Many parents are worried about the quality of their child’s school. Thousands of families each year leave the public schools forever to educate their children at home. The renowned Cato Institute finds that there are as many as 1.23 million home schooling families. Those numbers are growing each year. The number of families who decide to home school is a good barometer for the general dissatisfaction they have with the public schools. As a result, thousands of parents decide to take their kids out of school. There are ten conditions to watch that will help you make this critical decision.
Watch for signs of unusual boredom in your child. Learning is not boring. What schools now call learning is often excruciatingly boring. Schools are rapidly becoming one size fits all education factories. Much of the work now designed for the classroom is written for a statistically average child. That child does not exist.
Watch for changes in your child’s mood. Children can be depressed in the best of conditions. However, no child should be routinely apprehensive or depressed about school. Be sensitive to any long term changes in your child’s mood. This usually indicates a systemic problem in the child’s learning environment.
Watch for a high number of office referrals. Increasing numbers of office referrals indicate that the school is not connecting with its children. This one is harder for parents to determine. Listen to your child. Talk with other parents. Listen to your child’s friends. Become a nosy parent. Show up with the intention of visiting in the office for a time. You may be amazed with what you see.
Watch for an obvious police presence. Even many elementary schools will have an armed police presence. Problem schools use the police as a not so subtle means of enforcing discipline. Police officers walking the hallways of a school with a loaded sidearm indicate the expectation of violence. This is a symptom of something more ominous.
Watch for high teacher turnover in your child’s school. There are several possible reasons for high turnover. None of them are good. Teacher morale is at an all time low across our great country. The work load is tremendous in the best schools. If more than a very small number of teachers leave a school at the end of a year this is a symptom of something that is negatively impacting teachers. If teachers do not feel that a school is worth working in you should wonder if it is worth your child attending.
Watch for any sudden change in the physical health of your child. One of the most common complaints will be stomach aches, headaches and ill-defined symptoms. Be responsive to a child who wakes up sick every morning. If a child wakes up each day physically sick first see your doctor to eliminate some serious problem. Then look to the school as a reason. A child in a good school should look forward to the day. Don’t depend on the child being able to tell you exactly why he feels ill. The child may be responding to the general conditions at the school. Or, the child could be responding to some specific problem such as bullying. In either case parents should regard continuous illness as a serious indicator that something may be wrong at school.
Watch for an increase in fighting or violence in the school. Every school will have a fight from time to time. Such is human nature. But, believe what your child tells you about the events at the school. At least assume there is something that needs to be investigated if she reports regular instances of violence. Too many parents dismiss their children’s stories as the simple exaggerations of a child. Good teachers will tell you to pay attention to your child’s stories.
Watch for the use of the courts to enforce discipline. Schools that have lost control respond by using increasingly draconian measures to attempt to control students. Teachers report that students are being ticketed for talking in class, chewing gum, and ordinary behaviors that should be taken care of casually in class. Tickets can run from to as much as five hundred dollars or more. Ask your school administration to tell you which courts take children from your school. Visit the court on a day when the docket includes students from your child’s school. You may find, as other parents have found, that a local court may have to give an entire day’s docket to one school.
Watch for a lot of drill and kill kinds of work. Some parents find that their children bring home worksheets that require them to do things such as write material repetitiously with no attempt to help the child understand the material. If the child always brings home assignments that are just questions in the back of the chapter then there is a problem. In order to learn students must be given assignments that lead them to use information in creative ways. Mere repetition is inappropriate.
Watch for obvious emphasis on state tests. Visit your school unannounced. Go by the office and ask to just walk the school. As you do this look carefully at the material on the walls. When you see numerous signs that may tell the students to “tackle the TAKS” the school may be so concerned with test scores that learning is compromised. The state tests as they are designed now carry so much weight that many schools have thrown out most other content. Many schools take time away from instruction to teach questionable “test taking skills”. Most give constant “bench mark” tests to determine how well students have done on some discrete set of facts often taught out of context with the larger discipline. Student who miss certain questions on “bench mark” tests find themselves placed in special classes where they drill more and more on less and less. To paraphrase Albert Einstein some of the least important things can be measured with tests while some of the most important things cannot be measured with a simple test.