof (the formula for one of those drugs was donated by Lilly to Purdue and the non profit sold it to this goniff, i.e. thief), the corporate sector is having a bad press week.

    http://www.vox.com/2015/9/21/9365667/volkswagen-clean-diesel-recall-passenger-cars

  83. Regarding corporate misdeeds, one of the wildfires still burning (75,000 acres, at least two people dead) was caused by branches against a power pole. PG&E, major Cal power company has a history of failing to maintain its gas lines and/or manage vegetation around its power lines.

  84. Meme – This is an interesting aspect of the VW scandal that I had not considered:

    In response, the company has pledged to stop selling 2015 and 2016 Volkswagen and Audi models equipped with clean diesel engines and will likely end up recalling the 482,000 cars now on the road to fix the software.** It’s unclear how many customers will want to “fix” the problem, however, since, again, any patch might degrade gas mileage and/or performance.

    *might* degrade gas mileage and/or performance??

  85. Meme,

    It turns out it’s 11 million cars worldwide and VW has taken a $7.5 billion charge against earnings to pay for the fix and it looks like the CEO has been fired. How could they have thought they’d get away with it?

  86. Good buying opportunity, though. VW’s stock tanked yesterday, but overall that company’s not going anywhere and will bounce back in a year or two.

  87. Here’s one for WCE about risk assessment:

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/09/22/science/when-radiation-isnt-the-real-risk.html?_r=0

    TL;DR — the risk from radiation from Fukushima was really low, and lots of people died because the government “panicked” and evacuated sick people who couldn’t tolerate the evacuation. I have to say I think any government would have been stretched to respond perfectly to a huge earthquake/tsunami/nuclear plant damage. I mean come on, it was a really stressful few days.

  88. My favorite is still Top Gear’s Toyboata… it was a modified Toyota Tacoma (Hillux over the pond). The Hillux was the same vehicle they took to the North Pole, up an active volcano, tried to destroy through accidents, dropped a caravan on it, set it on fire, flooded it out with seawater (drove it into the English Channel and left it there for a tide cycle), and finally dropped from a 30 story building when the building imploded. The damn thing started up each and every time. No additional parts, just cleaning it out.

  89. Thanks, Louise. I remember, as a kid with a Car & Driver subscription, reading about that very car.

    RMS – That’s a good Fukushima article. I don’t think anyone is (or should be) blaming the government. But it does offer some excellent perspective on the topic.

  90. I forgot to mention – they did this with 3 trucks – one for the North Pole, one for the volcano, and one for the destruction.

  91. Louise,

    I read a review of the amphicar once that described it as a terrible car and an even worse boat.

  92. LOL RMS!

    Sheep Farmer – Don’t HS kids have to pass certain SOLs to graduate? I guess if they don’t pass, they really are SOL! I have a feeling my kid is going to be OK, but I still hope these tests are gone by the time she gets to HS.

  93. At DD school, if the kid gets a pass/advance on the SOL then he/she is not required to take the final exam. So, kids have a huge incentive to do well on the SOLs. I don’t think that the kids have to pass the SOLs to graduate. My impression is that it is more of a tool to evaluate the teachers than the kids. When DD was in es, the teachers were very competitive with each other as to whose class would have the highest percentage of students that passed, those that got pass/advance, etc.

  94. Within our district there are schools that are 5% free & reduced price lunch, schools that are 75%, and schools that are 35-40% (where my kids go). It’s a wide variety within a very small geographic area.

    Not that we’re still on the topic!

  95. Sheep, my DS’ current plan is to only take the SAT. He took it once last year, and did well enough that we decided he didn’t need to take the prep class this past summer, when many current juniors took it. He’ll take it again in December, because the school traditionally has all juniors take it then (and pays for it), although I think that’s a terrible time to take your first SAT this year, because of the upcoming transition to the new format (with the penalty for not guessing).

    It’s a bit late into the game for the class of 2017 because of the upcoming change, but for those that class planning to take the current SAT, I would suggest taking it in November, so they have a chance to see their scores and sign up for the January test, the last offering of the current format, if they want to try to improve their scores.

    I’ve heard the advice that kids should take both tests, then when applying, only report the better score, unless they did very well on both. I think DS is not currently planning to take the ACT, especially if he improves his scores when he retakes the SAT in December.

    For your kid in particular, I think a huge factor in deciding which of the three tests (current SAT, new SAT, ACT) to take depends on which test she’s prepped for. If she hasn’t prepped yet for either, then she should consider just prepping for and taking just the ACT; for CO2017, the change in SAT format just raises so much uncertainty.

  96. More SAT/ACT:

    I’ve read (but not confirmed) that the ACT is more of a test of what the testee has learned than the current SAT, which is more of an aptitude test (despite overwhelming evidence that test prep can increase scores). I’ve also read that the new SAT is more like the ACT, and more closely aligned with Common Core. This suggests that kids who are naturally bright and have excellent reasoning skills may distinguish themselves more on the current SAT.

  97. “It might be worth asking a college admissions officer about though.”

    This is an excellent idea. I will suggest to DS that he ask it of every college rep he talks to, which could be a lot over the next couple of months or so. We are in peak college recruiting season now.

  98. ” There has been an overall trend toward more students taking the ACT.”

    My understanding is that a big part of this is the success the ACT has had in getting school districts give this test to all HS juniors.

    I can see this being a reason for brighter kids to choose the ACT over the SAT, as the testing pool would likely be deeper, making it likely that the brighter kids can get higher percentile scores on the ACT.

  99. Our MS is 52% free/reduced lunch, but our HS is only 40%. I’m not sure why the drop as the other feeder MSs are at 58% and 62%, so the average of the MSs would be higher. Perhaps HS parents are less inclined to jump through the necessary hoops?

  100. “HS parents are less inclined to jump through the necessary hoops”

    That, and if the dropout rate is statistically significant.

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