Have you ever sat back and thought, “What’s the point of sending my kids to school?” It is a good question. What is the point of sending kids to school? Why do they need to learn about science and algebra and Shakespeare? The ultimate goal of raising kids is to prepare them to successfully navigate and live in the world. Usually it means they need to make money, which means they need to work. That leads to the question of what kind of work would they like to do? Engineering? Teaching? A trade? How can they be best prepared to be able to do anything they would like to do? By exposing children to the world around them as broadly and deeply as possible. In other words, by taking them through a learning process we typically call “school”.
The question for parents then becomes, “What is the best way to expose my children as broadly and as deeply as I can to the world around them?” Traditionally, parents send their children to local schools. Many people choose where they want to live based on the quality of the schools their children will attend. Some parents cannot afford to live in areas with high quality schools, so they must settle for lesser quality schooling for their kids, or so it seems. In addition, as schools choose to push non-academic curriculum as a means to mold culture instead of enhancing the broad and deep learning that parents seek, more parents are opting out of the traditional model of schools.
As a whole, our public school system is beginning to falter. Legislatures and school districts are burdening our public schools with expectations far beyond teaching reading, writing & arithmetic. With the hard push to measure students and schools through testing, public school teachers are losing the autonomy to teach their students as they see fit. Large classroom sizes are also an issue. In California, elementary school classrooms can have up to 33 students in each class. In Texas, the maximum elementary school classroom size is 22. Naturally, Texas elementary students will get more one-on-one time and attention from their teachers, which improves their education. Also, as the federal Department of Education continues its push to nationalize school standards and curriculum, there is a concern that the culture will be negatively affected as the curriculum seems designed to “preach” progressive values that a majority of parents, and especially religious families, do not support.
Thanks to the free market nature of the United States, parents are consumers and can search for the best option for their children’s educations, with many choices available to them. These choices tend to be more readily available to those with means – families who can afford to pay property taxes to the local school district and still pay for an alternative and typically better education for their children. Either that or families in which one parent is available to stay home to ensure their children are actively learning.
Families with greater means have so much choice available to them that they can create a boutique-type education model for each child. They can craft the optimal learning path for their students and then find the best options for how to educate their students along that path. Math and science through Kumon, online learning with Kahn Academy. They can engage in hybrid homeschooling where students are in in class two days a week and at home the other three. There are traditional religious schools, private schools and homeschooling — these are are all options that can help parents give their children the best education available.
Which brings about another question: How do we enable every student to access to high quality education, regardless of their physical address or family means? States and local independent school districts are beginning to deal with this issue in a couple of ways. Some states are embracing charter schools, which are publicly funded school systems that mirror traditional public schools but operate more closely to private schools with high expectations for the students, parents and staff. Charter schools tend to have smaller class sizes and more autonomy in how they operate, which frees teachers to teach their material in ways better suited to each individual child’s learning style. There are also publicly funded online schools available in various states but these require adult supervision to ensure students are actually doing their work. Both of these models are free to the parents and still provide high quality education to their children.
But what about struggling school districts that do not have charter schools or don’t have enough high performing charter schools? Is it important to states and local communities to ensure that every student receives a high quality education? In the visits I’ve made to charter schools in Denver and Washington DC, the presenters enjoy demonstrating their success over traditional schools in their areas and yet no one can explain to me why traditional public schools continue to be accepted as substandard. As families who can withdraw from the public school system continue to flee to more boutique-type education models, public schools are imploding, especially in lower income areas. What strikes me as odd, is that the states and school districts seem to accept that the traditional public school model isn’t working, and rather than raise the standards and provide more autonomy to these schools, they just open new ones.
Every parent should desire that their children receive an education that exposes them broadly and deeply to the world around them. As citizens of this nation, each of us should desire that every child has the same opportunity to be exposed to this high standard of education. As taxpayers, we have to demand more for our money. How much taxpayer money is wasted each year on failing schools which are repeatedly held to a minimum level of expected outcome? Break out of the traditional school model mentality. Let’s work to provide every student an opportunity to gain a quality education in the best way for each of them and their families. High quality education matters.