“If You Care About Your Child’s Education, Don’t Send Them to Public School“
When it was time to enroll our oldest daughter in Kindergarten, the loudest buzz in my town was saying “don’t even think about sending her to public school”. This was not a premise I was willing to accept without some personal research. With a little persistence, I found a small but determined group of amazing parents who were working hard to rebuild the public school system’s bad reputation and replace it with hope. They strongly advocated parent and community involvement in the schools. They also encouraged parents who were deciding where to send their kids to school not to base their decision solely on the “talk” regarding public schools or the greatschools.com rating or test scores, but invited them to actually step inside the public schools (including their neighborhood school) before making the final decision.
When I followed that advice and began touring various schools, I had the opportunity to talk to teachers, principals other parents with children attending public school, and I decided public school was the only way for us. I mentioned it briefly before, but Princess now attends our local public elementary school–a school that from the outside, does not have a good reputation or test scores and it gets only 4 out of 10 stars on “greatschools.com”. In fact, when people find out where she goes to school, I get one of two responses – either “so sorry you didn’t find out how bad that school is before you enrolled” or just a stare of complete shock. No one actually believes we made an informed choice to send her there. While it’s true her school is struggling in some ways, we have found a whole community of parents who truly care about their children and have only been impressed with the teachers, principal and the education Princess has received so far.
And so, I have become a huge proponent of public schools — even the struggling ones with poor test scores. I do not believe that we have made any extraordinary sacrifice in the quality of our daughter’s education (in fact, there have been countless unexpected benefits she and our family have realized by attending our neighborhood school). I truly believe that making an investment in the local school is an important investment in our community’s future. I often hear people lament the current state of our communities (I hear the world is going to hell in a hand basket, you know). But it seems to me that sending our children to public school and then getting involved in their education is an easy way to contribute not only to your own child’s education, but also to help other children who may not have the same opportunities in their home as our children do.
I don’t mean this post to pressure or guilt anyone into making the same choice we did (okay, maybe a little pressure wouldn’t be bad). I realize each family has different circumstances to deal with when making education choices for their children. But, with Kindergarten registration going on all over the country, I challenge all parents out there to actually step into your local public school. Sit through a class, talk with the teachers, and speak to the principal about your honest concerns. You may be surprised. But at the very least, you will be starting a dialogue that will help bring hope to the public schools, instead of simply smearing them with a “lost cause” mentality. I also think these discussions can help you sort through your ideas of what a “good education” means to you and your family.
You may even realize you have the time, energy, resources and desire to invest in a not-so-perfect school, recognizing that even the modest efforts of individual parents will go much further toward fixing our public schools than waiting for the government to get the schools back on track.
2011 update: My oldest is now in third grade and my second child is in Kindergarten. Because of continued low test scores, our school got bumped into the “School Improvement” program under the No Child Left Behind Act two years ago. Still, we have never once regretted our choice to send them there. The average test scores of the school (if you care about test scores) do not represent my own children’s scores not what they have learned from their excellent teachers. They are both thriving socially and educationally to say the least.
Does our school have problems? Of course. I believe all schools have problems (though many problems aren’t as easily broken down into numbers and graphs). The open dialogue I’ve created with teachers and administrators has resulted in solutions to many of my concerns. I’ve also learned not to underestimate the ability of my children to learn, grow and succeed under imperfect circumstances.
Do I put in a lot of time at the school? Yes. But I’ve found so much joy and satisfaction knowing my time is going towards helping my children and 500+ more. To paraphrase Ghandi, “I am trying to be the change I’d like to see in my public school”.