My sister-in-law called me the other day to ask my advice on picking a private school for her 5-year-old son. She's a great public school teacher who teaches with her whole heart, but the decisions of her district make her question what's best for her own child's education.
Recent decisions have been made in many districts that are enough to make any parent think twice. In her school, for instance, she has been assigned a grades 1 & 2 combination with too many students in the class as a whole. Despite her talent and experience that she brings to the classroom, it's enough to make even the best teacher struggle, and she wonders what other decisions have been made that could affect her own son's achievement.
Who can blame that fact that she is entertaining private schools for her son? After all, as a teacher, your job is to be dedicated and hard working to every student before you -- and she is. ut as a parent, you need to provide the best education for your student you can, and that is what she is questioning.
Anyway, she asked me my thoughts on choosing a private school because before I became a public school teacher, I worked in a number of private schools early in my career. I gave her a few pieces of advice, which I now pass on to you if you are entertaining the private sector for your student. It is, after all, that time of year when applications are due:
1. Look Ahead. What is the quality of learner that is being produced, not just from the class you are looking at, but the program as a whole? If it's a K-8 school, what can you see in the 8th graders as well as the Kindergarteners? Are they going to good schools from 8th grade? Tour the upper school classes. Look at the program as it relates to the end result, not just your child's hopeful grade level.
2. Use Your Common Sense and Parental Antennae. You know what good learning looks like. Don't just trust the pitch. Trust yourself. Sure, the program claims it gets through all of the standards in half a year, but are they neglecting other lessons in the process? Make sure that the money you spend for the school is going not just for acceleration, but excellence.
3. Do your homework, and make sure the schools share your philosophy of learning and child development. Private schools can choose their curriculum, and if you don't like what they've chosen, don't have your student apply, no matter the reputation. I've taught at an amazing private school (The Willows Community School in Culver City, Calif.) that used funds for quality professional development unequaled in any other school in my experience. Their teachers were curious, determined to improve and challenge themselves, and the school funded their growth. I've also taught in a school that took advantage of the fact that private schools are not held to the same laws as public schools in having to update their curriculum every few years. In other words, they specialized in stagnancy. Both kinds of schools are out there. Tuition payments do not equal quality; vision does.
4. Know your Student; Know the School. Make sure that the school will appreciate the qualities that make your kid unique. Some private schools differentiate and pride themselves in their diverse learners. Some are cookie cutters that develop similar learners. Know what your kid needs and don't pick a school which claims to be "the best" if it won't be "the best for your kid."
5. Remember, you are being interviewed as much as you are interviewing the school. Even if you are touring the school, be aware of the impression that you are making.
6. Don't discard your local public school, however, before checking it out. If anything, it gives you a basis for comparison. There are great public schools out there, and you'll never know unless you set foot in the classrooms and tour them with an open mind. There are great things happening, and the soiled reputation of our schools is only earned by some.
Despite the fact that there are great private schools out there, keep in mind that private does not necessarily mean stimulating or enriching. Private does not always mean deep thinking. Private does not mean better, but it does mean choice, and if you have the time, the money, and the desire to seek out a school that philosophically appeals to you, and that you feel would be best for your child, then you should go for it.
As for me, in the fall, my son will attend our local public school. He will enter Kindergarten in a district that is highly ranked in our state but still has its problems, as every school does. It cannot escape the over-crowing, budget cuts, and the social issues that define and challenge the public sector.
But my solution will be to be a parent advocate, as I would have in any school, private or public. I will work to see my student through, never totally entrusting the education of my family to the schools, but working in conjunction with the schools to help educate my family.