Friday, March 20, 2009

School frustrations

I hope I don't regret posting about the school system we have here, but I am frustrated and disgusted with my kids' school. This post might get lengthly and a little dogmatic, but I won't be able to concentrate on anything else today until I get this off my chest. I'm nervous about putting this in writing since I have been known to get myself into trouble by writing letters.

For starters, I believe that the single most important thing a parent can do with their child is read, early and often. Exposure to language is key to language development, understanding and learning. We have read to Allison and Ben from the time they were in utero. Jay would read to my belly. I am convinced that they both love to read because of this early exposure and the importance we placed on books and reading. I also believe that kids will learn to love reading if they are allowed to read whatever they want, be it chapter books, comic books or trading cards.

My kids attend a school which places some emphasis on a program called "Accelerated Reader". Students read books and then are are tested on them. They are awarded points based on the difficulty of the book and percentage of questions they get correct. Each student has been tested for their reading level and assigned a point quota for each grading period. Many of the books in the school library are not A/R books, and the children are discouraged from checking these books out if they have not met their point quota for the grading period. Since many students don't meet that quota until near the end of the grading period, they never get the opportunity to read these other titles. I volunteer one afternoon a week in the library and have fielded questions from kids looking for a level x book worth x points. The way the A/R program is being used, it could kill the love of reading in more than one child.

I do believe the teachers work hard and have the children's best interest at heart. Many of them grew up here, and I'm sure they want to better the lives of these kids. That said, I have overheard incorrect English spoken by teachers as well as Southern slang in the classroom. Allison documented the following from her teacher: "The plural of 'deer' is 'deer'. We want to say 'deers' but it don't change." She uses "don't" for "doesn't" consistently. I heard one of the reading tutors refer to her small group of students as "you-ens", which is a popular way of addressing folks up here. This morning I felt compelled to bring to the attention of a teacher that her sign: "When your finished, READ" contained a misspelling. She did not appear embarrassed or apologetic in the slightest. WTF?

The PTO is a good segue to the issue of parent involvement. At the Charter schools my kids attended, volunteerism was compulsory. We had committees and team leaders, and it was astonishingly efficient. Our PTO has met only 3 times this school year. I'm not sure exactly what the PTO has done outside of a couple of fundraisers. I'm not sure the PTO actually knows its function or has clear goals. Attendance is small, and the group appears unorganized. The more parents are around the more they can fill the needs of the school where funding is lacking.

This is especially important in the case of our school where nearly 50% of the students are considered economically disadvantaged. Our school is Title I which entitles us to grants, etc. We are a poor school. It creates a vicious cycle when you throw in NCLB testing (don't even get me started on that). The test scores have to improve so that funding is not in jeopardy, so everyone freaks out about preparing the kids for the tests.

I wish I cared enough about public education to run for the school board and try to change the system. Unfortunately, I care about my own kids' education more. I want it better now. I'm not one to sit around when there is work to be done, but I'm realistic enough to know what I can and cannot have an impact on. While I cannot pass out demerits to teachers who butcher the English language, I can take a more active roll in promoting volunteerism at school. I also know that I am viewed as an outsider and with a certain amount of skepticism so I must proceed cautiously.

Why do I feel I must get involved? I never saw my parents at school unless I was in trouble. What's changed?

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