Education from a Parent's Perspective... Part One: Positioning Statement

A series of blog posts on education exploring dual-schooling, co-ops, and extra-curricular programs -- alternatives that many local families engage in.

When my elder child was three, we were encouraged to apply for the APPLE (free, city-sponsored, half-day preschool) program.  She was accepted and had a teacher so wonderful, I suspected, even then, no other teacher could ever stack up.  Since it would be several months before we heard back, we went ahead with what we’d already had planned before finding out about APPLE.  We signed our daughter up for a distance-learning program through an accredited elementary (and high) school.  She got into APPLE after all.  We ended up “dual schooling,” and have done so for the past three years.

Again, this is the daughter born seven hours past the cutoff date.  Seven HOURS.  And she’s sharp as a tack.  She was more ready for kindergarten than a lot of kindergarteners were the first day of school, but there she was, going to the APPLE classroom.  And it was great!  She loved it.  The teacher, the aide, and the bus driver (the bus driver!) were all amazing.  Her classroom was filled with wonderful manipulatives, great centers... it was all sorts of wonderful.  They even had gym and music class once a week.  

So, there we are at the parent-teacher conference and the teacher says, “She knows all her letters and the sounds they make already.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she is reading by the end of the year!”  My spouse and I were silent for a moment, looked at each other, and my stomach did this weird flop-thing.  “She already is reading.”  There we were, in PreK, up against what I see as a major fault of our education system -- the teacher often only sees a student’s abilities in relationship to the standards and benchmarks they’re being instructed to assess.  

This amazing teacher *couldn’t* find out where each kid actually was in terms of their abilities.  She was busy making sure all the kids knew the letters, the shapes, colors, numbers, etc.  It is continually made clear to the instructors that their job is to bring all the kids to the level the bar is set at, not to find out what they can do or why something is challenging.  And flaw number two of our system -- the goal is to get everyone to a standard, not to meet them where they are and help them soar to the next level.

I come from a long line of educators.  Both of my parents, all my mom’s siblings, several older cousins and, oh right, me!  We played school more often than we played house in the neighborhood I grew up in.  We soaked in it.  The emphasis, though, was always on learning, on education.  School was just one media for that experience.  I have the utmost respect for teachers -- I know several who spend more of their paychecks than they should on supplies that should have been provided by parents, by the district, on experiments that enhance what is in the textbooks.  Teaching is not a 9-3 job, much as it may look that way.  Most teachers end up bringing work home to be graded, spend hours a week outside of school on lesson planning, often make calls to parents after school hours.  None of what I say is coming from a place of disrespect.  The root of the problem is the system, not the people.

Stay tuned for the next installment:  When Children Show Us the Flaws

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wyatt February 25, 2013 at 12:03 PM
One correction to your story: APPLE is not "a free ( city sponsored ).....program". It is a program, like anything provided by any level of government, that is paid for by the taxes collected from working people. No service a government offers is "free".
Rajkumar Oberoi February 25, 2013 at 01:31 PM
The article is self explanatory &worth digesting.
Observor February 25, 2013 at 04:19 PM
So why don't we give parents a voucher for each of their children which they can use at any school that they feel is best suited to their needs and expectatons?
wyatt February 25, 2013 at 05:19 PM
Excellent idea and one that has been proposed by many people but the answer is simple. The teachers unions fight it tooth and nail.
Rick McDonald February 25, 2013 at 07:14 PM
My thought exactly.
Observor February 25, 2013 at 07:42 PM
And the Connecticut Democrats are to the teachers' unions as the monkey is to the organ grinder. But they do look cute in their little monkey suits.
Maura Jo Lynch February 26, 2013 at 02:00 AM
You are absolutely correct. APPLE *was* not free. In fact, we, along with all the parents of children who were not lucky enough to get in, were paying for it with our taxes, along with all the folks without kids who were doing the same. Thank you for the suggestion to clarify this :).
Maura Jo Lynch February 26, 2013 at 02:03 AM
Again, I do not see the teachers in general as a major issue here. Most teachers get into teaching because they want to have a positive impact in the world. And most do the best they can within the system(s) they have to work within to make their livings. I see the issues as being systemic, not personnel - driven.
Maura Jo Lynch February 26, 2013 at 02:04 AM
Thank you, I'm glad you got something from it. Please "stay tuned" for the next installment.
Erin Kozakiewicz February 26, 2013 at 02:48 AM
I totally agree with you "observer". I think the voucher should apply to private, parochial schools as well. I hate having only one public school to choose from. Even worse is paying school taxes for a school my child doesn't even go to.
Observor February 26, 2013 at 03:33 AM
Assuming that the problems are systemic then the solution is to provide a variety of systems from which parents can choose, rather than a monopolistic system where you're going to eat it and like it no matter what might be right for your child.
Maura Jo Lynch February 26, 2013 at 03:03 PM
Stay tuned... I'll begin discussing options that I've looked into/am looking into in Part Three.
Maura Jo Lynch February 26, 2013 at 03:07 PM
I don't personally see vouchers doing enough. There is a matrix in place that will create a difficulty of any significant cultural shifts around education, but from where I stand, change is urgently needed. I look forward to discussing what I see as an Adjunct soon as well... The other side of all of this is the comment about paying taxes for a school one's kids don't attend. I heard this all my life from my parents who always had at least one kid in private school. And now I hear it again from my mom, as she's retired and has no kids in school. My personal feeling is that we all need to see the children of our nation, of our cities and towns as a very, very high priority. Some families don't have the options that I'll be discussing in later posts in this series. These children should not be left to wither. We need systemic change that will uplift *all* of our children, and thereby uplift our *whole* community.
farm guy February 26, 2013 at 11:51 PM
What if a school doesn't want you to attend their school?
Melanie Dunn February 28, 2013 at 04:05 PM
MJ, I absolutely love this series you are doing. I was floored by this story, but then, I'm not sure why I'm surprised. The more I realize how ill-equipped the public schools are to foster individualized growth, the more freaked out about it I get. I can't wait to read the next installments.
Maura Jo Lynch March 02, 2013 at 01:41 AM
Thank you, Melanie. The saddest part for me is really seeing what the result of this mess in the elementary and secondary schools leads to in the University where I teach. I was at a faculty conference today and across the board, we are seeing less and less of the skills students need to succeed in colleges. We are failing our kids is a multitude of ways as the system currently stands. We need to find stop gap measures now as we work to rework the system to serve our children better,


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