Monday, October 29, 2007

The Decatur Classical Parent Syndrome

Somewhere between or after my child’s homework, my Decatur Classical School kid will get the chores done. Repeat after me, somewhere between or after homework, my child will get their responsibility chart completed, hopefully. Somewhere between or after my child’s homework, I will come up with a good excuse for their sibling and I why Decatur child did not get their chores done. Hopefully, acceptance to Young Academic Center or the next plateau will justify the challenge.

For those who don’t know, Decatur Classical School is the grammar school diamond in the Chicago Public School system. It is located in West Ridge. There is no Illinois grammar school that tests higher in the State, and perhaps, the nation, provided there was a national test. Children test annually for an invitation to get into Decatur Classical. My other child is on test number four. However, the honeymoon ends at sixth grade, where your child gets accepted.

You cannot make educational options an excuse for moving out of Chicago. There may be a classical, gifted, or magnet school willing to eventually let your child attend provided you help educate your child, as well. If there were exceptions made to waive the Decatur Classical entrance test for just one child, journalists would have a field day. Arne Duncan would likely not deserve it, but he would need to put any arguable scandal in order and this could prove fatal.

Now, back to my mantra. . . .Somewhere, some way, I will find another reasonable excuse why my son did not get to baseball, basketball, scouts, soccer, swimming, and etc. on time or at all. As I work into the bitter depths of the evening on laundry, life, and leftovers, the hope is that we will eventually appreciate the effort. Eventually, all of our tweens groans and grunts from the previous evening will be forgotten.

For those of us who understand, we want our child to have the aptitude and grades to convince Dr. Joyce Kenner at Young Academic Center, among others. We know that our children have gone through enough trials and tribulations to justify admission. Decatur kids, as well as their parents, have proctored enough to earn a CPS pension on their educational road to perdition.

I accept that it is a choice to send a child as well as your family through the Decatur Classical experience. However, parents have to also realize that there is no seventh or eighth grade at Decatur, only the academic centers with more testing and the point system to garner possible acceptance. There is also the possibility of new found isolation between former classmates at in one of the gifted or magnet programs. Decatur Classical students are ultimately and unfortunately broken up into a new bundle of adolescents in some other universe of Chicago Public School Academia.

The Francis Parker’s, Latin’s, Roycemore’s and Archdiocese private schools of the Chicago area exist. However, many of us will not look for excuses to spend the last bit of savings before their kid even gets accepted to a University without a full tilt private school scholarship. The options are a new residence or an objective rehash of the teaching staff in all viable alternative options at CPS. Ultimately, only 25 children are admitted in this region of a potential 110 Young Academic Center spots. The statistics for admission to the Academic Center are humbling.

Traditionally, both Skinner and Decatur Classical Schools fed into Young Academic Center. Decatur and Young High School share the same dolphin mascot. However, over time, the demand for the Academic Center exceeded the number of spaces and excessive competition set in. Now, the one thousand point scale scares Decatur parents, who are totally uncomfortable with “grade inflation” at other schools. The Young Academic Center Scale cannot consider grade deflation.

There is no grade inflation, but grade deflation at Decatur Classical of Chicago. At Decatur, I understand that a Decatur grade A ends at 93%, a B ends at 87%, and a C ends at 76%. This means that a Decatur Classical Child who is performing at honor roll level in any other CPS Grammar School is treated as performing lower. This means that the 300 points allotted to grades drops them excessively in contrast to others. Decatur teaches a year above grade level in math texts, among others. Test scores are another story and most are at the 99th percentile in math at a minimum.

This means that even if my child performs at the 99th percentile in ISAT math and the 86th in Reading, they are still subject to denial where grades do not reach a 4.0 g.p.a. at the academic levels set by Decatur Classical. Ultimately, our child gets an excellent education from K to 6th, but what’s next is unknown.

I suppose that this may mentally condition us for the next competition for Northside College Prep spots. It may give our child and us the character to appreciate how to avoid or encounter the next set of point spreads and scales. You begin to feel like ‘Jimmy the Greek’ playing the odds in the CPS Educational System. The Clash lyrics from “Should I Stay or Should I Go” Clash seem to hit your chest like a ‘half ton of bricks,’ while you wait for what seems like Godot for an answer or the next score.


been there said...

george armstrong is as good a school as you will find anywhere. a regular neighborhood school, yet they place "in the money" almost every year at the acedemic olympics. against your decaturs, et al. they have a great art curriculum, and are in the second year of a real school band. the most dedicated bunch of teachers ever. in the 8 years that my kids went there, there was next to zero turnover.

all that said, i would not be surprised if others could vouch for their schools, also. schools reflect the neighborhood, for better or for worse. and there are a lot of hard working people out there that you cannot boil down to a few numbers.

Tem said...

Whining about the unfairness of having to compete with other students in CPS expresses a unpleasant sense of entitlement and arrogance. Only 300 points of the 1000 are based upon grades so even if one were to believe the writers assertion that their child suffers from grade deflation at Decatur that disadvantage is small. If the Decatur education is so much better surely their child will do much better than those not so lucky in having to attend such inferior schools. Of course the literature of education has consistently shown that schools like Decatur produce highly capable students primarily because they select only those students coming in. In which case the school largely functions as a badging for social selection and as a mechanism for social status reproduction.

lafew said...

I am glad to hear that someone supports Armstrong. We considered sending one of our children there. We also considered Stone and Wildwood, but the lottery is random, we hope, and we lost with the exception of Disney.

The Armstrong ISAT results are now similar and arguably better than Disney to some. I am unsure about how Armstrong breaks down its homerooms. No arrogance, just concern, as better detailed, below.

Unfortunately, I had a colleague who moved to Skokie, had children at Armstrong, helped out at the school, yet was noticeably biased against it. That was in the mid to late nineties. Perhaps, the school has changed since the addition. I have another acquaintance, whose child now attends Armstrong and is a strong supporter.

The actual Decatur issue is that there are no "A-" grades; or even minus grades for that matter. On the Academic Center point system, an "A" grade results in 75 points, whether "A" or "A-." A "B" results in 50 points, whether "B" or "B-." Finally, a "C" results in 25 points, whether "C" or "C-." This is the concern, when it comes to Academic Center selection. Decatur rounds down. Disney, among other CPS neighborhood schools, has minus grades and rounds up. In hindsight, our child could have had the same advantage by attending a different school. A child at Boone scored a perfect ISAT a few years ago.

This is unofficial, but those children who are not considered minorities in the current Young candidate pool can easily lose fifty to one hundred points on grades based upon the un-uniform CPS standards.

That is enough to miss the 'Young Academic Center cut,' arguably 900, even if Young's Administration refuses admit a specific cut off. If you lose fifty on grades and fifty on testing, then a non-minority child, for pool purposes, may not make it in. That is all. The difference between getting an acceptance or rejection is small. All candidates get their score.

At Decatur, 'I believed' that most of the African American children made the Young Academic Center cut. I hope that they all scored above 900. Perhaps, they did. Nevertheless, prejudice is a part of life and comes at all angles to all ethnicities, races, religions, and orientations at different times.

Prejudice comes from both bigotry and ignorance. If Young needs some sort of balance, then I would rather avoid dwelling on it. However, I am happy for those who we know who did get accepted, regardless.

I recognize that the Classical schools and Academic Center systems may or may not help. However, kids and parents who care is what counts. This includes those with kids with dedicated parents who attend George Armstrong. Hopefully, those kids will end up where they want to eventually go within the CPS system.

I don't know that "been there" encouraged their child to attend Sullivan H.S. However, if they recently did, I hope that their kid graduated with honors and got an education, as well. I am not inspired by Sullivan at this point. Hopefully, Sullivan changes for the better.

For those with the experience, that is, they are the parent of 'a Decatur student,' or want to be in that position, then mentoring and tutoring is a personal sacrifice. It is hard work for parents; it has little to do with social status. The children of carpenters and plumbers attend, as well. Not all of us can afford tutors nor tuition.

The hours that we have given up to ensure that our child succeeds is something that "tem" may never appreciate nor have the dedication for. That is, until tem's child (if Tem has one) is accepted, unless s/he has a closed mind or fears the challenge. We had our children test more than once. If both of our kids had to go elsewhere, then we would have considered all options.

We not only depend upon a CPS school, but likely do the equivalent of any home schooling parent, as well. We taught before our child began Kindergarten, as well. That was a personal choice. The fact that we don't home school and put trust in the Chicago Public School System is a point that someone has missed.

Ultimately, the challenge is that Decatur and Skinner lack a seventh and eighth grade. This means that the kids are split up from classmates, twice, rather than once. However, that is one consequence that we accepted at enrollment and will live with.

Badging and social status? No! I encouraged acquaintances who also have children attending CPS to consider testing for GEAP and applying for the Magnet School system lottery. tem, I regret that you misperceive well-placed concern, but I admit it was inarticulate at first.

There were many reasons why we needed a smaller school with dedicated educators. We were lucky that our child was accepted on the second time around. We took the time to care. Nada mas.

georgeborrow said...

The inside track is that not all grades go into the composite 300 points for grades (for the College Prep Schools, Reading, Science, Math and Social Studies each count for 75 points). Of course, the real inside track is that CPS kaleidescopically changes the rules to thwart people who are semi-connected and have an inside track. Even so, it might not hurt to learn which grades in particular comprise the average, and then help your child emphasize those subjects.

New Welfare Queen said...

As a former Decatur parent and a current Whitney parent, I can tell you that the current (post June Schacter) Decatur program does not prepare kids for Whitney as well as it once did. Resources have been poured into daily tutoring for kids who really can't cut it at Decatur, leaving less for those who can.

lafew said...

I appreciate your comments. As a former Decatur Parent, I took significant time out of my free time and schedule on a regular basis to work with our Decatur child.

Many of us put in considerable time. We did not fixate on a television. We did not do the yard work. We did not spend as much time surfing the net. Some of us had better results than others. Why? I suppose that may take some soul searching. Perhaps, a few children have other issues.

From that angle, Ms. McElroy is a significant ally. I wish that she was full time, but perhaps she will train someone to eventually replace her.

You cannot depend on the school to solve all challenges; education begins in school, but study and understanding often starts at home.
Kids get distracted and so do parents.

Apparently, equal, if not more dedicated parents are sending their children to better Chicago public school. That is, they look for options and find them. Those children, with parent encouragement, also compete for the same spots in Academic Centers.

As a result, the competition is significant when compared to the past. Edgebrook is a Chicago neighborhood school that often scores in the top ten. Lennart on the southside also has a reputation.

At one point, I am told that Decatur Classical fed into Whitney Young Academic Center. I was told that it was a done deal at one time. All you have to do is look at the Dolphin mascot.

One disadvantage to Decatur children is that there are no "plus" or "minus" grades. You may recall that a Decatur Classical Student cannot receive an A- or a B-, among other points; just A, B, C, or D. Also, the cut off for an A is 93% based upon my recall. Grades are a considerable factor and often have a tremendous impact.

This means that a considerable amount of gradepoints are lost in the mix. A Decatur Student that actually scores in the ninetieth percentiles can easily get stuck with a straight B grade. A child who scores in the eightieth percentile can easily get a "C." I may be wrong, but I think that the cut off for a "C" is 85%!

I am proud of both of my children. Both attend good Chicago Public Schools. Both made the honor roll. The CPS covered half the ACT test costs for those sixth graders who scored in the 99th percentile on the ISATs.

I believe that the offer holds for any student in CPS who does the same in any school. Yet, many did so at Decatur Classical.

My child was not the most awarded child in his class. Yes, we were challenged as Decatur parents. Finally, I still believe that if we could have put in more time as parent and helped with our child to improve his discipline, perhaps, things might be even better.

However, how can you argue with a child who gets straight As for their final quarter, but ends the year with three As and one B in the courses that count for the year?

lafew said...

One last point, every principal and vice principal brings an agenda, but learns what works.

June Schacter got old. The school need an experienced principal to take the helm. Shehad other priorities and passed the torch.

I found that Kukielka did well for us. I believe that Ms. Jockyl is worthy. Ms. Jockyl is excited about her job and dedicated to teaching at Decatur.

I find Ms. Sharping nee Cabrera to be a wonderful edition, among others like Vince Baumeister. The new Science facility is fantastic. Nava Cohen is a Latin Guru and does a tremendous job inspiring Decatur Students to learn their Latin. The school regularly and quite successfully competes in Latin Olympics.

Ms. Cobb will be getting the funds to update the Computer Lab, which already has LCD screens for all students thanks to the PTA.

I guess that we agree to disagree on this one.

Anonymous said...

FYI at Decatur is now:

A = 92 to 100
B = 85 to 91
C = 75 to 84
D = 69 to 74
F = 68 to lower