My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Our Hunt For A New School 

Indulge me. I write the following post because I think it might be useful for others to see the thought process we went through. If not, so be it . . .

My family has chosen to move our children out of our home school. This is not an easy decision, and it has been growing on us for several years. Finally, though, after a year of our 12-year old being absolutely miserable, combined with seeing some of the work one of our 6-year old's peers produced from a local charter school, we decided to look around, and finally act.

When I say this decision has been growing on us for years, it really started three years ago when our oldest came home every night with two hours worth of homework--most of which was not covered or explained at school. I don't mind the homework--I do mind being expected to do the teachers' job at home.

There's a difference between helping with homework and actually being the teacher.

Then this year she starts to experience bullying--not the violent, physical bullying of boys, but the petty, socially stigmatizing, and spirit-killing subtle bullying of girls. At some point, we asked a few other parents about their experience, and we heard the same story often enough to make us believe that the sort of girl cannibalism I wrote about the last two nights was an integral part of the culture of our particular school. It was more than just one bad group of girls--it was the sort of value system that forms indelibly within any society given enough time.

It was only after this sort of consideration that we even looked at the school's record of test scores. What we found was the last two cohort groups to go through our home school had started with extraordinary scores--but that they had shown the sort of drop that is, unfortunately, common in the public schools. The raw numbers are these:

Class of 2008 (Scores available only for 3rd, 4th and 5th grades)
Reading: 3rd--89 4th--88 5th--86
Math: 3rd--88 4th--86 5th--76
Writing: 3rd--87 4th--75 5th--80

Class of 2007 (Scores for 4th, 5th, and 6th grades)
Reading: 4th-- 73 5th--82 6th--85
Math: 4th-- 80 5th--80 6th--75
Writing: 4th--69 5th--76 6th--67

Really, these scores are not at all bad. And, compared to many, if not most, schools around the area, they are pretty good. Over the three year period, fairly small dips in performance.

So we compared those to the local charter school, the one whose 6-year old students' performance impressed us, and these were the scores:

Class of 2008 (Scores available only for 3rd, 4th and 5th grades)
Reading: 3rd--59 4th--65 5th--54
Math: 3rd--73 4th--69 5th--58
Writing: 3rd--41 4th--48 5th--38

NOT terribly impressive. And, while I know (I KNOW BETTER THAN ANYBODY) that test scores are NOT everything, they are something. And since this particular charter school is a Core Knowledge school, which prides itself on its academic rigor, I would expect their scores to improve over time, not showing the same dip as the regular public school. And, unfortunately, when we took into consideration that there is no music program, and that the specials program is . . .unimpressive . . . then it became clear that this charter school was inadequate to our needs.

So then we looked at another local public school:

Class of 2008 (Scores available only for 3rd, 4th and 5th grades)
Reading: 3rd--82 4th--70 5th--84
Math: 3rd--63 4th--71 5th--85
Writing: 3rd--70 4th--61 5th--78

Class of 2007 (Scores available only for 4th, 5th and 6th grades)
Reading: 4th--68 5th--83 6th--85
Math: 4th--76 5th--87 6th--85
Writing: 4th--59 5th--79 6th--79

See that? Actual IMPROVEMENT over time; in every subject, both cohort groups improved over the three year span. Then we looked at the other important factors: this school has the greatest participation and achievement of any school in the area in band and orchestra, and it has a specials team that is unmatched. This was easy.

I know many people find other reasons to put their children in charter schools. But, using the criteria we adapted, it was clear that the second public school was superior to both our home school AND the local charter school.

We feel fortunate to have been accepted on open enrollment to the other school. Like I said, it was not an easy choice, as we have formed friendships within our home school community that we value, and we really have liked many of the teachers we've come into contact with.

But a school's culture is an immeasurable and priceless component of the school experience. We wish a culture of excellence and mutual benefit were the norm; but wishes don't make it so.

And as long as there is choice in the public schools, we will pursue the best choice for our family.

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