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?