The state of education and this mom’s opinion

I watch Oprah. This may not be a surprise to many of you – I tend to like stuff like that – “Aha! moments” make me smile (except when they don’t) and I kind of like the potpourri of stuff she shows on her show. [NOT that I can get tickets for any of her tapings because I’ve tried and failed – so Oprah? Call me].

Lately, if you’ve been watching O, you know that EDUCATION has been a big theme on the show. There’ve been people talking about the state of education. There’s been talk of the movie “Waiting For Superman”, bad teachers, and the little dude from Facebook giving Newark, NJ a pretty hefty wad of cash to make some huge changes in the schools there.

Geoffrey Canada – a guest on Oprah’s show that has been working with schools in Harlem – said on her show something to the effect of (I’m paraphrasing, yo), No other business could consistently decline and still be getting business. Essentially – the schools are getting yuckier and yet… they’re schools. Many of us still send our kids into the public school sytems, even though in many parts of the country, the performance of public schools keeps getting less and less fabulous.

It’s thought provoking for sure.

And I can only speak for where I live and the programs I know and the teachers I’ve met. If you live in Topeka, I don’t know how it is where you live. If you’re rolling in Denver, I am pretty much clueless about life in your neck of the woods either. I know Michigan. Specifically, this little piece of it.

Here: it could be worse. It could be a LOT worse. But, it could be better.

While I don’t love the administration of the schools here and I don’t love how they allocate their budgets, what I give our area much credit for is that somehow they have picked a phenomenal teaching staff. While I think our school lacks resources and lacks some essential programs – the teachers are top notch. This is what redeems the schools here, in my opinion.

Never underestimate the power of a teacher who gives a damn. Truly, it can counter more than a few of the negatives.

I’ve seen the schools with regards to its special education programs, which my stepson utilizes. There is an amazing, caring group of teachers and administrators who work quite hard to help each kid maximize his or her potential. The IEP process could be more seamless, I suppose – but it seems like one of those red tape things that’s probably a pain in the booty anywhere you go. The school has always gone above and beyond to ensure my stepson’s educational needs are met – even among some extremely challenging situations.

I think that is the area where many parents find fault in their schools. Fortunately, we don’t. Not there.

Surprisingly where the school IS lacking is in terms of the kids who are excelling. The kids who are meeting the requirements are the ones who get left behind here. And I’m not sure why.

This means that we struggle with The Princess who is in third grade. She’s meeting every requirement – and so it’s easy for her to fall through the cracks. There’s no process that seems to hold the school system accountable for children who need program adjustments in the other direction – more work, more challenging work, possibly more autonomy.

In the education realm, this is called “differentiation”. Differentiation is:

the practice of making lessons different to accommodate the different students in a single classroom. A classroom may have students with a wide range of abilities and rather than “teach to the middle,” thereby losing the students who need extra help as well as those who need little repetition, a teacher may alter lessons so that all students in a classroom will benefit.

So far – we were tremendously lucky last year. The Princess had a teacher who saw that she was bored, saw that she was easily breezing through things. She used differentiation to challenge my daughter – she created a spelling list for just my daughter, as well as adjusting the number of books my reader is allowed to check out from the library (and the type of book, as well).

The administrators aren’t working with MY children every day. I can’t expect them to know the idiosyncrasies of my children and each and every other child in the room – I count on the teachers to see where there is a need and help us find ways to meet them.

Does it always happen? Um… no.

But does that mean we stop trying? Definitely not. At the beginning of a school year, it means being the squeaky wheel and talking to the teacher about his or her plans for her curriculum – how is the teacher going to bend the lesson plan to account for where she’s performing? Is he or she willing to work with us to find the best solutions for our child? We hope so.

I don’t remember these things as issues when I was in school – perhaps it truly is a decline of the education system. Perhaps I was too busy pulling the arms off my Barbie dolls or buried in a Judy Blume novel to pay attention to what my parents were experiencing – for my daughter is a lot like me, and my stepson is somehow a lot like my brother. Surely, my parents encountered some of the similar situations. Then again… perhaps they didn’t.

What do you find to be the biggest challenges with your school systems? What are you loving about them? What don’t you like (example: I bet I get three tons of paper sent home each school year. I recycle it all, but think of the expense of  the paper line item on the school budget. INSANE). If you homeschool, were you driven by the state of your school system to make that decision? If Mark Zuckerberg gave YOU a wad of cash to improve your child’s schools, what would you do with it?

I’m curious – there’s much talk about how the school system needs improving – but where do we begin?

About sarah

Sarah is a book nerd, a music lover, an endorphin junkie, a coffee addict. Oh, and a goof ball. She writes, she tweets, and she sings off key.


  1. Our schools send us weekly emails instead of sending home printed papers about weekly and monthly events.

    Also, they emailed the parents the registration forms, and we printed them off ourselves and dropped them off.

    We receive daily emails from the teachers detailing the kids homework and classroom work being completed (or not!). Helps the parents stay on top of every single assignment and it ensures the kids do ALL of their work.

    My stepson has an awesome team of resources available to help him be successful. I’ve heard lots of horror stories about kids with special needs/IEP students not getting adequate help, and I’m very impressed with the network of services available in our school district. Everyone goes above and beyond to help him, and they do it with a lot of respect and sensitivity.

    Additionally, they don’t seem to cookie cutter the kids as much here. If your kid needs to be challenged they challenge them. If your child needs extra help, they get that as well.

    With our rather large blended family we have kids that are gifted, average, and requiring extra help (IEPs).

    Our kids are lucky as well, because all of the teachers are top notch here, and the teachers seem to love their jobs and it shows.

    A school having a strong leader/Principal is crucial to the school being successful, and it sets the whole tone for the parent/student/teacher relationship being a positive experience.

  2. It’s interesting – reading this – from the other side of the planet. In England schools tend to be a lot smaller than the US, which works both ways; the teachers are far more involved with the individual pupils, but there is nowhere near as much funding.

    We are always involved in various fund raising efforts to help the schools our children are at.

  3. I live along the Oregon Coast. The school where my two girls attend school is considered a Title I school, 85% of the students receive free to reduced lunch. My youngest daughter on the first day of school had 37 kids in her class. My oldest daughter has 32 kids in her class. The challenges that my school district faces is lack of money like a lot of school districts around the country.

    What I don’t love: I can’t e-mail my daughters teachers or e-mail the front office if there is a bus change. I have to send handwritten notes because the staff is too busy. I wish the school utilized the internet more. It would reduce paper clutter. School lunches are nasty and full of processed food after watching Jamie Oliver last year we pack our lunches this year.

    What I do love: I don’t know anything about it as I only hear about it from my daughters but fresh fruits and vegetables that are being served as a snack during the day. Last week I heard that they had papaya, fresh green beans and grapefruit. I like my girls’ teachers. My older daughter is doing lots of art projects this year. They made paper last week and tomorrow are visiting a local art gallery. Last year I was worried that my youngest (a kindergartener) would get board in class in addition to learning the basics she enjoyed learning Spanish and sign language. She ended the school year being a top reader in her class as well some basic Spanish.

    I think parent involvement is very important. There is not a lot of parent involvement in my daughters’ school. I enjoyed volunteering last year. Next school year my husband and I are considering private school for our daughters. We want a smaller school, with smaller class sizes. I want my girls to be challenged and continue to enjoy school as they get older. My youngest daughter has a minor hearing loss which is making this school year a little more challenging. Her hearing wouldn’t be an issue if there weren’t 37 kids in her classroom.

Speak Your Mind