Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Vicious Cycle

My Baton Rouge friend has a 4.5 year old and has to start thinking about school choices and is in a mental tug-of-war. From what she has heard, the public school system is not stellar, and since it's not stellar, many people choose to send their kids to private schools. And since they pay private school tuition, they LOUDLY squawk when asked to pay for public school improvements. And since no money goes into the public schools, then it stays not stellar.

She wants to believe in the public school system and support it, but then she's torn because she wants her child to get a good education. It's easy for me to have a knee-jerk reaction of "well put your child in public school and then work as a community of caring parents to change it" and then on the other hand, I don't have children, and I don't know what I'd do in this case. I know what I hope I'd do, but who ever really knows until they live it? Everyone wants the best for their kids.

The high school I teach at apparently has a nonstellar reputation, and people around the community think nothing of mentioning that to me. But then I teach at the school, and I know some of the great things that go on there (in addition to the bad things), so how much stock can you put in a reputation. There are good and "bad" teachers and admins and students everywhere and every school has problems of some sort.


  1. well said! most schools are not what hey look like from the outside.

  2. The problem is, that by the time your child is 4.5yo, it's too late to start working to make the public schools a better place. Change takes time, and while your kid is in school is not the right time.

    Let me tell you why my children are not in public school, even though I always assumed they would be. I lived in a place where I could send my children to private school on state funding, due to the lack of a public school in my town. Instead I had them tuitioned into a public school 45 minutes drive from my house, and drove them every day, and gave generously of my time as a volunteer, in large part because I believed that it was important to support the public school system. The school did not have a stellar reputation, but there were many factors contributing to that, and we got some great teachers who did a good job with my children.

    I pulled them out when they told me my son would have to, in effect, repeat 4th grade. Not because he didn't master the material. On the contrary, he had completed the 4th grade curriculum at the top of the class, with no difficulties. The issue was that he did this when he was 8yo and technically a 3rd grader (though he spent much of his day in a 4th grade classroom). However after this very successful year, they told me that the logistics would be too difficult to let him spend any part of the day in 5th grade, nor would they consider letting him "skip" 4th and go to 5th full-time, despite the fact that he had done math and reading/literature and sometimes computer or other specials with a 4th grade class, and had completed the language arts and spelling curricula on his own in the 3rd grade classroom. They met with my husband and myself and told us they could make no accommodation for him in 4th grade. He would just have to do the regular 4th grade work again. It may not surprise you to hear that that was not acceptable to us.

    I provided research literature supporting our claim that a grade skip would likely be the best approach for our son given the situation, but they were uncomfortable with it, mainly because my son was already at the very young end of his grade. We recognized that that was not ideal, but it certainly seemed like the "least bad" option at the time, and wouldn't have cost the school anything (unlike providing a special enrichment program would have, which we knew they didn't have the time, staff or funding to do). At that point, there wasn't time to start lobbying for change that might take years. Repeating that much mastered material would have been a disaster for my son. When you are in an "emergency" situation, you have to do what you have to do for your own child. When the much more flexible private school I found for him offered me a place for my 6yo as well, I grabbed it and have not looked back. And I will admit that now that my children are in this private school which in many ways depends on parent involvement, my time and energy goes to supporting the private school, to the detriment of the public school that we left. And so, yes, it is a vicious cycle, but sometimes it is the public schools themselves that drive students and parents away.

    (He's headed back to public school for HS now, and we're cautiously optimistic.)