How do you know if your kid’s school is “good enough”? Should good enough even be the goal, or should you be shooting for awesome? Assume cost is not really an object.
Along the same lines, does how good a kid’s school is play a relevant role after a certain point? Where does parent involvement take over in the equation?
Gosh, the answer to this question is going to be so different for different people. All we (#1′s family) know is our kid, and hir unique needs. Not only are the kids’ needs important, but family preferences could also be important. Some families, for reasons we cannot comprehend are really interested in making sure their kids have the best competitive sports opportunities. Some want to make sure they get training in the fine arts.
Some folks have the ability to supplement sub-par school environments at home. Some kids have a better ability to weather or entirely avoid things like bullying. In these cases, the school environment may be less important than for other kids. Other kids may be more sensitive or “too different” or really want to be “followers” and a bad school environment can have a more permanent negative effect. Here bad schools can lead to dropping out, under-age pregnancy, drug-use, emotional scarring, and so on.
Awesome teachers have had profound effects on kids from all walks of life. In an ideal world, we’d easily be able to shoot for “awesome”. Sadly that’s not so easy, and we may have to go for satisficing at a reasonably low level, or even making-do and supplementing.
Our kid is highly gifted and incredibly sensitive. We really want to avoid hir having the K-8 experiences that we, ourselves, had. In addition, ze tends to get into trouble when bored. So we had to look outside the norm. In some ways we’re satisficing– we’d certainly love for DC’s school not to be undergoing financial difficulties and we’d really love our time and money back. But, for us it is worth it.
Awesome is really hard to find. In the small town in which I grew up, there were a few awesome teachers, but there were no awesome schools. There was the public school, there was the Catholic school, and there were a small number of scary fundamentalist Christian schools. My parents bought in the second best school district (which had some of the first best teachers) and supplemented with tons of outside enrichment activities. Getting through the school day was AWFUL most years. I still bear scars from middle school. (so does #2) We don’t want that for our children. And it’s hard to predict if the schools will be “good enough” in any place that we move to. In our current situation we have a couple of private school options at least until 6th grade (assuming no big changes), but who knows what the future will hold.
How do we know our school is “good enough”? I don’t know how we well would tell a priori. But we tried. With our specific needs in mind, we visited and observed different private schools. DC1 needs mental stimulation and possibly differentiation. Ze needs to not be bullied. So we watched for signs of the kids being bored. The kids misbehaving because they were bored. How the kids interacted with each other. We asked the teachers what they would do about DC1′s specific needs. We crossed off our list the school that said they’d work on hir cutting skills all year because that was the only part of the K curriculum that ze hadn’t already mastered. (Oddly, DC1 got high praise for hir above-average cutting skills in K the following year, even though we didn’t hothouse those.)
How we know now: 1. DC1 loves to go to school. Ze does not come home crying. 2. Ze is not bouncing off the walls after school (most days anyway– we can always tell when there’s been a sub). 3. Ze neither receives 100%s nor low scores on hir classwork. Steady grades mostly in the 90s and the occasional in the 80s on classwork seem to indicate it’s at a good level for hir. 4. Ze isn’t socially isolated– ze talks about hir friends and recess and after school. Hir best friend cracks us up. For extra bonus points, DC1 doesn’t seem to have learned that only girls or only boys do X, and the only comments we’ve heard about race and ethnicity seem to be things ze’s gotten from lessons on black history month or in Spanish class or Religious studies. (And the school does have a diverse student body.) 5. Ze tells us all about the super cool stuff ze is learning. And it’s super cool!
In exchange for all this, we pay thousands of dollars each year, donate a bunch, and spend a ton of time with the school trying to help them with their financial situation. We do think it’s worth it, but at some point it may no longer be. Or we may move and we won’t be able to afford the much higher private tuition in cities or the private and public schools may both be anti-acceleration. We’ll have to figure something new out then. But CG said to assume cost isn’t an object and I’m getting off topic with my own concerns.
Ok, onto Femmefrugality. The answer to this question is: We don’t know! We know that preschool interventions seem to give more bang for their buck than later interventions. But later interventions still matter. We know that high quality schools do a lot more for low SES kids than they do for high SES kids, and that high SES kids are less harmed by low quality schools than low SES kids are. We know that peer groups at school are important, but we’re not really sure how important they are (it seems to depend on a lot of stuff). We know that schooling is important for many special needs kids, including gifted kids, and that they will be at a higher risk of dropout in an environment that does not suit their needs. But we have no idea what the line is where schooling starts being more important than parenting (including the parent’s abilities to supplement, not just the parent’s desires) or vice versa. Ginormous open research question with a lot of papers but no bottom line yet.
Update on FemmeFrugality’s question: Just went to a talk on how a teacher’s value added affects testscores, college attendance, teen pregnancy, and income. Good teachers matter!
Grumpy nation, how important is it to you that schooling be awesome or good enough? How do you know what awesome or good enough is? Do you have additional feedback for CG and Femmefrugality?