Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Spring School Debate

My daughter doesn't want to go to school anymore. I think this has happened every spring since she started Kindergarten. And just as I have every spring, I struggle with sending her there.

If I'm looking at outcomes or results or whatever you want to call it, public school is doing quite well for my child. She brought home a straight A report card last week. She loves her teachers. She has friends. She can read, multiply, and recite a copious number of "fun facts" about oceans and Illinois.

I decided at the start of third grade that I was going to put our proverbial eggs in the public school basket and make myself happy by not considering any other options. PA Cyber Schools either ran out of advertising dollars or I haven't been watching many commercials. Those "schools made from choices not bricks" ads haven't even been around. There's been nothing to undermine my resolve to embrace the virtues of the public school system.

Reader's Digest took a stab at me in January. Is the American School System Damaging Kids? was the headline of an article that (spoiler alert) concluded, yes, public school is no good. Shortly after I read this piece, Julia made an offhand comment about not being able to fit her answers in the little box allocated for her response.

"They're trying to put my baby in a box!" I thought in my most alarmed internal monologue. "Her creativity is being stifled. They're forcing her to color inside the lines. The horror!"

I calmed myself. It was just a box on a worksheet. She's plenty creative.

Then she took the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) for the first time. Third grade is the first opportunity to fully appreciate the damage done by No Child Left Behind. As if the two weeks of testing aren't bad enough, third graders spent an additional week practicing in anticipation of the test. They took two PSSAs. Add to that the "coach book" that came home every week beginning in February and the PSSA was a hot mess that lasted two whole months.

The drama surrounding PSSA time did not help my public school satisfaction. They fed the kids cinnamon pop tarts and wouldn't let them leave the room for three hours. Not even for a bathroom break. One teacher allegedly told his students that if they didn't do well on the test they'd be forced to get remedial help instead of participating in music lessons. Imagine being kicked out of chorus because you didn't "pass" the PSSA!

I researched the standardized tests, specifically how to get out of them. I found that the only way a Pennsylvania kid can get out of the PSSA is by claiming a religious exemption. Somehow, I don't think that would play well in a school where a teacher would threaten cancelling string lessons because of poor test performance. The cyber schools and even homeschoolers are required to participate.

There is no way out.

Our district is facing another budget crisis year. Retiring teachers will not be replaced. For my daughter's fourth grade year she could be taught by someone who used to teach middle school or someone who was always a guidance counselor or someone that has changed grade levels every year for the past three years.

Many teachers are professionals, they adapt and excel no matter what changes come their way. Others are not. Some are gifted, blessed even to have the unique skills to work with sixth graders. Our school thrusts these people into a second grade classroom. It's not working. Not every teacher can do that. And it's not just the teacher that suffers. It's our kids.

So I'm faced with a decision. It's the same one every year, except things keep piling on, new barriers to public school happiness add up. Homeschooling has just the one drawback. She would always be home. But is that enough of a reason to keep her in an underfunded, over-tested box? If I asked her, I know she would say it is not.