It's not just pumpkin spice season...
School choice season is here--ack!
This is @edpsychprof's newsletter for those interested in transforming schools to become places where children (and adults) can thrive.
My youngest recently turned 13 (so bittersweet!), and we celebrated in a low-key way at a local park. It was nostalgic—I remember taking him to this park as a little kid, and now he and a few of his newly-minted teen friends ran around playing Capture the Flag and Hide & Seek, for maybe the last time together.
As the parents came by to pick up their boys, we marveled at how young our kids seemed. It seems unfathomable that they will be starting high school next year. The talk then turned to which high school each kid will be attending. When I was a kid, you went to your local neighborhood public school, unless you were wealthy and could afford private school. That was the extent of school choice back in the 80s.
These days, we parents face so many options, it can be overwhelming. Should we send our boys to the local high school in the neighborhood? But it’s so big! How will they be able to succeed in that environment? What about the small, magnet school that’s far away? They won’t have any friends there, and the commute will be tough on us as a family. Maybe it’s time to consider private school. But which one? And they are so expensive. And what of the local charter schools—are they any good?
We know that where we send our kids to high school will make a huge difference in their lives. I know this firsthand. My oldest son went to his local high school for his freshman year. It was supposed to have a good magnet program for technology. But it was a nightmare. The school was impersonal and prison-like. No one seemed to care about my son, not even after meeting with school administrators, counselors, and teachers. Student bullying was left unchecked. Tracy and I decided that we would do whatever we could to get him out of that school for 10th grade. We were fortunate in that Florida allows for out of district school transfers. Many parents don’t know about this, but it is an option if you have the ability to drive your kid to school in another county. That option worked well for us, but it isn’t a good fit for many families.
Given all the struggles we went through with school choice, I wanted to help parents navigate this issues with a guidebook to make the journey easier. That’s why I devote several chapters in my new book to school choice options. For example, in chapter 7, I talk about different approaches to schooling, from a “typical” school to Montessori, college prep, and other approaches. I list pluses and minuses of each approach, as well as describing the classroom climate typical of each. (P.S. Did you know that any school can call themselves a Montessori school? The name is not trademarked.) I also point out what schools would not be a good fit for certain students. Then, in the next chapter, I discuss different school structures, from district schools, to charter, to virtual options, and even new approaches like microschools and pod schools. I call that chapter, The Paradox of Choice, because I address what options we really have and how to determine whether these options are a good fit for our particular child.
One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 2—Speaking of Plato—because I was able to revisit my early background in educational philosophy to discuss the different philosophical approaches schools take and identify existing schools that represent each approach. Schools and teachers have an educational philosophy, even if it’s implicit, and these philosophies can differ or even conflict with the overall school approach. For example, progressive schools embrace a student-centered philosophy but many teachers feel more comfortable with an essentialist approach to education because it was how they were taught in school, and this disconnect can lead to teachers changing the curriculum or their instruction to fit their own beliefs of what teaching should look like, even if it’s opposed to the school’s overall philosophy.
There’s no simple answer to the question of which school to send our kiddos, but I do know that some school approaches are better for certain kids than for others. For example, I don’t think Montessori is a great fit for all kids (I wrote more about that here), but I do think it’s a fantastic fit, if the school is a “true” Montessori school, for the preschool years for most kids.
Anyone else here struggling with deciding where to enroll your kiddos next year? For those of us in the central Florida region, many of us have to decide in the next month or so. Ack! What do you all consider to be the deciding factors when choosing a school for your kids—school philosophy? school structure? or more practical things like how far a commute or the cost?
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