Going Local: Activism For Education

Commenting on my recent post “Having Your Cake and Eating it Too” one reader posted a link to an article on the A Good Day Teaching Blog entitled Why Don’t Liberals Really Like Poor Children?. The crux of the linked article can be summed up in one statement.  The author states that liberal parents “believe that the children deserve a good education, they just don’t want poor children sitting next to their kids in a public school.”

I think the key point here is that there is a difference between liberal/progressive values and outright activism.  Advocating school reform is progressive.  Sending my kid to our local public school is activism.  Not only that, it is activism by proxy in that my kid is the one making the commitment to the cause, not me.  I am willing to be an activist for some causes.  I am not willing to donate my child’s education to a cause.  Speaking for myself, this is not about racism.  The biggest problem that I have with most affluent school districts is Read the rest of this entry »

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Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

This blog got very popular very quickly.  I have no illusions that it is about anything that I am doing.  I am certain that it is all about the shared anxiety we have as parents of soon-to-be-school aged kids.  I have only gotten one community submission on the emotional aspect of this process, but, as a result of finding this blog, many strangers and friends are reaching out to me to share their fears and anxieties without formally submitting stories.

The conversations often go something like this.  “We love our Philadelphia neighborhood, but we hate our local public school.  We believe in public school, just not the public school option available to us here.  We can’t afford private schools [or we don’t think that they are the best option].  We can’t count on getting into Read the rest of this entry »

Another Argument for Going Local for Education

Back in one of my original posts, I wrote about how community is an important factor that my family is considering in our selection of a school.  It turns out that another Philadelphia blogger who writes about their public and private school experiences agrees.  Here’s what “A Very Public Education” has to say on the subject.

Paradox of School Choice

I have been contributing to this blog for almost a month now.  From the beginning, I was reminded of a podcast that I heard almost a year ago.  The podcast was an episode of WNYC’s Radio Lab.  Radio Lab is a fantastic program that asks very interesting philosophical questions about life (the afterlife, morality, sleep, stress, time, etc.)  and tries to present a scientific viewpoint on the issue.  In particular, they do an incredible job telling wonderful stories and distilling the science into narratives that are very engaging to the non-scientist listener.  I highly recommend it.  Over the last month writing this blog, I am reminded of a particular episode on the topic of Choice.  On the show, they hear from a long list of guests, including a professor from Swarthmore College, Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Jonah Lehrer, contributing Editor at Wired Magazine and author of How We Decide, Baba Shiv, Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Oliver Sacks, neurologist, and Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success.

I highly recommend listening to the program yourself.  But one of the core arguments that is made (which I will now grossly oversimplify) is that the human brain can only hold a finite and very small amount of data.  Applied to the subject of this blog–the more data that I accumulate, the more schools that I research, the harder the choice becomes and the greater the likelihood of making a bad choice and subsequently experiencing regret.  Going with your gut is a better ‘choice’, the argument goes.  I actually remember this when prepping for the SAT 20 years ago–the test tutors used to tell us that when we didn’t know the answer, don’t over-think it.  Your greatest chance of guessing correctly is to go with your initial instinct.

In general, I buy into this principle when it comes to making a choice about a purchase like a car or a TV set.  However, when it comes to choosing a school for my children, I am having trouble applying this philosophy.  I posted earlier about my choice criteria (diversity, community, educational quality) that I am taking into account alongside other non-school factors that I won’t be blogging about (professional, personal, relocation).  The lesson I am taking away from Radio Lab will be that I will try to research diligently, but not to worry about the details of my inputs.  In other words, I may set a threshold for reading/math test scores, but I won’t decide on a school because 85% score above average versus 80% at another school.  Ultimately, this also means that this whole choice will become clearer after I stop reading about schools and actually get off the internet and visit some.  I intend to make the primary food for my gut to be seeing classrooms and meeting teachers and administrators.   After the new year….

What The Heck is a Charter School Anyway?

So far my research has been all public versus private.  But there is a third option.  While technically public, Philadelphia Charter Schools are a bit of a different animal.  Philadelphia has 71 charter schools.  According to the charter school website,

Charter Schools are independently operated PUBLIC schools that are funded with federal, state and local tax dollars.  These schools are established to provide families with more educational alternatives for their children. Charters are non-profit, non sectarian, organizations that are approved by the local Board of Education   (the “authorizer”) or the State Appeal Board. Each charter has its own Board of Trustees and administrative staff and operates as a separate, independent  local educational agency (LEA) within Intermediate Unit 26 (IU 26).  The Pennsylvania Charter School Law – Act 22 of 1997 – set up charters to operate free of many of the local and state requirements that apply to traditional public schools.

It is my understanding that all charter schools base their enrollment on a lottery system, with some schools giving preference to siblings in the same school.  I sampled a couple of schools websites, choosing from the Philadelphia Charter School Directory.  The schedule at Independence Charter is an application is made available in September, must be completed by November, and admissions are made in December for the following fall.  Discovery Charter has an October-March timeline for the following fall.

I like the idea of charter schools because of the inherent diversity, which my family values.  However, as kids could attend a charter from all over the city, our other strong value of community may suffer.  Presumably, the most compelling reason to go the charter route would be educational quality, though that may vary.  Many of the charters have specialties (especially in the upper grades), so quality of core curricular subjects may vary especially.  This will be a core of my research as I look into charter schools.

I am learning that when it comes to Philadelphia schools, it is hard to have your cake and eat it too.

Choice Criteria: Educational Quality

This kind of goes without saying.  We want our kids to be surrounded by a strong educational environment.  We don’t need to go to the best of the best of the best per se, but we want our kids to be challenged and pushed to a certain degree, more so than what the average school might offer.  For example, exposure to a foreign language in elementary school would be unusual and desirable for us, but not a make-or-break factor in our decision.

Choice Criteria: Community

It is important to us that our kids be part of a larger community.  We feel that part of growing and learning involves as much what goes on outside of school as it does in the classroom.  For that reason, we prefer city living for the cultural activities that it offers.   We are not ruling out suburban communities, but we will probably avoid the more far flung ones.

Another community consideration is the location of the students in the school that we choose.  In today’s hectic world, the time we have to dedicate to playdates and other community functions is limited.  If my kids’ friends are spread out all over the region, we are simply less likely to engage in activities with his friends.  This will result in a preference towards public schools in most cases, because the students will be geographically centered.  However, I suspect that there are a number of private schools that tend to draw their students from the surrounding community instead of the broader Philadelphia region.