Every parent wants the best for their children. In Cincinnati Public Schools, we have numerous programs to facilitate different ways of learning. The goal of these programs should be to give the best education to each child. Unfortunately, choosing between these different methods of learning is often not the primary motivation for parents when choosing a school.
After speaking with many parents, I have found that they are frequently heavily influenced by the state report cards and perception of what are “good” and “bad” schools. Frankly, when my wife and I were looking for the right school for our children, we fell into this same trap. We looked at the options, looked at test scores, and made our choice based on what we thought was a “good” school. We didn’t know if our children would want to go to college, would do better in a non-traditional learning environment, or want to focus on a non-college-preparatory path. We made the choice based on our perception of a “good” school and one that would give us the most options later.
We’ve created a situation where “good” vs. “bad” is often the primary motivator, not where the school is or the program offered. Some of the problems created by this include:
- We have parents waiting out in the cold for days to get into a “good” school.
- We have a lottery system, so there is a fair way for us to get students into the “good” school.
- Children cannot attend a program they desire because others want a “good” school, not the program offered
- We have children traveling long distances because their parents view the neighborhood school as “bad”
- We reward “good” schools and let “bad” schools continue to flounder
- We create a tiered system where the gap between students in “good” and “bad” schools grows
- We don’t serve all of our students equitably
To exacerbate the problem, now we are creating elementary school options with a test to for admission in order to avoid the lottery. This reinforces a divide that starts early in a student’s life and is perpetuated throughout their education. There are other options to challenge advanced students without creating a special, separate school. We are selecting for kids that are already doing well and taking critical resources away from those students that need more help through no fault or deficiency of the student. There are enrichment programs to challenge advanced students. Something we love about the Montessori program is that older/stronger students are taught to help the others in their class to learn and progress. This reinforces skills that are useful in all stages of life. It is good for the all of the students involved, the student that is doing well and the student that require more help.
This is not an easy problem but there are solutions to serve all of our children. What we cannot have is the status quo. A quality education shouldn’t be a lottery. It should be an opportunity available to everyone. For our democracy and our economy to function, it is critical. And vouchers aren’t the answer, as they only create new problems by taking funds away from the public schools in addition to actually hurting children.
As a parent, it is frustrating situation. It feels like you fail your children if you don’t get them into the “good” school to begin with, and then they have fewer and lower quality options for the rest of their school years. Is a lottery or camping out or a test the best way to ensure that our children are given the opportunity for a great education? Why aren’t we making sure that all schools are great? Why should a parent need to transport their child across the city to get to a “good” school? Is sitting in a car or a bus for a significant portion of the day contributing to their education or is it taking time away from studying, exercise and rest? We need to have an attitude that every school and every student counts, and we have to be willing to do the work that will make this a reality.