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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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

You may remember part I of this series in which I was trying to decide where to send Princess to school. The loudest buzz in my town was saying "don't even think about sending her to public school". But with some persistence, I found a 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. 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 that 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.

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. And 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 that 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 that each family and child has different circumstances to deal with when making education choices for their children. But, with Kindergarten registration going on all over the country, I want to challenge other parents out there to actually step into your local public school. Sit through a class, talk with the teachers, speak to the principal about your honest concerns. I think you’ll be surprised. At the very least, I think this kind of dialogue 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.


  • Way to go! I'm so glad it is working out for you. This reminded me about this inspiring article in the Atlantic this month about a mother putting her children in LA public schools and having a great experience:

    posted by Blogger Gina at 2/27/2008 10:42:00 AM  

  • Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! I needed a little pat on the back of encouragement as we prepare to enroll Max in the next couple of weeks. Our school is not stellar, but I've met the principal, counselor, and many teachers, and I've been very happy with my conversations with them. Max will be a challenge for whatever classroom he ends up in, but I'm really hoping that our local school is a fit for him. Not just because the alternatives are out of my price range, but because I believe in public schooling and community involvement. I hope that can make the difference.
    posted by Blogger marian at 2/27/2008 11:04:00 AM  

  • How refreshing to read a post that isn't anti-public-school in general. For all that is wrong in our day, I really hate it when that baby is thrown out with the bathwater. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that public school can actually be a good choice, for lots of reasons.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 2/27/2008 11:10:00 AM  

  • Love it! So glad you made this choice and are glad you did. Way to advocate for our schools!
    posted by Anonymous ESO at 2/27/2008 11:33:00 AM  

  • It sounds like you have really made a well researched and thought out decision. Even in the neighborhood we live in (which is known for very good public schools) there are many who claim that "private" schools are the "better" way to go. I always wonder why that is, and though I really have not made a big effort to see the difference, I grew up in a public school setting, as did my DH- and we both feel that we had good educations and many extracurricular involvements.

    It seems to me there are lots of choices nowdays with schooling - our town has what are called "magnet" schools- that are public but are slightly leaning toward one area such as art, languages and culture, or math and science. I have heard very good things about them, so when our DD goes into 1st grade this next fall, we will try to get her into one of those.

    One thing I do find diffiuclt is being heavily involved at this point with her school, becuase with younger children it's not easy to find a way to be at her school helping out very often. So far I have only made it twice this whole year! I have felt guilty about that-- but what can I do?
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 2/27/2008 11:48:00 AM  

  • rachel h - Just wanted to suggest swapping with a friend. I volunteered in my oldest daughter's Kindergarten clasroom for 3 hours every Friday while my other 3 kids were with my friend. Then on Thursdays my friend dropped off her 2 kids with me so she could volunteer in her Kindergartener's classroom.

    You've probably already thought of this option, but just wanted to mention it.

    Carrie - you are very inspiring! I love reading this blog.
    posted by Blogger rebecca at 2/27/2008 01:47:00 PM  

  • It's so funny that you posted this today because for some reason (maybe it's my 7 month pregnant brain working overtime) I was laying in bed wide awake at 5am worrying about T's schooling. Isn't that crazy? He's only 2. :) I think it was because a mom at the park was talking to me about preschools yesterday. Anyway, I obviously know I don't have to worry about this yet, but I do think about it occasionally and I really hope to have T in public school for all of the reasons you mentioned. I do believe in public schools and I had a great experience growing up in public schools myself.

    Thanks especially for the advice about not only going on word-of-mouth and what it says on greatschools.com. I think you should do research of course, but it seems like a lot of people rush into decision making based on what other people are saying, and not investigating their options more thoroughly.
    posted by Blogger beth at 2/27/2008 01:58:00 PM  

  • I happened across your post today and I was so excited. I'm a mom of two who teaches preschool from home and have become somewhat of an advocate for public schools since the "school voucher" vote became a big issue in Utah. I often feel like I'm the only one in this camp...it's great to hear from others who have decided to use their efforts to support and build our public schools. Thanks for your comments!
    posted by Blogger Tecia at 2/27/2008 02:34:00 PM  

  • My children are completely happy and well-educated in their public elementary school. I am impressed with the teachers and curriculum as well. I think being involved in building up your community and public schools is an excellent idea! This way, people can help make positive changes and build up the community schools rather than send their kids to private schools and leave the public school children whose families can't afford private school out in the dust! My sister has been teaching elementary school for 11 years and she believes the private schools and elementary schools curriculum are equal. And she loves when parents get involved and help create a successful educational environment. Great post!
    posted by Blogger LJ at 2/27/2008 04:04:00 PM  

  • Gina - Thanks so much for that link. What an excellent and inspiring article. Makes me wish I were a better writer. There were so many snippets from the article that sum up my feelings exactly.

    marian - You know if you ever need a public school pat on the back, you can always count on me.

    rachel H - I know what you mean about getting into the classroom. I face the same problem with a 2 year old and soon a newborn. But believe me, there are so many other ways a parent can help outside of the classroom. I have done take home projects for the teacher and am heavily involved in the PTA (my kids come to all the meetings with me and the principal knows them by name).

    Also, another way to help out is to come up with your own idea of how your unique talents might benefit the school, figure out how you could make it happen based on time and child restraints and then make the suggestion to a teacher, principal or PTA. In this way I have seen murals appear on drab walls, school gardens bloom on once barren land and, like in the article gina linked to, music programs appear out of almost nothing.

    Beth - I just have to let you know that thinking about your child's education this early is not a bad thing. The group of parents that I mentioned at the beginning of my post met each other in preschool when their children were 2. They went on to create an inspiring grassroots network of parents that has made a huge difference in the public schools and how they are perceived. So I think it is great to start thinking about it early and even better to start acting.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 2/27/2008 04:44:00 PM  

  • Thanks so much for this post. We had the same dilemma when our oldest of 3 boys was ready for kindergarten. We live in a poor and transient part of town, with lots of apartments. The school has a large population of 1st generation (hispanic) Americans, many of whom don't speak English when they first enroll. There is very little parental involvement because the majority of the kids come from two-income working class homes, single parent homes, or homes where they have small siblings at home.

    So why did we choose to send our son to this school? For the same reasons you said. And it so happens that our school is the most highly funded elementary school in the valley because of the economic situation. Newest computers, assistants in classes, special programs, etc. When the school was built 5 years ago, they pulled the best teachers from the district to this school.

    We also have an autistic son, who started kindergarten this year. He is functional enough to be in mainstream with only a little extra help, so we also sent him to this school. He has flourished there, and has some of the most dedicated and amazing teachers and aides.

    It was helpful for me personally to join the PTA so that I would be up on what was going on, and have interactions with the principal and teachers.

    I also volunteer in the boys' classes every other week. I get a babysitter for every Friday, and I take turns in the 2 boys' classes. It is so worth it to have that interaction with their teachers, I feel like it makes them more aware of my sons' needs.

    Sorry for the length of this comment, but I'm obviously passionate about this. Great job being your kid's advocate!!
    posted by Blogger Mother of the Wild Boys at 2/27/2008 05:35:00 PM  

  • Talk is cheap isn't it? Everyone around here talks bad about the public schools AND about any sort of process to get into any specific school public or private. I have found that most of these people don't know what they are talking about...it's all spin, hype, falsehoods. Never take someone else's word on a school if they haven't had firsthand experience, we do this all the time and it just doesn't make sense.

    Good job on your post. I confess, I am looking into a private school for Poopy for pre-K but that's because it is Blue Man Group's preschool....I mean how can I pass on at least TRYING to get into that? But Pukey does Public School and I have intentions for the Poopster to do it public-style eventually too.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 2/28/2008 08:41:00 AM  

  • I think as long as parents help their children to learn, they can do fine in public schools.

    I actually learned to read, do math, write, etc. at home from my mom even though I went to a public school. Of course I was bored in school since it catered to the group rather than my individual learning level, but I survived.

    If the public school where you send your children can teach them at THEIR individual level, it could be good. Some kids need more of a challenge, some need a different style of learning.

    I try to teach and encourage my own children, since I feel the burden of teaching ultimately lies with the parents, but other teachers can help with that, give social experiences and a little fun. And they can deal with the fingerpaint mess!
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 2/28/2008 09:23:00 AM  

  • I'm in DC and the mayor doesn't even send his kids to public school! There are real safety concerns in our schools. I'm so glad that your choice is working out for you! In theory, I love the idea of public schools, but am torn when it comes down to my actual girls.

    Also, class size is def an issue. Some of the first grade classes in our district have over 30 first graders in them! Anything less than a very experienced, high energy teacher is going to have many kids fall through the cracks. We're learning towards private school or moving when our kids reach school age.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 2/28/2008 09:59:00 AM  

  • Amen! I love this post. I figure if the neighborhood public school isn't good enough for my kid, it's not good enough for ANYONE'S kid, so it's time for me (and other concerned parents like me) to help fix it. I think sometimes we do our kids a disservice by shielding from the real public...public school, public parks, public transit, the whole bit. You are investing in your community's future and showing your kids they're PART of the world around them, not elite observers. I love it.
    posted by Blogger gurrbonzo at 2/28/2008 12:56:00 PM  

  • Anon #2,

    I totally understand what you are saying about teaching at home. It recently dawned on me that after 2 1/2 years of private preschool, and over 1/2 year of public kindergarten, AND with me reading to my daughter ALL the time- that she was NOT learning to read.

    I have taken in completely upon myself to teach her how to read, using a curriculum based on phonics, and it is working like a charm. It has empowered me, but also left me frightened that really school can only enhance the learning that they get at home. It has made me feel like unless she learns it at home, she may not EVER learn it.

    I talked to my mom about this, and she concurred.She said to me that the kids in our classes growing up that didn't have parents actively teaching them at home, were always behind.
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 2/28/2008 02:13:00 PM  

  • p.s. oh, and the ideas about being involved using your special talents are great! I'd LOVE to paint a mural for the school as I just happen to love to paint...that would be awesome.

    I am a Member of the PTA, but so far have only donated $$, not time or talent.
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 2/28/2008 02:15:00 PM  

  • As usual, I'm getting to this post late, and I haven't even had time to read all of the responses to the initial post, but I just have to say thank you to Carrie.

    I taught public high school in Queens for a very short time, but it was long enough to know that public schools need just the kind of support and chance Carrie is talking about. I taught long enough to get really angry when conversations about education and its problems and what is needed to fix this and fix that would come up and no one EVER asked me what my inside opinion was, what it was really like inside a public school classroom from the perspective of a teacher.

    The kind of dialogue Carrie is suggesting is wonderful--the kind of thing that would actually make a difference unlike all the bandaids being placed on bleeding wounds (like testing, testing, and more testing).
    posted by Blogger sunny at 3/04/2008 02:38:00 AM  

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