17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

If You Care About Your Child's Education, Don't Send Them to Public School

I was hoping that when we moved out of NYC, I would be able to move into a city with fabulous public schools. But, I quickly learned that the city we moved into in southern CA has many of the same problems with their public schools as NYC. In fact, there has been a long standing, pervasive attitude (since the "White Flight" in the 70's) in my new city (both spoken and unspoken) that if you care at all about your child's education, you don't send them to public school. It's so disappointing.

Right now we are faced with the decision of where to put Princess for Kindergarten next year. As I see it, here are our options:

1. There are 63 private schools to choose from in our city (to me that number is astonishing).

2. Our neighborhood school.

3. The school district, in an effort to gain back trust from parents in the city has started an "open enrollment lottery". This means that while you can automatically attend your neighborhood school, you can now easily apply for admittance to another school(s) in the district.

4. There are three charter schools in the area.

5. Homeschool.

When it comes to sorting through all my options I am torn between doing what is best for my daughter and what I feel is best for the community. I have always held a very strong belief that every child deserves to have a quality education regardless of their family socio-economic circumstances, race or other demographic. I feel like the way I can help make this happen is to support public schools. I think this kind of support comes from being an involved parent of public school student. So this means private school and homeschool are out for us (note to all private schooler and homeschooler parents out there - I am sure you also believe that every child deserves a quality education too, I just haven't found a way to reconcile this belief with any option other than public school and with the added cost (private school) and time (homeschool) involved, I am not sure I want to).

So that narrows the choices down to our neighborhood school, another public school in the area, or a charter school. Now if I am to continue to hold firm to my belief stated in the previous paragraph, the obvious choice would be to send Princess to our neighborhood school. It is one of the worst in the entire district. It's low test scores, no diversity, and little parent involvement make it an ideal place to "make a difference". But when it comes right down to it, I just don't think I can send my little girl there. The campus is bleak, the buildings are worn and suspension numbers are through the roof. Oh how easily my ideals go out the window.

On the other side of the scale, there are 2 exceptional elementary schools in the district that I can try to lottery into (along with 1000 other families). But I am uninclined to put them on my list because not only would they be a long commute for us every day (with no bus or carpool option) ideally, I would hope that spot in a great school could go to another child whose parents might not have the same amount of time to invest in their child's education as I do (there are my ideals again - funny how they come and go). But if either of these schools were my neighborhood school, I doubt I would hesitate for a moment to send her there. So maybe I am just being selfish about the driving time. In the end though, I feel like maybe the right place for us is a school somewhere in the middle of it all- I don't think it has to be the very best school but not scary and safe would be a good thing.

And finally there are the charter schools. According to my ideals, I probably shouldn't support these, as they pull families away from neighborhood schools, but I wonder if the majority of public schools here are too far in the toilet to be saved. Starting from scratch (which is what the charter schools are essentially doing) might be the only to once again build a system where all children can receive a quality education.

Oh, I don't know. The entire process is completely maddening. If anyone has anything to offer to help me sort out my theoretical issues so I can maybe, just maybe concentrate on some of the more practical issues, that might help.


  • Our district has 2 lottery schools. We didn't get in for child #1.
    OUr school was near the bottom of the (good) school district. I didn't have a good feeling when I had to register her there.
    **So for one year I drove her to a different neighborhood school. Pros: It was a great school. She had a good experience. I had a good experience. Cons: She didn't leave near everyone else. I didn't like that she would be the odd one out.
    We moved. Better neighborhood school. The lottery school called. For two days we talked about it and talked about it. For us the cons about the lottery school were: If you had an issue, they school's attitude would be "well, there are plenty of other kids just waiting to take your spot." Also, they cared about their reputation so knowing our 2nd child had a mild learning disability had us concerned. Also, the parents attitude about the school gave us an elitist impression that we didn't like. Parents are a little more Type A, I guess. My single mom, broke, friend whose kids go there (one with "issues") has had a poor experience. Actually I have heard other negatives about it as well.
    **We choose our neighborhood school. I have been extremely happy with my choice.
    We based our decisions on our gut "feelings" and also on practicalities on what environment was best for our kids and what would make us the most comfortable.
    Pros for your neighborhood school: If you are a good parents who is supportive of staff and teachers they will like you and treat your child well. They want your child to succeed.
    Tips: Be vocally appreciative of everything they do. From teacher to receptionist to principal to school psychologist to bus driver.
    Ask for their advice. Don't just tell them what to do. Always see things from their point of view. Mistakes happen....children get off on the wrong bus stop, etc.
    Ask how you can help.
    Good luck! I hope you'll be able to make this decision without too much stress.
    posted by Anonymous JKS at 1/11/2007 01:29:00 PM  

  • Good luck in that decision.
    As a parent of a preschooler I would love for you to have a post on how to find out information about schools and school districts so us parents can make a more informed decision in their education. I don't even know where to start to look for that stuff.
    posted by Blogger Erin at 1/11/2007 01:34:00 PM  

  • As an educator and parent of little ones, I sympathize with your dilemma. I also hope that my children and my volunteering can add "light" to the community at large without diminishing their growth and development. I would definitely advise considering the safety of your child in the neighborhood school. Unfortunately, administrators and teachers in many schools are forced to address grievous abherrant behaviors at younger and younger ages. Children who have been abused can become offenders. So that's the yucky side of it all.

    On the up side of it all, I'm a firm believer that there are good and dedicated teachers in every variety of school. And I believe that children are resilent and likely to thrive in a variety of situations.
    posted by Anonymous Renee C at 1/11/2007 02:01:00 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    posted by Blogger trimama at 1/11/2007 02:31:00 PM  

  • I worked in outreach for a long time and feel selfish that I was/ am not willing to put my children in the urban educational experiement I tried so long as an educator to fix. However, the bottom line is that many of the schools cannot change because of a system that remains stagnant, so you have parents pooling resources into private schools and charter schools.

    Here's a website that gives parent reviews about schools


    Choosing the right school is a personal decision and ultimately you have to weigh your ideals with the priorities you have for your family.

    Good Luck
    posted by Blogger trimama at 1/11/2007 03:05:00 PM  

  • Uggh...I have been there, baby. We were in the neighborhood school, which was closed by the District after they swore up and down they wouldn't close any schools, then they decided to close the "building only" of another school and move their students and staff into our building, then they renamed the school, and petitioned me to "special permit" my kid into what was our neighborhood school so that it would be overcrowded enough to get more teachers. Seriously.

    So if I had just followed the district, my kids would have been sent to a different school for this year, and then they revamped the boundaries, since what they did made no sense whatsoever, and they would have been back the next year into the old school, which now has an entirely different staff and student body, a different name, and is overcrowded. Gag.

    I ended up going in the same district but to a different school. We've been happy there, even if the driving is a little inconvenient.

    I am so with you on strengthening the neighborhood schools, but after I was jerked around so horribly by the district, I feel no guilt for going elsewhere. After all, they still get my tax dollars.

    I was so mad, I even considered homeschooling, but I know my kids would grow up illiterate if I did that. I just don't think I have it in me.

    I think much of it has to do with the specific teacher your child has, which can be a crap shoot. A good principal helps a lot too.
    posted by Blogger The Wiz at 1/11/2007 04:20:00 PM  

  • I doubt anything I have to say will help because I was lucky enough send #1 to an Elementary school down the street that is wonderful. I also grew up in public schools, but I can't tell you if they were "A" schools or not because, honestly, I don't think they were grading them back then like they are now.

    My only advice would be to do what feels right. Heck, pray about it! It's not a silly question, and if you are worried at this stage whether or not she should be in a charter vs. public or private vs. public or whatever, then perhaps you need some inner guidance. The fact that she'll be in Kindergarten, though, makes me think that she'll be okay wherever she is --too many people place early emphasis on early childhood education; somehow, if our kids aren't reading before 4 and saving the world before 6 then we have failed.
    So, I say send her wherever your gut tells you to for now, and if needs be, change the school later. She's young and resiliant. Changing schools at that young of age won't hurt her in the long run. And if it does, then I guess you could always blame that psycho in-law relative from up north... :)
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 1/11/2007 04:24:00 PM  

  • Move a county or two over where the public schools are really good. :: hint :: hint ::

    I wonder what my Mom, from a teacher's perspective would think. She teaches at a charter school, I think.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 1/11/2007 04:32:00 PM  

  • I'm all for volunteering and advocacy to improve public school for everybody, but I don't see how it follows that my child should attend a sub-standard place in the meanwhile.

    I see how it may be my duty and priveledge to help. But my primary stewardship is for my child and I have to act in her best interest before any other concern.
    posted by Anonymous cchrissyy at 1/11/2007 05:13:00 PM  

  • Carrie, this is SUCH a hard issue and I sympathize with you.

    I am of your mindset: Support the local schools, help make a difference. Expose my kids to as much diversity as possible while they are young.

    Living in NYC, I was completely prepared to send my kids to public school. Then Noe got his diagnosis and we moved to the DC area and I decided that we had to find the best program for him and there would be no living in the District (as I had wanted to do) because the school system is a complete nightmare. We settled on Fairfax County public schools, arguably the best school district in the country, so we might as well be doing the private route.

    I was talking to an old friend the other day who asked about why we didn't live in the District and I told her about the schools, and although she wasn't rude, I could tell she disagreed with me. Afterwards I felt like she was judging our decision and it upset me...and my thinking was...we have a GOOD EXCUSE dang it, Noe needs this more than other kids...but in reality, every parent has a good excuse to avoid the subpar neighborhood school and who can judge them for wanting the best for their child?

    I think that your DD is the type of child that will thrive no matter where she is placed, so if you continue to feel strongly about her attending the neighborhood school, you could always try it out for a year and see how it goes...
    posted by Blogger Jen at 1/11/2007 06:05:00 PM  

  • We are facing a similar dilemma, and it scares the snot out of me. I have heard both good things and horrific things about J's possible Kindergarten class next year, and the bad things are pretty hard to ignore, like 5 year olds getting let off the bus in the wrong neighborhood, losing them, etc, etc. But private schools, at least the ones they have here, are just not a financial option for us, unless of course we want to take out a second mortgage, or something hideous like that. So I think we will have to try our neighborhood/district school for a year, and see how it goes. If things get bad, we can always re-evaluate. And I am eternally grateful that his social circle will not depend on school alone, that we have enough kids in Primary who can bond with him.

    Oh, but to be back in Fairfax County School District....
    posted by Blogger Heather O. at 1/11/2007 07:41:00 PM  

  • I think Cchrissyy hit the nail on the head- I'm all for the ideal, but I cannot see subjecting my kid to an unsafe environment in the name of my own agenda.

    We have an elementary school three doors down from our house- I could stand on the porch and watch my kids walk to school. But I don't send him there. And I debated, moralized and wrang my hands. The bottom line- it's a small, underfunded, poorly staffed, run down, old school. Sure, they might have some great teachers. Sure he might have done fine.

    But there is a charter school right up the street with an OUTSTANDING program, great funding, active teachers and families, and I managed to get him in. And I wasn't about to turn them down when I got that phone call. Now, all my kids will be grandfathered in, as siblings, and I don't have to worry about it again.

    Charter schoools, as someone pointed out, are public schools, but perhaps the next wave in what education will look like. Parents and teachers are free to try different methods, and choose the school that works for their kid. It's still public school, just improved.

    Good luck with your choice.
    posted by Blogger tracy m at 1/11/2007 09:42:00 PM  

  • Thanks everyone for your comments. I think the whole post came on yesterday when I was in a state of high anxiety (which comes mostly when I talk to other parents in the city about their plans). Your comments helped me realize that I can be guided by my ideals, but in the end, I need to trust my gut.

    Wiz - I can't imagine how angry I would be if all that happened to me and my kids. The frustration! It shouldn't have to be this hard.

    Cchrissy- To me, one of biggest influences on the success of a school is involvement of the parents. To start a school back on an upward path, it takes only a few parents who work together because they believe the school is worth the effort. That is why ideally, I feel that if I want to effect change in my neighborhood school, I need to send my child there. But because I cannot bring myself to send her to such a substandard school (like you said), your comment made me think about other ways I can effect change. At the very least, this year I am going to start connecting with more families in our "neighborhood school boundries". It doesn't mean we all have to come together and decide to send our kids to the school, but at least we can start a conversation with each other and with the administration of the school if not for the sake of our own children, but for the future of our neighborhood.

    Jen, there is no doubt that I also understand why people choose to avoid sub par schooling and even pay big money for what they believe is above par schooling. I totally get it! In fact, I think I "get it" too much which is why these decisions feel like a terrible battle.

    Heather O - Good luck in your decision too. I would highly suggest meeting with your neighborhood school principal, taking a tour of the school, and finding other parents with children at the school to talk to. WHen we first moved to CA, I heard all sorts of terrible things about the public schools. But the more time I put into doing my own research, I found principals who were visionary, teachers who were dedicated and parents and students who had found much success in their local public school. Much of the bad stuff was information that had been passed on since the 70's. It gave me some hope.

    Tracy M,
    Thanks for your thoughts on charter schools. I really like the creativity they bring to a child's learning process. They seem to be less "bogged down" with old processes and programs. I do think that they will definitley be a huge part of the public school system in the future. I have seen a few charter schools who seem to be able to "hand pick" their students to ensure optimum success, which I am not sure I agree with.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 1/12/2007 10:48:00 AM  

  • "this year I am going to start connecting with more families in our "neighborhood school boundries"."

    Carrie, as I was reading the comments I thought that your above quote is your best bet. If anyone can make this happen it is you...and you might find a lot of families having the same dilemma.

    house warden, chloe I think knows of a great website. We were also discussing this at playgroup today...more talking about preschools, and I just advised visiting a handful to see how they compare, and talking to parents of kids that go there.

    My plan for my daughter, before she got accepted to the school of my dreams, was to give the local school a chance. I barely remember kindergarten, so I think it's ok to try it out and see how it goes.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 1/12/2007 01:36:00 PM  

  • My mother was lucky enough to find a public montessori program in town for my siblings (all special needs)It was a lottery program, but if one child in your family got in then the following children were automatically accepted. Being huge proponents of montessori in our family, we think it's wonderful to see a public school using this style.
    However, my mother teaches at a school filled to the rafters with high needs children. It is the opposite of everything my siblings school is. Do I believe that location and demographic have a part? Without a doubt.
    As a recruiter my husband came across more than his share of kids produced by our local public school system. Overall, they scored very poorly on the ASVAB and had very few skills. I was shocked when one could not tell me who fought the civil war. The Civil War!!! We've determined that we will certainly move to a different district if we haven't left this black hole before our kids hit jr.high. There are many private schools in the area too, but not all of them have great track records. People just assume that private means better, but that's not always the case.
    Charter schools are usually fabulous, but keep in mind that not all areas support them.My brother went to a great charter school in AK, but funding was later revoked by voters. Many people don't have a firm grasp on what a charter school is and why they are helpful, so they choose not to fund them. Maybe someday...
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 1/12/2007 05:03:00 PM  

  • I'm not happy with the schools in our town and this is a large factor in why we will be moving later this year to another town about 20 minutes away. I had no intention of enrolling my son in preschool in our town (heard too many stories about sub-par facilities and disinterested teachers) but then a friend mentioned a church affiliated private preschool/kindergarden I hadn't heard of. Her neighbors were moving out of the state and the thing they were going to miss the MOST about the Bay Area? The preschool/kindergarden their two kids attended right here in town.

    I went to the school the next day and was overwhelmed with how great it was. Right here in my not-great-town I found a GREAT school. My son has been there ever since and my daughter will also attend this fall even AFTER we move - that's how great it is.

    This experience showed me that 1) I need to learn to explore ALL of my options before closing the door in frustration on my town and 2) my support as a parent/contributor is essential for the school to succeed. I am personally invested in this school continuing to receive funding, resources and good old fashioned support. When we find a school that we like and is a good match for our kids we HAVE to get out there and support it.
    posted by Blogger chloe at 1/12/2007 10:02:00 PM  

  • This is every parental nightmare that makes you feel like a deer in the headlights when the countdown starts to Kindergarten. I for one live 5 doors from one of the best ranked grammer schools in LAUSD, but with the pressure that is placed on 5 years olds (no child left behind) my oldest who is a typical boy would crumble under the pressure. My husband who works for the county and I work as a part time Nurse are taking the financial dice roll and sending him to a developmental based Jewish Day School. We also chose the gift of time and he started T-K this year. Our second son will be ready for T-K in 2007-2008 and we are looking at an out of pocket cost of 24,000.00 It is crazy pay check to pay check living for us. I applied for finacial assistance. Even with a tuition deduction we are still living in the red. Is the sacrafice worth it for us. This year has been amazing--- amazing. His personal developement and love for learning is a gift we experince every day. Its a jouney--- for us so what if we don't hardscape our front lawn or if our furniture is tattered and no we don't have a plasma screen TV or any bling to be dazzle, no chance of me drivng that Volvo SUV. If our summer retreat is camping---so what we have boys! They are my my treasures and a foundation of education is their stepping stone to a life of personal fullfillment. Yes I sometimes feel out of place. Some people are dripping in money. For us it is a scrafice and if Jewish Day Schools want to see the middle class represented in their demographics then they need to reach out and help us get there. Keeping my fingers crossed for financial awards for 2007-2008! Good luck their are no garentees for us. I am learning to live in the moment.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 1/14/2007 10:23:00 AM  

  • While it is true that chrater schools receive some public funding, they are not public schools--I think they are more likely a destructive force in our public education system. Charter schools choose their students, leaving the special needs kids, ESL population, and the poor to the neighborhood public schools. They are the reason your neighborhood schools are so bad, and they are the reason they will get worse.

    Also, charter schools, on average, perform only as well as, and sometimes worse than, public schools. Many are financially unstable (collapsing in the middle of a child's education). For profit education is not for me or my kids.

    The most important variable in an education is the student--I think your daughter will do well wherever you place her.
    posted by Blogger a spectator at 1/15/2007 02:32:00 PM  

  • a spectator-

    I have heard all those same things about charter schools before -- which is why I am wary. But, in my district, I have seen many of the public schools start adopting some of the same programs and teaching practices of the few charter schools around. It seems like the charter schools, in some way, have influenced the public schools to take a fresh approach to learning and not be afraid of change.

    Also, I have looked into the enrollment practices of the one charter school I am interested in and it seems like they do not hand pick their students. The only priorities they give are to siblings, children of their own teachers and children whose neighborhood school is one of the bottom two in the district. This last priority seems like they are not afraid to take in low-income and ESL kids and in fact says that they are commited to making sure all children can receive a quality education. This attitude is obviously appealing to me.

    So maybe not all charter schools are bad?
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 1/15/2007 03:13:00 PM  

  • our local charter school claims to be a lottery system with no prejudices. So, spectator....maybe all charter schools are not created equal...and you must do a little research?

    My sis-in-law was telling me about her son's charter school compared to the local public school and told me about curriculum research she did...specifically in regards to reading phonics vs. whole language. I haven't researched schools in this way, and I was intrigued. Then my m-in-law chimed in and said the 90's did whole language and it bombed, and to look for schools that teach phonics...anybody done research on this in regards to picking a school?

    anon, I hope you get your financial help if you really believe in this school for your child.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 1/15/2007 06:50:00 PM  

  • Please read the article by Sandra Tsing Loh in this month's Atlantic Monthly. Here's the link:

    posted by Blogger Angie at 2/27/2008 01:55:00 PM  

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