I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
September 21, 2012
Parents here in Nashville are in an uproar right now over the state of our public school system, and my Facebook feed is exploding with their collective angst. You can read about the catalysts for this debate here and here if you’re interested, but I want to keep this discussion broad enough for all of you, whether you live in Nashville or elsewhere. Having spent the last year traveling the country talking to moms, I know there’s a great deal of unrest nationwide over public school. The question I want to ask all of you: What do we do about it?
The best way I can explain where I’m coming from is to simply tell my own experience with our public school system.
When I married, my stepdaughters were attending the public elementary school that our two youngest children attend now. It is an amazing school and we couldn’t be happier with it. I wish all of my kids could have attended this school right on through their senior year. Unfortunately, that’s not an option.
In fifth grade, my stepdaughters went on to our neighborhood middle school, and that’s when things began to slowly decline. There were some amazing teachers at their middle school and the principal at that time was wonderful. There also were some not-so-amazing teachers. Some didn’t really teach them anything at all, preferring instead to tell personal anecdotes during class each day or show movies. Others were clearly doing nothing more than “teaching to the test,” drilling the students to perform well on their standardized testing rather than trying instill in their students a love of learning. As a result, during these years I noticed that school became a chore for both girls. It was a great tragedy to me, because they had come out of their elementary school with curiosity about the world around them and a desire to read more and learn more– Faced with mountains of homework, hours of forced reading, endless worksheets and repetitive drills, though, I watched that spark fade in both of them.
We figured things would improve once our girls got to high school. Both of them were good students and qualified for magnet school, and we’d heard good things about the magnets in our district. When the time came, my oldest stepdaughter applied for magnet school and met the criteria to get in– However, she didn’t make the cut in the school’s admission lottery.
This news was devastating to us because frankly, we didn’t have a backup plan. With four children in the house and one income, we couldn’t afford private school, even with the help of financial aid. And we were concerned by the amount of violence and disciplinary incidents at the high school for which we were zoned. When more than one teacher friend at that school actually advised us not to send our kids there, we knew we needed to come up with another option. So we applied to send her to an open-enrollment school here in Nashville. It was, everyone agreed at that time, the best non-magnet public high school in Nashville. And that’s where both of my stepdaughters ended up (our younger stepdaughter struck out in the magnet school lottery as well).
My husband would tell you the same thing – Sending our children to this particular school was without question the worst parenting decision we have ever made. I still feel guilty about it. My stepdaughters ended up at a high school where fighting, gang activity, drug and weapons searches and lockdowns were common. Loaded guns were found on campus several times while they were there. Drugs were sold in the school library. Men flashed them at the bus stop in front of their school. At one point, both of them were in a class each day with a boy who was on trial for murder. Another time, one of my stepdaughters signed up for Chinese class, the teacher was ridiculed by the students and quit two weeks into the school year, and she was never replaced. My stepdaughter went to a class that had no teacher for the rest of the semester. These are just a couple of examples of the problems we faced at this school, but I could tell you dozens of stories just like them.
Four years of this school changed both my stepdaughters’ personalities. Making it through the day at this school required them to become defensive, tough and withdrawn. This, of course, carried over into life at home. When my younger stepdaughter was a senior, she actually made us promise that we would never send our younger children to her high school. She didn’t need to worry. We had already come to that conclusion ourselves, and were beating ourselves up over not coming up with a better plan for our older girls. In retrospect, with our limited funds, I should have just home schooled them. I wish I had.
That’s not to say there weren’t some great parents at that school, and great teachers. In both the middle and high schools our kids attended, the system itself seemed to be dragging everyone down, even those who were trying hard to make changes. There were disciplinary problems, drug and weapons problems, building facility problems, and testing standard problems that prevented teachers from being creative and tailoring lessons to get students interested in the subject matter, or appeal to different learning styles. There were students who succeeded there, but those students were highly disciplined and motivated, and managed to get through heavy course loads of advanced work without being distracted or dragged down by… well, everything around them. My stepdaughters took AP classes, but they needed guidance and inspiration, like most kids, and for the most part, they just weren’t getting it at their school.
I’m not qualified to make some grand pronouncement on the public school system– I’m simply telling you what our experience has been with Metro schools over a 17-year period. Because of all that’s happened, we’ve reluctantly decided to pull our kids out of the Metro school system once they finish elementary school. While many of our friends will send their kids to the neighborhood middle school for 5th and 6th grades and try to get them into a magnet school in 7th or 8th grade, I’m not really thrilled by that option. Even if we’re successful in the lottery crapshoot (and many of our friends have not been), the magnet schools are on the other side of town- I don’t really like the thought of my kids being so far away from home each day at that age. Also, I’m honestly concerned about the heavy workload at these schools. I don’t want my kids to be so burdened by schoolwork that they hate learning.
We’re currently paying two college tuitions and we still can’t afford private school, so we’re looking at a few schools in town that combine home school with class time and are substantially less expensive. We’ve also discussed moving five minutes away so that the kids can go to school in a neighboring district. I know we’re far from alone in our dilemma and that’s why I’m sharing it. There are thousands of families in our school district that are just like us- dissatisfied with the public school options available to them and unable to afford private school.
This is why I was incredibly disappointed to hear that my school board just voted down an application from Great Hearts Academy, which wanted to open FIVE charter schools in our district. I’ve read lots of opinions online on the matter, but many of them are coming from parents of elementary school students here in the district and I’m not sure they understand what their kids are in for once they’ve finished the fourth grade. For so many families in our district, charter schools give us more OPTIONS- something we desperately need. They would also help prevent good students (translation: HIGH STANDARDIZED TEST SCORERS) with families who care about their education from leaving the district. Is it really too much to ask that a district that spends so much money per student ($11,084 per student per year, to be exact) be able to provide safe, productive learning environments for its kids?
So if Great Hearts isn’t a viable solution, then what is? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject and on public school in general, because I honestly don’t have a solution myself. From a parent’s perspective, charter schools sound great to me right now, although I’ve heard plenty of arguments against them. And I recognize and embrace the need for diversity in schools and am behind any effort to help at-risk students, as long as the effort is working. What I want for all of our students doesn’t seem all that difficult on its surface– to provide a safe, caring learning environment for every child WHO WANTS TO LEARN, regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. The problem comes with how to handle the kids who DON’T want to learn, and who are at school because they have to be there, and who too often end up creating problems for everyone else.
What I know for sure is that we must make changes, because our current system simply isn’t working. And that makes me very, very sad.
What are your thoughts?
Image via AlamosBasement/Flickr
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Well said, Lindsay. We sent one of our kids to the school you didn’t send your kids to–and that one year was too much. I did lots of research to find a smaller public alternative school that has worked for us but has not been great, either. Our two other kids were lucky enough to get into magnets. If they had not, I don’t know what we would have done because we don’t have the money for private schools either. I look forward to reading the discussion on your blog.
Rest assured, you are not alone. Charleston county faces similar challenges and I have yet to see a solution that is viable. We will be doing the same magnet and cross your fingers for middle school because the two we want also have high school so if accepted, the kids are done. If not, our middle school is pretty okay, but our high school is not an option.
Basically, like you, we’d need to move into a different district. It’s crazy to have to schlep your kids across town, crazy to have to move, crazy to not have a viable school to attend, crazy to have that kind of per student spending with poor results, crazy to be on lockdown, etc. I wish I had some insight but all I have is sympathy because I totally get it.
This is such a sad situation, Lindsay. I used to be a HS English teacher in a low-socioeconomic area. It was the most frustrating experience, and it made my decision to stay home with my daughter very easy.
The most frustrating thing about failing schools is that everyone wants to put the blame somewhere (and I get that!), because once you can blame someone, there is hope that you can fix the situation.
And, what I learned was, unfortunately, it is the teachers that usually get the blame. Now, I know there are bad teachers out there. Don’t get me wrong. But, teachers are also the only aspect of the school system that can be blamed and mandated. The government is not going to point the finger at itself. You can’t put mandates on the kids (what would that even look like?). You can’t punish the parents.
So, it’s the teachers. The government hears outcries from parents that the schools are failing their children, so they come up with more standardized tests to track progress, and then they attach the teachers’ salaries to the outcome.
So now, a teacher who went into the profession to inspire, is not forced to teach to a test that they don’t believe it. Trust me when I say, we do not like having to teach to a test. But, if the kids don’t perform well, they take away money from the teachers as well as the district. What a catch-22.
Then what you get is an epidemic of good teachers leaving out of frustration, and more and more poor teachers staying to teach.
So, what is the answer? I wish the answer could be to go back to the way things used to be. Go back to a time when society trusted that teachers wanted to inspire and enlighten children. We certainly do not go into it for the money, after all. I loved when teaching was about coming up with creative ways to engage students. Finding literature they would connect to. Talking with other teachers in our schools to make sure they get a complete education.
But, in today’s competitive, global world, I don’t see that happening. There is no trust in our most valuable resource: teachers.
And, let’s not get me started on how many parents aren’t involved in education anymore, and then they expect teachers to magically make their kids into college-viable students. Gr.
As you can see, I’m pretty passionate about this. I feel so bad for you and your family right now. It must be so hard to have such a mess around your kids’ education. If you decide to homeschool, I will definitely pray for you! I am considering it myself 🙂
Geez. I should have just written you a blog post! 🙂
The problem, as I see it, is that the teachers have all the responsability, but none of the authority. They can’t correct misbehaving or underachieving students. I am not talking about beating children, but many schools can no longer put kids in detention, make them do extra work or contact parents. Kids are allowed to CURSE at teachers.
So one or two difficult kids and the whole class suffers.
Very well put, Mary. And totally true.
I know just what you are talking about. I am hoping my kids get into magnets but I have the same concern about their distance and about them not making it through the lottery. I am hoping for a better system by the time they get there!
Even living in an area where the schools are pretty good, I still had a lot of concerns. Mainly concerns about the other students and the environment they create. I also felt like my high school education was pretty lacking. I am currently home-schooling my two elementary aged children and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I was on the fence about homeschooling until my dad, who is an elementary school principal, told me it was what I should do. I valued his opinion on the subject more than any other!
All three of mine are in public school in Nashville. Overall, we have had a pretty good experience. Granted, we live in a part of the district with some of the best schools. My oldest is a junior at the high school where I think your older ones went. His freshman year was pretty rough, but the new principal has made a huge difference. He has brought in better teachers and has much better control of the school. Ultimately, I think that is the answer. You have to have excellent principals and they have to be able to make decisions about their staff.
I’ll put in an encouraging vote for the middle school as well. My older daughter went through when there was quite a bit of staff turnover and administrative change. I did see a drop-off of scores and grades as she went through. But she still had some truly amazing and inspiring teachers. Now that my younger daughter is in the same school, I can really sense an over all change in atmosphere. There is action being taken on weak teachers and the administration is responsive to parent concerns. There also seems to be more parental involvement which is unusual for a middle school. I’m hoping for continued stability and further strengthening of the school overall so more parents can see it as a viable opportunity in our neighborhood.
I have not one answer for you. Here is the reason: I am blessed beyond measure to live in a small town where none of the things you mentioned are problems. Our high school has about 1000 kids. Our teachers get involved in their student’s lives. For example, one I know hires several students in the summer to work on her small commercial family farm. One of my son’s teachers comes in on a Sunday afternoon to offer a study session to any kid needing additional help preparing for the end-of-course test. My kids have graduated and they go back to school sometimes after 3pm to say hello to their favorite former teachers.
Thankfully, I don’t even know what a magnet school is, but for goodness sakes – shouldn’t ALL schools be magnet schools?? What is wrong with a country that values education so little that money is alotted to studies of the mating habits of fleas and perks for Congress (yes, I lump both of them in the same useless category) but our local school budgets have to make cuts. I’m not claiming that money is the answer, but at least it could fund the great ideas for improvement that others far smarter than me could come up with.
Oh and a note about the charter schools (forgive me for commenting before reading the debate going on in your state – I often let me mouth override my…well, you know). We have only 2 high schools in our county. The one I talked about above and another smaller school with only 500 students. A charter school started up about 5 years ago. It is the WORST nightmare you could imagine. They have gone through 7 principles in the 5 years! Their Board of Directors is in Florida (we are in NC) and they know nothing about what is going on in their own school. It’s a disaster. So don’t think automatically that going charter/private is the best route.
You have to check them ALL out.
We have the exact same situation here in Los Angeles. Our kids go to the local elementary school which has been wonderful (although with all the budget cuts, parents are required to pony up $ just to pay for art and pe etc) but the middle school situation is dire. With one in 4th grade and another in 3rd, this decision is weighing very heavily on me.(Middle school starts in 6th grade here). There are some charters and magnets you can apply to, but they can be very difficult to get into and you need to have a back up plan. Since we can’t afford private school, not sure what that plan can be for us–our local middle school is riddled with gangs and has some of the worst API scores in the city. (rates a 2 – out of 10– on Great Schools). Last year a new charter opened up that has gotten good reviews–it’s part of the Green Dot family, which has had much success with their other schools. However, it is very small and in a temporary location and doesn’t have sports etc etc. I don’t know what to do. Meanwhile we live one block away from Santa Monica and 2 blocks from Venice–our property taxes are OUTRAGEOUS. Some of our neighbors pay $20K PER YEAR in property tax. And this is the education we get??? They are proposing hikes to income tax and property tax on this year’s ballot and if it doesn’t get approved, kids will lose 20 more days of school. So down to 155–remember the old standard was 180 days. Ridiculous. And very hopeless.
That sucks. We moved out of APS last year to get away from shit schools (and a cheating scandal with the teachers), even though I had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get out of our house in the city. We then rented for six months in an area with good schools where we wanted to live, and finally, we bought a house in Sandy Springs, where the schools are excellent. If I didn’t have 4, I’d do private school, but since we do, we opted for an expensive move instead.
Another suggestion I have is finding an inexpensive property in a better school district to buy as a rental property. That’s what we did for our oldest (my stepdaughter) when we were trying to sell for 4 years with no offers (it was in Decatur, so she went to the DeKalb arts magnet).
I think there’s a rule against the property thing here- I’m pretty sure the child has to be living on the property to go there. We’ll probably just move if we have to- which seems crazy and awful, since we love our house and neighborhood and we’d literally be moving five minutes away!
Bullying is a huge problem at my kids’ schools. I desperately want to raise my income to be able to pay for private school. I would love to move to a better school district, but my husband is set against all the best ones. Not sure we could afford a home in those districts anyway.
The classes my students are in have a class set of books. They can’t afford enough for all the kids. How can they possibly learn all they are supposed to be learning then? The grant the district got a few years ago was used to get Apple laptops for the middle and high school students. This works well, but I have to question things.
I don’t know of any solutions either. I am home pre-schooling the 4 year old but I suck at it and can’t imagine doing it after kindergarten.
I’m so sorry, Sara. That sucks. And I feel for you with the home preschooling. I wasn’t very good at it, either! We have two schools here that offer classroom instruction 2-4 days per week and independent/homeschool study on days off. I think I can swing that. I HOPE I can swing that!
Ugh, this is such a multi-faceted problem, I don’t have an answer. I worked in the front office of a charter school for a year. NEVER AGAIN. A good number of the parents were absolutely psycho, the teachers and the administration were constantly at war, and all of our hands were tied by government (state and federal) policies that just piled more paperwork onto the teachers. It. Was. A MESS. It really changed my perception on what I would want for my kids with school. And a huge part of the reason I fought so hard to find a house to buy in a decent school district. Our district isn’t the absolute best in the city, but it’s far from being the absolute worst. We’re lucky to live in a place where property values are not insane and we have a TON of charter schools and other options. But it doesn’t make the decision any easier. Right now we’re in the preschool debate – husband wants to do private preschool, but it’s expensive. And if it’s determined that our son needs continued speech therapy, it’s free at the public preschool but we’d be on our own for private. Which means mo’ money if it’s not covered by insurance.
Sigh. There are just so many things broken with the educational system that it feels any choice is the wrong choice sometimes.
I’ve heard nightmare stories about charter school situations. I realize it’s going to vary from school to school. Selfishly, what I REALLY want is that $11,000 that Metro is spending on each of my kids. I’ll put them both in the private school of our choice and cover the difference. PROBLEM SOLVED. 😀
I know right??? LOL
An ongoing problem in my region is definitely money. The thing is, whenever a tax measure to fund schools comes up on the ballot, people just vote it down without thinking about it. My husband and I did the math on the last one and it wouldn’t cost us that much more money, so we voted yes. Well, of course it got voted down, so our district had to make major cuts because the budget just wasn’t there. They were going to completely eliminate bus service, but too many people made a stink about that, so they altered it to where they charge for bus service. People were still complaining, so they sent out a letter to every address in the district that basically said “We are not legally obligated to provide free bus service (people were probably threatening to sue). Ya’ll voted down the ballot measure that would have given us the budget to cover these things. If we didn’t cut something, we’d be cutting teacher jobs. So it’s buses or teachers. Take yer pick.” Of course they were nicer about it than that but that’s the gist of it.
There seems to be a growing mentality in my state in general that people want more and more free services. But nothing is free. Those things cost money and the money has to come from SOMEWHERE. So in our house, we carefully read and research all tax increases on the ballots. Our opinion is, if we can pitch in a few extra dollars to improve our school district, that’s going to increase our property values, which increases the equity in our home. So there’s more than one benefit for us.
Unfortunately in this town, 11000 won’g get you into one of the “top” privates, try double that.
Hence the “cover the difference.” 🙂 Although adding in an extra $11,000 per child would be a stretch for us right now, that’s for sure. I think with financial aid, we would have still had to pay $17,000 per year at the private school of our choice. With 4 kids and one income at the time, that would have been pretty much impossible unless we wanted to have Ramen every night!
I have always said that if I ever have kids, they won’t be going to Metro schools. I was quite naive when I first graduated from college and moved to Nashville when it came to the whole zoning for schools here. Back in the little bitty city I grew up in, parents moved to particular neighborhoods in order to send their kids to school A, etc. I have been out of the loop for a couple of years but I remember Metro talking about going back to traditional zoning as opposed to busing across town.
It is just depressing to see how bad the educational system has gotten. My friends that are teachers work very hard to provide a safe and fun learning environment but are then challenged to insure that the kids score high or have to deal with a class of 30 very different personalities with no help.
What can we do? I am not sure. It really has changed since I was younger. I remember doing TCAP but the focus wasn’t so much on that back then. And the kids deserve better than what they are getting in school. And so do the teachers.
The focus on standardized testing is depressing, frankly. I see even the most creative teachers really struggling to make learning fun and get through all the standards. I hate the one-size-fits-all learning approach, but I don’t see any other option in the public schools. My daughter in particular really struggles with it. She LOATHES worksheets and they’re a big part of her day– and grade. She could do worksheets all day and not really get a concept, but put the concept in front of her in physical terms and she’ll have it down in under five minutes. It’s frustrating.
I took a few grad classes in education (when I was considering changing careers and becoming a teacher) and the focus was on being able to teach a variety of ways since it isn’t one size fits all. To think that if I had finished out the degree I would not have been prepared for how the school systems work now. I learn like Punky and am a horrible tester. So glad I got through the system 20+ years ago.
I am so sorry, Lindsay. This epidemic is rampant. I live in a small town in northeast Georgia, and we have the same issues. I believe the public school system nationwide is bloated with overpaid bureaucrats and understaffed with overworked teachers. We are currently spending most of our (modest) income so that our two children can get a decent education at a (praise God) local private school. I pray that they will be able to qualify for scholarships when they graduate. I hope that you and your husband will successfully navigate the best course for your two precious children! Best wishes.
Thanks, Katherine! I feel for you- We looked at putting my oldest in private school and even with financial aid, putting her there would have meant no spring break or summer vacations, no extracurriculars, and no car at 16. We knew we couldn’t put our younger stepdaughter in private school, so we opted to go another route- which we now deeply regret. Although somehow the term ‘homeschooling stepmother of teens’ doesn’t sound like it would have worked AT ALL either, now that I think about it!
There are no easy solutions, that’s for sure!
As a Nashvillian with both of my boys in Metro schools, (1 in elem., one in middle) I was/am against Great Hearts because I have seen such growth and positive change in my zoned middle school and high school. If GH came in, we would lose so many families in our cluster that have helped turn around our zoned schools. Maybe it’s the bad economy, but we have more engaged parents than we’ve ever had! New principals at both the middle and high school in the past 2 years have made such positive changes that I am starting to feel like we can give our zoned high school a shot, where 2 years ago, I would not have considered it. I was also concerned about the “teaching to western values” curriculum as we have worked hard to educate our kids with a world view that is inclusive of all cultures.
I understand many families like yours are disappointed about GH, but I think if we work together with our zoned schools as committed parents, we can make a difference…
So I think it will come down to us vs. y’all in the end. 🙂 I totally see and understand your point of view- You’re looking out for your kid and I’m looking out for mine. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the end.
It will be interesting. I hope somehow, perhaps some kind of compromise can be struck with GH and we both get what our kids need!
This is all well and good for families who live in districts where education is the problem and a little more involvement by parents could turn the tide. My children are zoned for, literally, the worst elementary school in Nashville. It’s on Dickerson Rd. Need I say more? I could volunteer there every day from now until my kids attend, plus follow them through schools and volunteer there, encourage and organize parents (or grandparents, as is more the case here) to help too, but the weight of turning around a school like that is massive. I’m not just worried for their education, but physical safety. In KINDERGARTEN. Who has ever had to worry about rape at their elementary school? It never crossed my mind until it came up at that school. We aren’t well off enough to attend private, we aren’t financially able to sell our house and move (thanks recession) and are upside down in our house right now (it’s worth almost half of what we paid). We needed more options. And now we have none besides hoping for lottery or homeschooling.
Also, it irks me to no end that the “Diversity” card got played for GH’s. I live near and have tutored at KIPP. Their population is not diverse. It’s majority African American students. No one EVER complained about diversity in schools until it meant a school might be majority white kids, not majority anything else.
We have the same exact problem where I live. But I don’t think the solution is charter schools. The whole point of a charter is to do more with less money, so that the private operator can have some left over. The teachers are underpaid and even more overworked than in traditional schools, and administrators are always trying to cut corners. Standardized tests are KING at charters, as they determine everything from a teacher’s salary to whether the charter will be renewed by the government for a another few years. So guess what is the only thing taught? Filling in bubbles! Most of the teachers are new to the profession – and many are Teach for America temps who will quit after just a year or two. Thanks but no thanks.
There are lots of charters where I live, and even with their laser beam focus on raising scores, their scores are just as crappy as the traditional public schools. I live in a city where 80% of the students qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
I don’t know what the solution is to the problem of poverty (and that is the problem we have in America right now- an explosion of people in poverty). Family income is the main predictor of student achievement. It makes sense; if you are homeless or going without food, you won’t care as much about getting your homework done. When a majority of students in a class, school, or district are poor, closing the achievement gap becomes practically impossible.I have a kid headed for kindergarten next fall and we are considering all of our options, including moving. It sucks. 🙁
I live right down the street from our city’s Gifted & Talented program, and always assumed my kids would go there. They don’t have a K-5 program, so my option for K-5 was the other public school or our church’s school. My oldest was reading at a 5th grade level when he was 5. (it’s just how he’s wired — I’m not a tiger mom. My other two boys are just regular-smart) I talked to a teacher at the public school and she said that he would be MUCH better off at the Catholic School.
When it was time for my smarty to take the test to get into the G&T school, he missed by 3 points. I was devastated & angry. The kids who tested from private kinders were counted separately from the kids from public. So the private school kids had fewer spots. Forget that I pay the same (or more) school taxes. There were 3 kids from his class who tested — 2 obvious brainiacs (my boy & another one) and one little girl who was bright, but not obviously gifted. The only one who got in was the girl. Her mother paid a tutor for her to practice the test. I was naive enough to think that my boy should get in with what he already had. Her mother is also a prominent public servant. Not that that had ANYTHING to do with it. Yeah right.
The other smarty-boy’s mom appealed her sons score & he got in. I was encouraged to appeal but I refused.
That was 7 years ago & I’m still bitter.
Bitter but greatful. The Catholic School system has been the best thing for our family. Yes, it’s a HUGE struggle financially. But the education is top drawer and the character formation is awesome. Of course, it’s our tribe, so that makes a difference.
Now my oldest is headed into middle school. We have 3 choices: Public, the school down the street or the school accross town. Public is NOT an option. You would think that the school down the street would be best, but we’re not going there. Yes it’s Catholic, but they recruit very heavily from the “elite”. Not consistent with our values at all. It focuses too much on scores and the kids who go there are entitled little berks.
We’re going to the school across town.
Education is very important, but in our opinion, character is even more important.
So what are my thoughts? Dismantle the public school system. Get rid of federal taxes for schools. Leave education up to local communities. Require that the traditonally disenfranchised have equal input so that everyone have access to it, but make it truly local.
Some families — mostly from poverty, unfortunately, will not educate their kids. But let’s face it, they aren’t educating them now. Many families — even from poverty — will ensure that their kids participate.
As someone who works among all of the problems you mentioned, I could write a book here, but I won’t. I’m just thoroughly convinced that until teaching to a test is done away with and more parents (not all, but MORE) start giving a darn and actually BEING a a parent, it just won’t get any better. In the area in which I live, lack of parent involvement and student misbehavior in a poverty-stricken area make for a tough time teaching.
We live in a suburb of Pittsburgh and our public school district is one of the worst in the state (but we live 15 miles away from 2 of the best). We evaluated our options and when my daughter turned 5 we applied to two of the charter schools in our district, and we crossed our fingers and waited.
Although the public elementary school wouldn’t have been horrible…the middle school would not be good and the high school regularly has bomb threats and teachers have been threatened with weapons (and we live in a very nice neighborhood – district consolidation combined a formerly great district with a not great one).
We were prepared to move to a better district if she didn’t get into the charter school, maybe not in time for Kindergarten but definitely by first grade. The lottery for the branch closest to us was first and she ended up 21st on the waiting list. The next night was the lottery for the second school and she got in.
I hate that her educational future and our decision about where to live were decided by a random lottery.
I know that all charter schools are not created equal and I recommend that people do their homework before applying to or endorsing a school. I can not say enough good thing about our charter school – it makes me so happy that she is there (in first grade now). It has been a perfect fit for her – everyone who works at the school knows her name and her teachers are dedicated to her success.
We so very lucky to have found a solution that works for us. I wish that safe, good education was a given.
I live in Chicago where, of course, we just had national attention. I recognize that there are bad schools like the ones you describe in our city, but so far we have gotten three of our kids into really great schools. The thing is that our two oldest are part of a fabulous gifted program where they get to learn from great teachers at one or two grades ahead of where they are age-wise. I hate to think of moving to other parts of the country where there are no gifted programs like this. But I also recognize that other students in the Chicago Public Schools don’t have parents who will jump through all the hoops to get their kids in the better schools. I have a hard time understanding what is wrong about completely shutting down really bad schools and starting over with better administration and teachers. I also think Charter schools are a great option. I do think parents have to be part of the solution (see How to Walk Your Child to School), so I don’t know how you solve anything in areas where the parents can’t or won’t get involved. (I know this is a rambling answer without much point–I’m still trying to figure out my views on all this). Basically, I’m happy that we have such a great situation right now, but I know that we have been blessed to have access to something that hardly anybody else in the country, let alone the city, has access to.
I’m in the same school district you are — and for all the reasons you list, my oldest went into private at 6th grade, and my youngest went in at 5th grade. Best decision we ever made, after agonizing about it for 2 years. Don’t give up on the private school idea due to finances, I know SO many kids that were able to receive financial aid or full-ride scholarships, when I wouldn’t have thought their finances would qualify them for it. Many of the big name schools are very well funded and give out lots of aid.
We applied for financial aid to a private school and qualified when my oldest was going into 9th grade, but it would have meant giving up EVERYTHING- summer vacations, spring breaks, (modest) cars at 16– for one of our kids to go to private school. We decided against it. I actually like the private school/homeschool option a lot. The kids will have teachers and classes and extracurriculars and school friends, but they’ll also have a few days off each week to do their work and pursue their own interests. But I definitely need a backup plan if that doesn’t work out.
It’s a quagmire everywhere. I just read an article in Atlantic Monthly magazine and thought to myself, this is Nashville although it was about NYC.
“The city’s public schools are underfunded, overcrowded, and perpetually
in turnaround. District boundaries governing enrollment change from one
year to the next, as do standards for admission to gifted programs and
“citywide” schools, acceptance to which is determined by children’s
scores on tests whose educational relevance is questionable. Meanwhile,
middle-class parents are priced out of districts midway through their
children’s education …”
Have you visited your school of zone?
Many, many times.
We send our kids to catholic school. Even though we are not catholic. It is expensive though. It costs 9,000 a year for 2 kids. But I can’t send my babies to our public school.
First, have you tried to get an inner district transfer? Here in California you can request to have your kid go to a different district if you don’t live in your preferred district, that way you don’t have to move.
From my experience with my oldest daughter (now 21) and my youngest daughter (10) is public school fails for the most part. We have my youngest at a charter school right now, but academically she is still behind (moved her from public school a year ago). So we are looking to move her to a what I call a hippy dippy charter school, where nature walks and hands on learning are the norm. They may not go to Harvard (though they could) but as long as they are happy, healthy, love God, and are well rounded, then I will consider it a win. I think charter schools and homeschooling are fantastic options.
I don’t think we have inner district transfers, but it’s worth looking into. And I totally agree with the healthy, happy, love God, well rounded thing. It is far more important to me that my children are caring, compassionate individuals who believe that they can make a difference in others’ lives than that they are award-winning scholars/athletes/musicians/etc. What matters at the end of our lives? What makes us happy? It’s not awards. It’s relationships and service to others.
Can I be bold enough to ask which home school curriculums you are looking into? We live in your district. My daughter will start kindergarten next year. We’re good with the elementary school, but I have concerns about both middle and high school. Yes, they’re a long way off and yes, a lot can change by the time we get there, but it’s an ongoing discussion for us already.
If for obvious reasons you don’t want to publicize the home school groups here I would so appreciate an email. I’m lost on the home school front.
My husband taught math briefly in the high school you are zoned for and there is no way we would let our three girls attend that school! My advice is to move that 5 minutes away. We are in Williamson County schools this year and so far, are very happy with the high expectations and personal attention. We are at Pearre Creek.
Hey, Lindsay–Thank you for such an honest and revelatory post. I have a college consulting buisness in KY, a profession which offers me the oppoortunity to ponder high school and college opportunities alike. The college system is fractured and unsustainable in its current model–which is relevant to the present conversation eventually.
While I’d relish a bully pulpit (because nobody at home listens to me), there are no clear-cut answers to me except this: Courage will carry the day. By courage, I mean the willingness and ability to go counter-culture, to decide as parents what is most important and make it happen.
What does that look like? It can be many things–Going to schools (and colleges) that are not oft-discussed on the cocktail-party circuit, understanding that home-schooling can be done creatively (even involving humans not responsible for the laundry and meals)–and probably most importantly–teaching kids to make money while keeping it in the appropriate place in their hearts. (Quality of life should trump standard of living.) At this juncture, colleges–even the very selective ones–don’t care about the structure of the high schooling, as long as the student has the knowledge and inspiration to move on.
Step one is, I think, Mom and Dad setting the family’s educational priorities.
Thanks again for the thread.
Yikes–I just looked at what I posted and realized I’d better clarify myself. It appears that I slammed private schools along with the public–certainly not my intent. Many of our local privates are exceptional; it just hurts to think of parents making school choices based on anything other than the school’s mission and the quality of instruction.
[…] September, things calmed down enough for me to write about my Shoes of Sin and tell the story of my stepdaughters’ horrific public high school experience. I also had a run-in with a carful of mosquitoes. Yes, it was a boring month and I NEEDED A BORING […]