Thursday, April 8, 2010


My son goes to Catholic School.

And in a couple of years, barring a miracle, I guess my daughter will go to Catholic School too. And the fact is, Catholic School would have been right up there with Druid School before our lives as parents intersected our lives as citizens in a pathetic school system.

I'm not an educator or a public administrator. I've got ONE kid in ONE school. So this rant is pretty personal and focuses on that ONE experience.

Nevertheless, there's a LOT I could rant about when it comes to WHY we chose Catholic School. Such as how, by the time we settled on parochial school for Milo, we'd already been completely flattened by a difficult year personally, and then again by our perceived failure of both the local public school and then of the public school lottery system, through which, theoretically, we could have sent Milo to one of the slightly better public focus or charter schools.

Anecdotally, I repeatedly hear my parent-friends and neighbors kvetch about how the Portland public school system thunderingly fails to provide their children a good, challenging space for that child to reach their education potential. That's a mouthful, isn't it? But it seems to be true: most schools here in Portland seem to feel they are successful if they've provided the mean basics to about half of their students.

Most schools have no art, music, PE, or any other instructors for subjects deemed "Extra". And the No Child Left Behind Act hasn't seemed to make any kind of impact toward "improvement" other than to make the schools dramatically reduce anything not accounted for by that program.

Our local school, which has always been ranked "Low" (on a scale of Unacceptable > In Need of Improvement > Low > Satisfactory > Strong > Exceptional > Outstanding), is still "Low". Their test scores are still some of the lowest in the city. Except now they also don't have any of the Arts or other extras to sweeten the day...

And when I spoke to our local school principal about my fears regarding their rankings and ratings, about the anecdotal negatives we'd heard from our neighbors regarding their focus on English as a 2nd language and how kids in that school are falling far behind grade level by the time they take 3rd grade standardized tests, she put the onus back on us - if the school fails to teach your child, then you need to be involved: come to the school, volunteer there, improve the school with your own energies! Which...huh. Sure.

In that paradigm, what do we need the school for? We are involved parents...who work full time. Our expectation is that the school is supposed to provide enough challenges and varied, exciting curricula that our involvement can remain at the homework/discussion/extras-like-music-lessons/reading-at-bedtime level; that the school will still do their job well enough that our child is an enthusiastic learner each day in their classrooms using the materials and skills ~they~ bring to the table.

My son isn't a genius. He's average. He's MY average kid, with his own uniquely challenging and sweet personality.

I'm not talking about trying to meet a gifted or special needs child's educational requirements.
  • I'm talking about I am not sure he would be reading/writing/doing math/learning history and science at grade level in the Portland public school system.
  • I'm talking about boredom, overcrowding, apathy, limited classroom options, and a system that is barely ~barely~ making it.
  • I'm talking about a kid who, in that program, would grow up thinking "PE" and "Recess" are synonymous.
  • Who would never hear a symphony with his classmates, or see an in-school play, make art with an instructor who really knows something about art, or even just go on a field trip.
And even THOSE gaps are ones we as parents can fill, if only the basics weren't failing as well.

So, because we can - barely - afford the sacrifice, we chose to not put our kid in our local elementary school. Which makes me feel like an elitist, but also like a very fortunate parent who can choose whether my kid goes to a failing school or learns how to genuflect while he attends a generally more successful school. For money.

Also, I'm pissed. And even though I believe the sacrifice is totally worth it - given our choices - I'm PISSED that I have to make it at all. Mainly for all the people who can't afford anything LIKE Catholic school. Because what does a failing system mean for them? That they work just as hard as they can and KNOW that their kid will still have to be exceptionally motivated to excel in a poor system?

It's broken.

I could go on all crazily even further when it comes to the focus/charter program. And the wealthy neighborhood schools vs everybody else's opportunities. And the $18,000 private secular schools. (Seriously? $18,000 for KINDERGARTEN? Previous rant aside, is there ANYTHING worth that much that a Kindergartner needs?) Sigh...