A big thank you goes out to April for coming up with this idea; education seems to have taken a back seat to other issues in the last years, and I think it is time that we all took a stand to talk about why, in fact, it IS so important. I am honored to be able to participate, and I encourage all of you to go visit April's BlogBlast For Education and read all of the posts linked to hers. Then go write your own.
This is a hard one for me; not because I don't have anything to say, but because there is too much to say. I initially thought that I would write about a teacher who inspired me, and there were more than one, but then I thought I would write about how important education in general is, and then I thought I would bash George W. for his No child Left Behind act...and the truth of it is, all of these things are so intimately linked that I can't write about just one of them without touching on all of them. So this is what I will tell you:
I have three children in school; all three are completely different, not just in temperament but in intelligence and how they learn. All three of them, for different reasons, are at risk for falling through the cracks, which is a terrifying realization at this point in time.
Hannah is the oldest. She was diagnosed with some mild learning disabilities early on-kindergarten, in fact-and has had an IEP in place for her entire educational career. This served us all well until the No Child Left Behind Act went into force, because suddenly, Hannah was passing (barely) the Standardized Tests and therefore was deemed At Grade Level, which meant that she no longer qualified for any special services. Her first year in high school, last year, was her first year without any kind of accommodations for her learning problems, and her last report card was nearly all D's and two F's. She passed; not only did she not have to go to summer school, but she also gets to go on to the 10th grade next year. I have seen the work that Hannah has put forth this last year, and couldn't be prouder of her. She spent at least two hours nightly working on homework, took a Study Skills Class, and also stayed after school every Friday to participate in the tutoring offered. However, these classes were geared toward kids who couldn't pass the ISAT's. and therefore Hannah was pretty much on her own-even though they were supposed to be there to help her achieve success. What we have seen happen is that no matter how hard she works, Hannah needs additional help, and she can't get it because too much time and resources are going in to make sure everyone can at least pass the ISATs. What happens after that is, it seems, not the school's concern. Hannah knows at this point in her life that she is NOT college material; she will never get in to a mainstream school, and worse, no longer cares. No matter what I tell her at home, no matter how much support she gets from other people, her school has said, "You are smart enough to pass the test, you are no longer worth spending time and effort on. You are on your own."
Eli and Sam are falling through the cracks for the exact opposite reason: they are both so far beyond their grade level that it would be funny were it not so sad. Eli has been IQ tested and is in the 140-150 range (the average adult is 100); he took the high school level ISAT last year (in 8th grade) and scored higher than average on all levels. Sam is following in his footsteps, having taken the 8th grade ISAT last year and scoring higher than the average 8th grader. He is 9. You would think that the boys would be better off, school wise, since they are obviously gifted, but in fact the opposite is true. Our district no longer has an elementary school gifted program available due to budget cuts. Eli is in the honor's program and will be taking Advanced Placement classes as well as getting dual credits (high school and college) IF he continues to perform well, so that is a plus, but it isn't enough. Both of my boys have been labeled as behavior problems, because there simply isn't enough for them to do. It is a cliche, and one that until I experienced it first hand thought, "What EVER," but it is true: bored kids get in trouble. Period. The problem is that teachers are so set on getting each child to where they can pass The Test that they don't have any extra time to spend with the kids who might not be getting enough challenge.
It is a struggle to know where to take my stand, because there are no easy answers. We do not have access to private schools here (there is one Catholic school which goes only to Grade 6), and even if there were, that could not be an option due to finances. Also, despite the obvious problems and fears, I have NO DOUBT that the teachers with whom my kids are in contact are quite simply doing the best that they can with the resources they have to work with. My frustration has nothing to do with the School District or even the teachers, but with the educational crisis that is sweeping our nation due to No Child Left Behind. Budgets are being cut right and left, leaving our kids not just without things like Music and PE and Art but also without basic tools to live in everyday life. For example, we have known that Hannah isn't going to do the college thing for some years; last year she had her study skills class, this year she was supposed to take a Strategies for Success class, where it was about balancing a checkbook, budgeting money, etc..which ALL kids should take, but which got cut due to budget restrictions. We have a predominately Hispanic student body, but we also had all of our Jr. High and High School ESL classes cut. And we live in a country where our President is more concerned with spending billions of dollars on a war to help a country that doesn't WANT our help than with opening his eyes to the lack of quality education for everyone, regardless of economic or social status.
Parental involvement is part of it, but that means different things to different people. I refuse to allow my kids to participate in fund-raisers, because what that really means is that I sell things for them, or I take them door to door; I don't have the time or the inclination to do that. I am also not part of the PTA, I don't volunteer in the classrooms, and I don't chaperon field trips. What I DO is go to every parent-teacher conference. I talk to the teachers (high school is not structured the same way, however, so I am not sure the best way to go about this is!), and I try to enlist them in my own campaign to help my kids excel. So far, I have been lucky in that every single year, I have found teachers willing to work with me collaboratively in order to provide my kids the things they need, even if it means not following the designated curriculum. I have found the teachers here be so excited and thrilled about a parent who actually wants their child to succeed that they are also willing to go above and beyond in order to help make that happen. It isn't perfect; we have had issues, personality conflicts, out and out head butting contests, but all in all, I have been able to make the teachers see my children as individuals with different needs and different goals. And I am lucky in that for the most part, we have a great school district with teachers who are willing to see each child as a person, and are also a little more liberal-minded so far as what the term "Parental Involvement" means.
And I think what we parents need to remember is that it isn't JUST the school's job to provide all of the education our children will ever need. We still have to be parents; school is there to teach them the basics so far as education, but what I see a lot of here is that too many parents think school should teach them everything, from how to add two and two to how to behave to how to approach sex; I think it is important that all of those things are addressed, of course, but isn't it our job as parents to teach our kids the basics so that teachers can actually teach?
Beyond the basics like a roof over their heads and food to eat and an abundance of love-be it from a parent or a grandparent or two parents-and security, I believe that education is the single most important thing for our children. I believe that huge changes need to be made to our entire educational system in order to provide the best for every child, regardless of race, religion, gender, or economic status. I believe that we as parents need to take a page out of April's book and stand up and say, "Hey! This is not right!" And I also believe that without us, nothing will ever change, but will instead go from bad to worse. We have been entrusted with these children; it is our job to work with and for and against when necessary the system that our government has put into place that is supposed to ensure each of them the chance at success. And I also believe that it starts here, with us, right now.