ETA: I want to thank everyone for their awesome input. You all put a lot of thought and time into sharing your thoughts. You have no idea how much it means to us. THANK YOU!
I have a parenting/personal dilemma. Before I go further I want to state that I fully understand that we are in a privileged position to even consider an alternative. Many people would not have the options that we do. I do not care if you are an actual parent or not, your thoughts are welcome if you are willing to invest the time required to read the post. Thank you in advance.
My partner and I have two children. One is in Pre-K and the other is in second grade. Their teachers are wonderful, kind, and knowledgeable people. We have been singing their praises ever since they entered our daughters’ lives, and my partner has become very close friends with one of them. We have donated time and materials to their classes and students. We are seen as surrogate parents to many of the kids. I do not think my children are any smarter than any of the other kids in their class, but we have been amazed at what they have learned. They are much more advanced academically than we were at their age. I would also note that I have no idea how our child compares academically to the other kids in her class.
Things changed this year for our eldest. At first we were as impressed as we previously had been. We were constantly telling her how proud we were of her for getting straight 100’s on her math tests, and consistently placing in the accelerated reading program. She began the year happy, excited about school, and upbeat. We soon noticed however, that her math tests were repetitive, and in a stunning way. She took three math tests per week, and each test not only had the exact same problems, but the exact same problems in the exact same order. She has continued to take these same tests since at least as early as mid-October. Additional tests for multiplication have been added also, be these are replica tests as well. All of these tests, identical as they are as far as the problems, all have different exercise numbers on them, so they are not simply copies, they all come from a distinct curriculum provided by a company called Saxon. We questioned the teacher about the tests right away. The teacher, always very friendly and welcoming in the past, immediately changed their demeanor. Although not exactly hostile, it was very clear that our questions were not welcomed. We already know from our own past experience, and that of other parents, that approaching the administration or school board would not go well for us, so we stopped, unsure of how to proceed (this was last November).
We began talking to some other parents. Amazingly, only one other set of parents had noticed the repetitive assignments. We began to question our daughter closely about each school day. Coursework almost exclusively focuses on math and reading. No social studies, no geography, and very little science. I know for a fact that I was studying geography and other cultures at that age because my mother amazingly still has some of my projects from that time in my life. We tried to make up for the things we felt our child was missing out on in these areas. We have spoken to other parents and found that next year sounds like it will just be more of the same. In fact her class takes math classes with third grade several times a week. We have also noticed that, although reading is heavily stressed, it basically falls on the parents to advance the students. Parents who have the time and resources to continually feed their children new books have children who get to go on extra field trips-each student has a goal for the number of books they must read each grading period. Those that do not list enough books on their report are basically punished by not being allowed on these field trips. Notably, this system punishes more advanced readers as well, because of course more difficult books take longer to read. So these kids read easier books just to keep their numbers up.
Our daughter began the year as a very enthusiastic learner. This has changed throughout the year however, and we think this is due to the extremely repetitive nature of her work. She is actually getting lower grades on those stupid tests now. She is sick of them and no longer cares if she gets all of the problems correct. She has refused to do her homework on many occasions, and although we did get her to complete it, it was a terrible battle each time. We again attempted to approach the teacher and were rebuffed. This has also been our first experience with common core curricula. We do not know if it was implemented school wide this year, or if it simply is not implemented until second grade. We have of course seen all of the comments about common core, but we had withheld judgement until we saw it for ourselves. We are not impressed. Many operations are needlessly complicated and made more difficult. In some rare cases, I can find the logic behind what they are attempting to do, but again I still think it is needlessly complicated and that it is too advanced for such young kids (although admittedly I am not an educator). All we see is that our child is subjected to mindlessly repetitive work, and we strongly suspect that this type of work exists solely to push up standardized test scores. Whatever it is, it is failing her. She is regressing and is hugely depressed regarding school. Other family members have noticed the change in her as well, and we are all worried and alarmed.
I know that this has been a big ramble so far, and I appreciate your patience, so here is the rub: We are considering pulling our eldest from public school. We are struggling with our thoughts on this, because we are huge supporters of the idea of public schools on an ideological level. We are approaching the point however, where we wonder if there is a line we are crossing where we are hurting our child academically for the sake of our ideology, when there might be alternatives for her to get a better education. I thoroughly believe that public schools are being deliberately sabotaged to force as many as possible into a private system. We feel extremely guilty for considering what we are considering.
Some other background: We are in a very rural school district. Everyone knows everyone. The school administration is currently facing financial difficulties, and is only releasing information they choose. Information is clearly missing, and what they show is supportive of their narrative. The entire budget is not available to the public, and they are constantly speaking at public events (ie-Rotary Club, Moose Club, Chamber of Commerce, published meeting highlights, etc.) where they demonize the children and families that are already involved in charter schools for removing funding. I am well aware that resources are removed from the school as children are removed, but the level of vitriol is becoming ridiculous. Individual parents and children are being criticized for perceived lifestyles and actions. We regularly see articles in the local paper where admin officials state that they are “working with state officials to resolve the costs associated with cyber school students” (we are seeing none of this coming from other local school districts). I do not actually think they are direct costs, but rather funding is removed for each student that withdraws, so revenue drops.
Facts I know: The school has the highest admin costs per student in the entire state. The administration is graded at an “F” due to its poor transparency and unwillingness to share financial information. The school is rated well due to the fact that a large number of kids get free lunches, compared to the relatively low dropout rate (k-12 are all on one campus). Although the perception by many (and this was certainly true when I attended) that many kids got passing grades simply by playing on a sports team, as they have difficulty filling rosters.
The other options: There are no brick and mortar charter schools in the area, but there are about 20 “cyber” charter schools we could use. Some of them are non-profits, and some are for profit. We would essentially be homeschooling our child with a pre-developed curriculum and the support of teachers online. At first glance many of the curriculums available are superior to what we are seeing at our local school district. The students still interact with teachers via video conference and the phone. Admittedly we do not know how these teachers are treated, as far as pay, benefits, or work environment. We do know that they are accredited, but that is about it. We have spoken to other parents who are currently taking this route, and they sing its praises, although we also suspect that their motivations are different than ours. We already know that if we take this route, that we will be ostracized by the community, mainly because kids that go this route are perceived as screw offs whose parents either do their work for them, or that they do not have to do the same level of work that other kids do, or that their parents are religious nuts. It seems to us that people dislike this route not because it takes away resources from the public school, but because- how dare such parents try an alternative-comments I have heard: “These kids need to suck it up, they will not like the things their boss makes them do when they grow up either” “They need to learn respect for authority” “Those parents are just lazy and do not want to help their kids with homework” There are many more…..
We have actually submitted applications to several of these schools, mainly so that if we do decide to go this route, we will not have to scramble at the last minute before the fall. We have not made a decision yet however, and we are really up in the air regarding this and are at the point where we just cannot make a decision. So here it is: My partner and I have great respect for this community (both GT and BT) and we would like to hear your thoughts on the matter. You guys tend to be much more thoughtful and often see things that people in our face to face social circle would probably miss. I left out a few things in the interest of keeping the post from being longer than it is (sorry it is already so long) and if you have any questions, please ask and I will do my best to answer. Please give us your thoughts, because we are really agonizing over this decision.