I’m trying to figure out how to write this without offending just about every person I care about. Because this isn’t just about pulling your kids out of public school and sending them to a charter school. It’s about fear of public schools in general. It’s about fear. It’s about being afraid of what your kids are being taught in public schools, and pulling them out to go to a private school. Or homeschooling. And just in case you feel like I’m leaving you out, “People Who Moved To A Richer, Whiter County Because Of The Perception That They Have Better Schools,” I’m talking to you too.
Now, before you start writing your angry response, I should say that I am aware that there are all kinds of good reasons to make a change in your child’s schooling. There are all kinds of families out there who are trying to tailor their kids’ educations to each individual child’s learning style. We know families who have some kids in public schools, some at private, some being homeschooled…. I get it. I’m not saying that you are a bad parent if you make sacrifices to move to the suburbs because of the school system. There are even good reasons to send your child to a charter school. I have friends who work for charter schools, I have other friends who have decided to send their kids to a charter school–I promise, I get it. I’m just going to try to explain a few reason why me and my family are proud to keep our kids in our lovely, somewhat-failing school district.
1) THE PLAYING FIELD ISN’T EVEN/AN IMBALANCE OF ASSETS
I went to a Christian school my whole life. My mom made huge sacrifices to provide a Christian education for me, and as far as I was concerned, I was going to the best school. Once a year, the paper would publish the standardized test scores for the different area schools. And our little school would always top the list. But there were a few assets that the kids at our school had that a lot of the kids at public schools DIDN’T have. Here are a few:
- We had parents who were so invested in our educations that they were willing to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on something that is offered for free. If parents are willing to spend $20 on bottles of water, chances are pretty good their kids are going to be well-hydrated.
- We had parents that were ABLE to pay thousands and thousands of dollars on our schooling. In other words, having actual assets is a significant asset to a child’s education. In many cases, being able to afford something like this means that there are two parents at home…. That’s worth something.
- Even that pride was an asset. Feeling like you are “better than that” often leads to acting and even performing like you are “better than that.” Which is something that people might be willing to pay for, but it begs the question, “What about all the kids in the schools that AREN’T expected to do well?”
And these same assets apply to kids whose parents are moving to the richer counties as well. Having parents who can afford to live in the more expensive neighborhoods is an asset most kids don’t have. And you don’t see a whole lot of single moms deciding to homeschool their kids either. A lot of parents look at the cost of private school, compare it with the higher housing costs, and decide to move away and get that money back when they sell their house. And again, that may make sense for one family, but it pulls yet another family that cares away from a school that is perceived as “lesser.” Maybe it wasn’t lesser until all those families moved away? Maybe it started being perceived as “lesser” when all “THOSE” people moved into the neighborhood…. If the makeup of a school consists only of families who cared enough about their child’s education to pull them out of their assigned schools, of course they are going to have some better test scores. Which brings me to my next point….
2) THE MYTH OF TEST SCORES
Every once in a while, people who are considering moving to the Nashville area ask questions about where they should be looking for houses, and a main consideration for where to live is how “successful” the school system is. Here is the thing about those scores: They are complete BS. There is a school down the road from our house where there are almost 30 different languages spoken. THIRTY! And you know what? Those kids take the same tests that the rest of the kids take. I’m a relatively smart guy, and I couldn’t pass an elementary standardized test that was given to me in Spanish…. And I have taken four years of Spanish!
How many of those immigrant families can afford to live in the rich neighborhoods and counties? How many of them have the skills necessary to apply for a charter school? How many of those parents are able to homeschool and teach their kids english? Most of these kids have parents who don’t speak any english at home…. And they are being given the same tests as the kids who have been speaking english their whole lives. They’re not getting home and getting help at home with their home work like my kids do…. In a lot of cases, they’re getting home and teaching their parents. And they’re able to do this because of dedicated teachers who did not abandon a difficult teaching environment. Or the kids there who desperately need good teachers. Which brings me to my next point….
3) A GOOD TEACHER IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN A GOOD SCHOOL
For my job, I see the insides of more schools than just about any other occupation I can think of. And although school climate is very important, I have seen so many example of crappy teachers who are teaching in “desirable” schools. My wife volunteers for the PTA, and she spends a lot of time in our kids’ school. Within a short period of time, it’s easy to tell which teachers go above and beyond. You can go to a terrific school, have a bad experience with a teacher, and come away thinking that it was the school that was lacking. And sometimes, it might just be a good teacher who was a bad fit for your child. A good teacher makes a world of difference–Someone who educates, but also someone who inspires, challenges, and prepares the learner for the real world. Which brings me to my next point….
4) CHARTER SCHOOLS DON’T PLAY BY THE SAME RULES
Beyond the longer school day and the frequent removal of special subjects like art and music, there are other reasons to be skeptical about charter schools. A lot of charters have a discipline policy of “Sweat the small stuff,” but that way of doing things can actually be really harmful. As nice as it seems seeing kids in straight lines, not saying a single word while they are out on a field trip, this hyper-structured, almost militaristic, “Sweat the small stuff” way of doing things leaves kids floundering once they experience the freedom of college…. Much like the kids from the super-sheltered Christian families who ended up being the REALLY drunk kids in college. There’s a really good This American Life about this issue that you can listen to HERE.
Also, when kids go to a charter school, the tax money allotted for that child goes with them. And statistics show that kids are getting kicked out of charters at much higher rates than public schools. This is one of the reasons there is an influx of charter school kids into public school just before it’s time for state testing. And [not so] coincidentally, these expunged kids are the same ones whose pre-tests show scores which aren’t predicted to meet the standards they advertise in order to sell the charters to parents. They cover this practice by saying the kids are “not living up to their high standards.” So basically, they are getting rid of the kids who are going to do poorly on the test in order to keep their numbers looking good. It’s a gross practice that many teachers in school systems effected by charters will tell you is widespread. And then worst of all, if those charters stop being profitable, they are outta here. You can READ HERE about what happened to a Michigan school system when the system was turned over to for-profit charters, and how those charters said “Buh bye” when there was no more money to be made.
The single greatest indicator of how well a child does in school is how involved that child’s parents are in their education. If all of the parents who actually care about their child’s education start abandoning ship, what do you think that does to the school? Our kids get a lot out of attending a school that is diverse. They are exposed to different languages and beliefs and customs, and that is a valuable thing. But it’s not just what our kids get out of it…. Those other kids that attend our school–They need our kids there. They need families like our who are invested in that community.
Those kids speaking English as a second language, those kids with parents who couldn’t care less about their child’s education, those kids with no other options–they NEED my kids at that school. There are some good reasons make changes in your child’s schooling, and honestly, there are some schools that I wouldn’t send my kids to. But before you pack up and move one county over or enroll you kids in one of the 18 new charter schools that have popped up, I hope you give some of what I have written some consideration. Here is another REALLY GOOD ARTICLE discussion this issue. And as I’m sure someone other than me has probably said before, “Ask not what your school can do for you…. Ask what you can do for your school.”