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...


korin said...

Ruby is at least 18 months if not 2.5 years away from kindy and I'm already thinking about this. Of course the autism diagnosis determines a lot also.

Jason, as himself said...

Yikes! Portland schools make my school district seem like a Fairy Tale School District. We are fortunate here that our public schools are excellent, and we strive to meet the needs of ALL students and practically knock ourselves out doing so. We have a great music program, an art program, we have plays and assemblies presented by the students in nearly every grade, and our test scores are at the top.

I guess I should count my blessings. If I lived in Portland it sounds like I'd be sending my kids to Catholic School. Which is saying a LOT because I'd probably sooner stick a fork in my eye.

Good luck!

And no, my friend, you are the kind of Waffle that I LOVE.

radishly said...

barfin' right alongside you my friend.

Mama Nomad said...

sing it, sister. if i had $18,000 to spend on school, i'd hire one rad, energetic, creative person to come up with projects/activities for my kids to do all day--out in the real world. i'd expect one on one (or one on three, in my case) for that kind of $$$. i respect you for putting all the thought and energy into this post, and for doing what you feel is right-est for your family:)

Lee said...

Yes, I'm right there with you. We can barely afford to send Jake to the school he is at (what about 2, ack!) but when I think of the money we could save and then think about his alternatives, there is no way I could pull him out, especially with him thriving.

PuertoVallartaGirl said...

I'm lucky my school district DD still has that stuff, but its not perfect but its ok so far. I'm really surprised you chose catholic though, that is (to me) one of the really hard core religions. I just took pictures at a confirmation last Saturday. Its really a trip. they even belittled women to the congregation. weird.

Jstar said...

i only have one experience with one PPS school but i have been impressed. and i didn't know that i would feel that way going in. i was scared. we couldn't afford private school and i didn't try the lottery because i didn't want to commute anywhere across town. we are in one of the yuppie schools and that principal was right - the parents do make up the difference. it's only a yuppie school because the parents bring it up a notch what PPS will provide. there are full time school-involved moms that make up for those of us who work full time. unrelated to the parent volunteers though they do have a regular PE teacher and they bring art and performance assemblies. they also had a music teacher for the first semester and we went to see their kindergarten performance. they have also done field trips to the pumpkin patch and apple festival. i was *surprised* about all of this and really expected zero music or art. it has been a pleasant surprise. isaac's class has 21 kids but the one full time position they had to cut for next year ended up being a first grade teacher. so he will have a big class of 28 or so next year. super bummer!
the one parent volunteering thing i am doing is their art infusion program. it is fully organized by volunteers. us parents go to school one evening a month to learn an art lesson and then we do it for the kids. it is only ~3 hrs a month out of my work schedule...which is perfect. and really fun.

it sounds like your neighborhood school would not be good but have you considered lotterying into one of the higher ranked schools that isn't super trendy and hard to get into? i think some are good schools that are lower on the radar. and hey...FREE!

Rebekah said...

Jess - Last year we tried to lottery into 2 other neighborhood schools (no focus to speak of) within a reasonable driving distance from us. And didn't get in. And both of those (Abernethy & Llewellyn) only accept lottery transfer for Kindergarten, so we are out of luck this year. For 1st grade, we are trying for 3 of the focus schools who ARE expanding their student body. But I'm not feeling very optimistic. Which school does I go to?

Wishing 4 One said...

Wow that is awful. My dad is a teacher in a charter school in the Southwest and the stories he tells me, my God they are scary! Its sad.. I remember the day when I went to a PUBLIC school and got a great education and now I shudder at the fact that my future kids may not have that opportunity. When we end up back in the US our state is known to have good public education. However the budget is continually being cut. What happen to focusing on the children? Long gone man.