There was a question from a reader, Sara, who asked:
My husband and I are at a crossroad trying to decide to go private, homeschool, or stick w/ public schools. We check your blog frequently, but what we are seeing at school, media, and on the blog makes us pessimistic or at the vey least full of doubts re: public education. So we are trying to figure out if there is a way for you bloggers, the board, the teachers, and the district to be innovative, work together, and find solutions while incorporating some of the reforms we seem to be heading.
That is a big question. I don't know how many children you have or your financial situation so keep that in mind.
First thing, off the bat, I support public education and so does Charlie. We would not put our own children in public schools and go to meetings, etc. and write day and night if we did not believe in public education. To me, it is the backbone of our democracy and it cannot be allowed to fail. That said, it also cannot be under the dictates of a small group of people with an agenda.
So, my very first instinct is to tell you that for elementary, I would go public. We have a lot of good/great elementaries in SPS including alternatives. Check out what your options are for your neighborhood. Go to the open houses in January. Better yet don't wait, call the school in advance, say you would like to come and sign in at the office and just walk through the school on a regular school day. (This shouldn't be that big of an issue as long as you promise not to stick your head in classrooms. It's more a way to get a feel of the energy in the building.)
I would not spend the money on private for elementary unless class size is the most important item to you and your husband. For many of the good/great elementaries, you are unlikely to get a small class size (by that I mean 15-20 for kindergarten). This might matter more if your child has had no pre-school or daycare experience. Save your money for middle school if you think you want to go private at all.
Homeschooling is a big endeavor. There is a good SPS Home School resource center. Call them, talk to them about what they can do to help you and what you may be facing in making the homeschool choice. There are more resources than ever out there for homeschooling but it is really a job. You need to think of it that way and keep very good records on what you are doing. It's a pretty long slog so you and your husband should have a real philosophical reason to do it.
Working together. I think we all truly want to work together to achieve great things for our district. The Board has some decent, smart people on it and I think especially Director Smith-Blum wants to try some innovative thing. The problem is we have a Superintendent that is not interested in what the Board wants or what parents want.
When I step back and look at her job, I can see where she can't just be going in all directions at once. There does have to be a strategy and a focus. But I can't see that she gets to make the call in a vacuum. For example, over in Bellevue, they had budget meetings that included parents and their priorities and those priorities were compared with their superintendent's and included.
The Superintendent is on a mission and apparently no one in power (Board, City Council, etc.) is going to check her. It's easy to be large and in-charge if no one challenges you.
So next fall we can attempt to elect new Board members who will listen. I have tried this before (and, I thought successfully) but something seems to happen when people get on the Board and they don't stand up to the Superintendent and staff.
We have many good education organizations in this town but they aren't united. Some do represent parents but most are more for the business/community interests and tend to have the most influence. You would think that the PTA and the Alliance for Education would be working to unite these groups so we could get our legislators, School Board and City Council to listen to what citizens want in public education.
But again, there are agendas. It's funny because someone said something about Charlie and me having an agenda. I had to laugh. Not really. I'm not going to say I know the best thing for public education (and one reason is because I don't think there is a single thing but we need multiple things to be happening).
We have an entrenched bureaucracy in our district. This is not a good thing. It is one of the reasons we keep getting bad audit results. It is the main reason that despite being a great city, we are moving at a glacial pace in our academic efforts. I know the City Council and state legislators feel a lot of frustration over our district and confusion as well. "What will it take?" is the big question.
I personally feel it is going to take a BIG event to shake things up. I don't think the district and the Board understand that if they don't have the support of teachers and parents in their efforts, all the "reform" in the world isn't going to work. The Superintendent and the Board have been silent on the 99.8% vote of no confidence in the Superintendent's leadership. If the people who stand before our children every day aren't motivated and inspired by the Superintendent, how will they motivate and inspire our children? If parents aren't certain of what the district is doing and how it will help their child, why support public schools?
That the Board and the Superintendent seem to not care about these fundamental and basic questions is deeply troubling.
I do have some ideas for the future but I'll leave it here now.
No matter your decision, Sara, please know that we have good things happening in our district. I am proud of the education my sons (both graduated, one from Hale and one from Roosevelt) received in Seattle public schools. Even if you and your husband don't choose public education right now, please consider keeping it open as an option for your child.