Tag Archives: education

January 21, 2015

Today’s gift was small – a box of office supplies for the main office of my son’s school. The two school office administrators are always friendly and helpful, despite having to deal with anxious parents, harried teachers and a daily flow of germ-ridden children shuffling into the office hoping to be taken home. When I asked them if they needed anything today, they told me that they could use pencils, pens, erasers and other office supplies. The school is in a relatively well-off neighborhood in Los Angeles, a pretty wealthy city in one of the richest states in the world. Yet, because it’s part of Los Angeles Unified School District and is not a Title 1 school (i.e. a school in neighborhood with a certain percentage of low income families) the annual budget is miniscule. The last I heard, the school of 450 students receives about $30,000 a year for all its supplies. Our amazing parent fundraising group has to raise a whopping $400,000 a year to pay for library and classroom aides, PE and music teachers and the like – hardly luxuries at an elementary school.

It seems insane to me that public schools can be so badly funded in such a wealthy part of the world. In recent decades politics has caused much money to be siphoned away from our schools, resulting in a withdrawal of investment not only in our next generation but in the future of the state. Not surprisingly, our state’s schools are ranked pitifully low on the nation’s academic scoreboard, its students ranking 47th in math and reading in 2013. In a city like Los Angeles, which is as vast as it is multicultural, the problems with education seem particularly insurmountable due to the immensity of its school district and the weighty bureaucracy that its size apparently requires. Like many other other parents in this wonderfully creative city, I am hoping (and almost praying) that one day, ideally while my child is still at school, the schools of Los Angeles will belong to smaller, better-managed districts that spend less money on administrating themselves and more money on teaching. Then perhaps parents will be able to spend less time fundraising for their children’s education and more time being parents. And schools will have enough money to buy as many pencils as they need.


January 15, 2015

I try not to read too many books about parenting and education. The amount of advice out there about how to raise children to be kind, smart, loving and successful people can be quite overwhelming. However, every now and again I pick up a book that offers valuable information about how kids grow and learn and how we can better help them. One book I read and enjoyed recently was The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. Written by Time magazine journalist Amanda Ripley, it explores how three of the world’s current education “superpowers” – Finland, South Korea and Poland – have chosen to educate their next generation. Finland has chosen to invest in its teachers, forcing them to receive higher training and in return paying them more. In South Korea, schools focus almost exclusively on academics (kids do sports elsewhere) and parents spend less time on PTAs and bake sales and more time acting as their children’s study coaches. In Poland, the whole country has bought into the idea that education can elevate a country and its people, inspiring the kids to want to learn. Not all these approaches would necessarily work wholesale in the U.S., but they give us plenty to ponder as we consider how we can improve education here.


Today I gave this book to my friend Melissa, who I have known since our sons (my only and her younger) were in kindergarten together. As a mother of two boys and a school psychologist by profession, Melissa knows a lot about how children – especially male ones – work and don’t work, and I often look to her for wise advice on how to be a better mother to mine. For years now, we have discussed our sons’ eating habits, homework dramas, and media-related battles, and whenever I am struggling with some aspect of parenting, she listens without judgment and generously – and usually humbly – offers me suggestions for approaches to particular problems that have worked for her. I leave her company feeling calm, reassured and a little more capable. The combination of the information I can glean from well-researched books like Ripley’s and the wisdom and the encouragement I receive from a caring, fellow-mother friend like Melissa makes the whole parenting part of my life feel a wee bit less overwhelming.