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School Daze

Last week my wife and I went to Kindergarten information night, sponsored by the San Francisco Unified School District.

A quick word about how it works: Parents turn in a request for their top 7 schools. There is a lottery (which is part of SF's effort to integrate its schools); it is commonplace for families to not be assigned any of their top 7 choices. The system is universally hated by parents.

But it was great to meet the parents, teachers, and principals at the information night. After hearing public school parents speak about their experiences on a panel, I thought confidently, no problem, we'll find a school for Liko.

Then a school district representative stood up to talk about the application process. Here are my notes: The process is stressful and so complicated that even I don't understand it; we're facing budget cuts at the same time as enrollment is climbing, both due to the bad economy; you probably won't get a school in your neighborhood. Also, be sure to bring your application to the office in person, because we might lose it otherwise.

So now we're also looking at private schools, even as we tour public schools on our list. It's an eye-opening experience. On Tuesday we visited a public school that is widely considered the best in San Francisco, and indeed, it appeared to be a very good school.

The tours were run by parents, with the principal taking some time to answer our questions, and I saw many parents in the hallways and classrooms. High involvement is obviously key to their success.

But one other thing struck me right away: Things like the large school library, including the librarian's entire salary, and "extras" like the arts and the computer lab, are totally funded by the parent organization. In other words, the parents fundraise in order to get many programs that were taken for granted when I was growing up.

Yesterday we visited another school, not one of the best in the district. This one also sported high levels of parent involvement, but not quite as much, and they weren't nearly as organized.

The difference showed: The tiny school library was only open two times a week (for two-hour blocks), and the school lacked many programs. The adult-to-student ratio in the classrooms was lower; meanwhile, the school's diversity, economic and cultural, was much higher.

Afterward, I was talking to a mom who was also a teacher in the district. She told me a story about how one school, facing budgetary uncertainly, sacked all its teachers at the end of the year. They were re-hired by the end of the summer, but many, she said, were demoralized.

It's enraging. I don't actually have anything intelligent to say or some conclusion to offer. Just a question: When will America wake up and start educating its kids properly?
 

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Mothering › Child Articles › School Daze