Monday, December 5, 2011

School Frustration

I have many moments in my life when I am grateful for the boys' schools. Our experience with our elementary school has been overwhelmingly good: a sensible, intelligent principal, good, solid teachers, an overall nice group of kids, and intelligent and involved parents.

Correspondingly, our experience with middle school so far has been more positive than negative. It's free, it's safe, most of the teachers are good (math right now looking like the only exception), the kids seem decent (from what One has told me - I have yet to meet any of them, as there are no opportunities to do so) and One has ridiculously good grades without an overwhelming amount of homework every night. But there are problems, and the problems are not ones that can be fixed. They are endemic to life in a 1,100 kid school in the 7th largest school district in the country. So far this year we have:

1. The lack-of-parent-communication problem. No fix for this, other than One has learned to borrow the office phone if he needs me (after I wrote every conceivable phone number in Sharpie in his go-everywhere binder, of course). Yes, Mom will fix it if it's broken. That's my job.

2. The lunch room problem, which consists of a 6th grade principal who thinks the proper punishment for loud and obnoxious students is to ban an entire third of the lunchroom from talking. Because he can't possibly find out who is making the noise: he's only interested in ferreting out the general direction from which it comes. I asked One if I could email this man about it, since One is not in the group making the noise, and he paled in fear. Please don't let Mr. W. learn my name. It will only come back to hurt me, because he's not a person you want to cross. Well, now: that's nice to know. I'm glad they've put him in charge.

3. The district-wide surprise testing, taking up an entire week. New this year: how fun. Four 2 1/2 hour tests, one on each core subject. The teachers weren't allowed to tell the students about it until today and the tests start tomorrow. We don't know if the teachers have prepared the students by covering the material beforehand, or even if the teachers will count this test as a grade (it's up to them individually). Just show up, pencil in hand, spend 10 hours taking tests you can't study for and live with the fact that you have no idea if it will affect your grade or not. Sounds just fine to me. And these tests are all in addition to the yearly Stanford and the new STARR (replacing the state-wide TAKS). How many weeks are we going to spend on standardized testing again? And who exactly does it benefit? Somehow, someone forgot to tell me the answers to those questions. Or maybe the answers don't exist. Who can tell?

4. The rumor-based problem: One's has a friend and fellow 6th grader who was given days of detention for filming a bus driver screaming at a fellow student. He took his video to the school administration and threatened to put it on You Tube; the threat may have been what earned him the detention instead of the filming. Nonetheless, you have to admit: it's disturbing. It makes me very glad I put in the extra effort to drive One to and from from school every day, rather than leave him to the tender mercies of a bus driver.

I know very well that, while these problems would be solved by a move to private school, others would crop up to take their place. Homework would double, for one. And there are other problems - perhaps mostly social ones - that I don't know if we are prepared to deal with. Never mind the cost: adjusted for inflation I make 25% less than I did when One was 6 months old, so spending $20,000 a year to educate him really isn't very palatable. Or possible. And even if it were, at this point we're stuck for another 18 months at the very least: you can't put together an application to the kind of private school One deserves to attend on a whim, nor do we have friends influential enough at those kinds of schools to make his acceptance possible without us jumping through all the standard hoops. We have made our public school bed, and likely we will lie in it until he goes to high school.

Overall, I still think we've made the right decision in choosing to keep One in public school. But if you think that once a decision is made I stop thinking critically, you have another thing coming.

No comments: