Schools, schools, schools.
January 15, 2014 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Next September my oldest will be going to kindergarten. However, due to some issues, we are now unsure where we should send him. And we need help and perspective about our system. Please help!

When we moved to our house, we had no kids and we weren't planning on staying long term. We checked out the local elementary school (School A) in case we needed to use it and it was OK. Greatschools rating of 5/10, 3rd grade testing scores of 86% in English and 78% in Math, with a teacher to student ratio of 14:1. But after we moved, the redistricted (or something) and now my son is looking at going to the other elementary school (School B). At first we didn't think this would be a problem, and might actually be nice because one of his best friends was always districted to that school, and so they could be together. However, I recently checked out the stats for that school, and... they are not good. Greatschools rating of 3/10, 3rd grade scores of 39% for English and 44% for Math, and a 17:1 teacher ratio (though a parent I know there said her daughter actually had 20 kids in her kindergarten class). And to top it off, the scores have been decreasing by 10-20% every year (4 years ago the scores were 73% for both, School As are fairly constant). And now I'm very concerned about my kid going there. The town does not seem to be set up where you can send your kid to any school in the town, but rather you are supposed to go to your appointed school, but I don't know if there is any wiggle room I can exploit do to the redistricting/fact that school A is technically a bit closer, and the crappiness of school B.

My kid is bright, his teachers report him being ahead of most of his peers in most things, and he can already read fairly well and understands the basic idea of addition. But he's a quiet kid. He won't shout over other kids, he won't demand attention in most ways that kids his age do. He'll wait his turn even if others aren't and even if it means he never gets a turn. He also is a bit... lazy for lack of a better term. If he isn't pushed to do things, he'll happily not do them, or let others do it for him. He'll keep up with kids in his class, but won't push to do things that are beyond them, even if he can do it. For example, his teachers had no clue he could read until we pointed it out to them, and he still won't do it unless they specifically ask him to. He's also more likely to try to learn new things if the other kids are doing it. We had to change preschools in part because the class was too far behind him skills and age-wise and where he should have been learning to write his letters, he'd throw a fit anytime we tried to do it at home with just him, but now happily does it when asked at school.

Put together, I'm concerned that in a poor performing school, he will be poor performing as well, even if he is bright. I also don't want him to form any negative views of school and feel like the early years are really where you form your opinion of school for the rest of your life.

We also have a 3rd option. The school he (and his 1 year old brother) are at now is actually and infant-8th grade independent school. So we could actually keep him where he is now, but he'd transition from the early childhood program to the actual school program. It's a much smaller school, with smaller classrooms and more individualized attention. They also have Spanish, Music, and Art programs along with ample exercise/running around/playing time. They are a little... hippy-er than I would like in a school (no standardized tests, etc), but they kids there seem nice and caring of each other and he likes going there a lot now. The big downside to this is the cost. We are making do now with him full time there in Pre K and his brother going 3 days a week. We had hoped to up his brother to full time (because the other 2 days of care are less than ideal for a variety of reasons), and still save some money by going into the free public school system (after school care we could cover for free through family). And then ideally, use that money (and me actually getting a job that pays real money) to move somewhere better soon. But that was back when we thought he was going to school A, not B.

So we are left with 3 possibilities (one of which may not be possible depending on the town). 1) Just go to crappy School B and keep an eye on him, and try to challenge him as much as we can on our own, and try to move soon, 2) Try to fight the town on the school he is going to and try to get him switched to School A, 3) keep him in the private school he is now. Option 1 has obvious problems, option 2 may not be possible, and I am also concerned that his best friend's parents will be deeply offended by this move and not let their kid play with my son anymore, and option 3 bites us big financially and may make it harder to move. I can't think straight anymore and need any and all guidance I can get. Please?
posted by katers890 to Education (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Tour the actual schools. Meet the principals, sit in on a K class (ideally, with your son), ask about specials and differentiation and resources.

The Title 1 schools in our district have done some awesome all-school enrichment and parent education activities as well as investing in the targeted students. My kid had a great year in a class of 29. It's better to assess a school based on firsthand experience than statistics.
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:56 AM on January 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Send him to the private school with individualized attention. These are the critical years for developing the habit of enjoying learning--why risk putting him in a bad environment just to save a few bucks? Don't scrimp on you're son's future.
posted by doreur at 10:57 AM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Have you spoken to any counselors at the school? What about the possibility of having him skip to first grade?
posted by Schielisque at 10:57 AM on January 15, 2014

Honestly? I would send him to the independent school (Option3) or another independent school, as long as you can somehow swing the cost. The stats for Option2 are terrible and the stats for Option1 are frankly mediocre at best.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:02 AM on January 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

The scores at that school are almost certainly not going down; instead, the state standard is rising so fewer students met the cutoff. In other words, the students scored the same as last year, but the grading scale shifted.

Actual class sizes are always higher than the reported ratio because that ratio includes very small special ed classrooms. (A better measure is looking at your teachers' union contract to see what the max class size allowed is, if you are in a union state.)

If you memail me the specifics of the schools I'll take a look and offer my opinion.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:03 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm puzzled by why you think his best friend's parents would be offended at your advocating for a school that would be a better fit for your child. Also, are they so irrational that they'd refuse to let their child play with yours because he goes to a different school?

Go to the school you're assigned to now and sit in on a kindergarten class. I hate to say it, but kindergarten just isn't that big a deal. As long as it's a program you and he would enjoy, there probably isn't going to be a huge difference between the two schools.

Look to see that the teachers and assistants are engaging each student, that they are respectful of each student and that they have control over the classroom. You'll get a good vibe or a bad vibe relatively quickly.

Part of the problem in public schools is that each classroom is going to have a lot of kids, and they're going to be at different levels academically, it becomes more pronounced as children get older, with huge divides and gaps starting in the 3rd grade.

If you believe your child is gifted, ask the district to assess him, he may be eligible for placement in a special program and that might be a perfect fit for your child.

Consider all of your options, and go with your gut.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:03 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you consider a grade skip, the trend around here is to skip 1st rather than K, since K is the fun year focused on exploration and social skills, and 1st is almost entirely focused on learning to read.
posted by Flannery Culp at 11:14 AM on January 15, 2014

Go to the schools. Talk to people. We had similar concerns about the school our daughter was assigned to (Greatschools shows it as a 4/10 with similar test scores.). However, they have a 2-way language program (English/Spanish) through 4th grade, which she was able to get into. They also have the newest building in the school district. Your option B school may have other features that make it more interesting despite the greatschools rating.
posted by neilbert at 11:27 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Definitely talk to Eyebrows to get a better idea of the real situation. See if you can go visit the school, talk to the teachers. Maybe even attend a PTA meeting; that can give you an idea of what complaints/concerns might be in that particular school.

My kid's K public school was not highly rated (mediocre) but he had a great teacher and his principal was, frankly, kick-ass and made the most of the challenges/resources the school had. He did great even in a larger-than-we'd-like class. We then moved and had to make different decisions about his schooling, but for that one year, just getting used to the whole idea of school, it was fine.

Find out what kind of curriculum that K class has, how they deal with reluctant/shy students like your son, what they will be trying to teach him in the next year. Unless it's truly bad news, it might work just fine for him, at least for a year. Especially if he's already reading and doing some math.
posted by emjaybee at 11:33 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would stay at the independent school as well, and take whatever job you need to keep your child there. The education he gets now is going to shape the rest of his life.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:55 AM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing visit the schools. See the teachers for yourself. There are valid of reasons why test scores decline, including changes in the tests and demographic changes in the student population. Has there been economic upheaval? An increase in ESL kids? How do they compare to state trends and averages? Don't take the numbers in isolation.
posted by snickerdoodle at 12:00 PM on January 15, 2014

I agree you should check out the schools individually, but it seems like the independent school could be the best option.

That said, it's possible that, depending on specifics, the provisions of NCLB would make it possible for your child to attend School A. If School B is Title I and not making AYP (annual yearly progress) then you have options, but it depends on the situation.*

*I think this is the case; NCLB is kind of a mess and it can be really hard to figure out what it says and in some places definitions and stuff are changing so it's worth figuring out exactly what's happening in your district.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:01 PM on January 15, 2014

Money and financial security shouldn't be undervalued, especially as his younger sibling is currently in a substandard care situation.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:10 PM on January 15, 2014

Thanks so much for your opinions! I am trying not to threadsit, but since I am anyways, I thought I'd make an additional point or two that may add or not add, but I was reminded of by some of the comments. But first another question for those advocating a school visit. How do you do that? I mean I understand doing it for daycares, etc, but it seems weird to do it on an elementary school level. Do I call up the school and ask if it's possible? Ask to talk with the principal? or what?

1) My son will be a young kindergartener. He doesn't turn 5 until June, but he is ready for kindergarten and I wouldn't think of holding him back, though jumping him forward seems premature at this point too.

2) While I would love to take any job that let me afford to give my kid the best schooling, etc, I am currently a postdoc, which while I am happy there and have a lot of flexibility, it does not pay well. And while I am looking towards the end of it and getting a "real" job, I am stuck in the postdoc until August unless I want to have to pay the government for the months I didn't stay. But that is neither here nor there except to say that I can't get a new job/better paying job, or actually even work a second job really, where I am at now till at earliest August.

3) The money saved by not going to private school is not small change, especially to us. We are basically doing a little better than paycheck to paycheck now, and the cost for private kindergarten would be the same as what we have now for daycare. This is doable, but it will make it much harder to save up to move to a better neighborhood and away from the school problem we have now.

4) I talked with the mom of his best friend, as her daughter is in School B now and she's fairly happy there. She thinks some of it has to do with a larger percentage of lower income kids in that school, along with some kids that speak no English apparently. And I know School B has a housing project in it's district that School A doesn't have, however, I don't think the population has changed and so that doesn't explain the drop in test scores (that wasn't seen in School A's test scores). And I worry that while that may explain the low performance, having so many low performing kids will bring down the class, even if the teachers are decent, just because they will need the extra attention, and with my guy being quiet, I worry he will just get lost in the needier kids.

5) His younger brother's situation isn't that bad. He just has 2 days with my MIL who has MD, and has trouble keeping up with him because of that (she can't run or climb up stairs, and she can't play out in the snow with him which makes the winter all kinds of difficult). He's not really suffering, but he's a rambunctious, brute of a little man, who has some other issues that would probably benefit from him getting more time with more kids and more activities than he can get at home.
posted by katers890 at 12:31 PM on January 15, 2014

If you want to sit in a class, call the administration office of the school, explain that you're a parent and that your child is in the district and that you want to see what he will expect in kindergarten.

Don't worry so much about attention. In public school NONE of us got enough attention. You can work with him in the off hours to push him to read more, or do more math or to play more or whatever you think he's not getting in school.

If you can't afford private school, you can't and it's no big deal.

We survived our public schooling and we came out fine. Your little guy will learn new coping strategies for his situation. It's like that joke about the kid who got to be 5 years old without talking. His parents took him to different specialists, and they had testing done, and eventually were told that no one had any answers. They resigned themselves to having a non-talking child. One morning his dad put a bowl of oatmeal in front of him. He stirred it half-heartedly around in the bowl and looked up and said, "I hate oatmeal." His father stared back at him, astonished. "You can talk!" "Of course I can talk." "Why haven't you said anything before this?" "Until today, everything was okay."

Kid adapt, and your little guy will do just fine. There are intangibles to being in a school with poor kids and kids who are just learning English, and that is he will learn patience, kindness, helpfulness and empathy. I did.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:43 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you've got a friend at school B whose opinion is informed, I'd believe that over test scores any day. School testing is an unfortunate thing, in my opinion, which has a lot more to do with politics than real performance. It's great in theory, but what's happening is some most all schools are gaming the results, and therefore the results can't be trusted. Schools are being penalized for having disadvantaged children and trying to teach them rather than palming them off elsewhere, is a lot of what's happening. Go see the school and talk to some parents and teachers over there before forming conclusions.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:59 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

You should be able to call the school secretary/office manager, explain that you are looking into options for your rising kindergartner, and set up a visit. If they say no, cross that school off your list.
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:59 PM on January 15, 2014

I experienced a traumatic shift from an independent school to a religious school at your son's age (pre-school to Kindergarten). I loved my independent school and I could have stayed there through 8th grade. To save money and for convenience sake (carpooling with neighbors), my parents switched me to a religious school. It was extremely upsetting to go from a school I loved to a terrible school. The quality of education at the religious school was severely lacking. When I finally transferred back into an independent school, I was behind the other kids.

I recommend keeping him at the independent school if at all possible. I know my parents regret their choice in retrospect and the teasing/torment I endured at the religious school has stayed with me to this day. If your son is happy at the independent school, keep him there. It's difficult to find a school with a nurturing environment.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:08 PM on January 15, 2014

I can't help but think there's one question that might tell you all you need to know: "What do you do when a student entering kindergarten is able to read?"
posted by hoyland at 1:10 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

katers890: " How do you do that? I mean I understand doing it for daycares, etc, but it seems weird to do it on an elementary school level. Do I call up the school and ask if it's possible? Ask to talk with the principal? "

Not even a LITTLE weird. Call the main number and say, "Hi, I'm a parent of a preschooler who's going to be starting kindergarten next year, and my partner and I wanted to come check out the school, meet the principal, and so on, and get some of our questions answered about curriculum and achievement. Is there a convenient time we could do that?"

Also a lot of schools have parent information night some time in the spring for parents whose kids are incoming ... public schools know they're competing with private schools for your students, they are used to marketing to parents at this point. Walking around with the principal and getting to ask your specific questions is better than a generalized parent information night, but I'd totally go to the parent info night too, if they have one.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:36 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't put too much stock in Greatschools. I just looked up my kids's schools and a lot of what it said was irrelevant, if not just plain wrong.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:19 PM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's already been said upthread, but please visit the schools, sit in on the classes if possible, chat with the teachers and principals for a few minutes, talk to other parents with kids in those schools. The "vibe" of a school will be much more informative than the statistics.

I don't know how it works in your area, but my school district has a wait list for Open Enrollment if you want to send your kid to a school other than the one for your district area. Also, you're then responsible for daily transportation to/from school - no busing. (That's fair enough from the school district point of view - they can't bus kids at random all over town - but may be a very significant cost / time sink for you.)

Also, a major problem with Open Enrollment is that it needs to be repeated each year, and is not guaranteed, especially across transitions from Elementary to Middle school. So there's a risk that your son might have to make friends with a whole new peer group at some point. (Again - not sure how it works in your area.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:22 PM on January 15, 2014

Ok, after reading what The corpse in the library said (that was a weird phrase to write) I went and looked up our schools on Greatschools. Wow, that's one set of axe-grindy reviewers! I'm glad I did not know about this resource beforehand.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:31 PM on January 15, 2014

Generally speaking, performance in school is a combination of home life and student ability. There's not much teachers can do to improve on that.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:36 PM on January 15, 2014


He will be fine.

For what it's worth, I live in a failing school district where no one wants to send their kid to the failing school but it just so happens, the early education preschool is housed in this school (different program, different NCLB report card from the elementary school). After seeing teachers and seeing the principal at various functions, it is now one of our top choices.

And you know why it was failing? Because it had a higher than average non-English primary population. So, you know, probably some brilliant kids in there who, for language barrier purposes, didn't perform well on tests offered only in English.

And goodness if you go with the independent school, I hope your child doesn't end up with difficulties private schools can't support. Because, quite frankly, unless it's a private school geared toward special ed difficulties, it will more than likely fail a child out of sync with normal development. Just something to consider as well. I loathe private schools for this reason. One reason they are supposedly better than public schools is because they can cherry pick students, whereas public schools are obligated to educate ALL students. Ergo, public schools also have way more diversity than private.
posted by zizzle at 7:37 PM on January 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks so much everyone (especially Eyebrows McGee who gave us a lot of great information). I contacted his current school (which is more of a private school that caters to more eccentric/nerdy/quiet kids than the private we are uber exclusive type of school, so even though he is well within normal development, they do handle special education issues well as well, so that's not a concern) to get a sense of when they'd need a decision by (though they are more the , but am also going to check out the public school he's assigned too. It looks like it might not be as bad as it is coming out on paper. I appreciate the people who understand that while it's just kindergarten, that it still matters. I'm not looking for great learning, but I know from experience with him (in preschool, which many people say doesn't matter either) that a bad school, or one that can't keep up with my son's skills causes him to start to act out a bit more or just generally be more unhappy and that's what I'm trying to avoid.

Thanks again!
posted by katers890 at 6:17 AM on January 16, 2014

My daughter is also bright, and quiet in the classroom, and goes to our neighborhood school, which is "high poverty" and Title 1. We love it. It's all about the teachers, and hers have all been great. I've had a few meetings with the teachers to make sure that she was being heard and paid attention to, and the teachers were all fully supportive. The principal even came to one or two meetings, just because he's awesome.

I was thinking about the high cap (highly capable, or gifted) program for her, but was reluctant for many reasons including political ones. Her teacher pointed out that a truly high cap kid is going to do high cap work no matter where they are. (Take that with a grain of salt, as my city takes pride in its school district and none of the schools are "bad.")

In your shoes I would send him to the neighborhood school, the one you're zoned for. There are benefits to going to your neighborhood school beyond test scores. Do what you can to get him into the classroom you think would be best for him, be an involved parent, volunteer in the school, get him any extra support he needs, and I bet he'll be fine.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:25 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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