Please help me figure out the best school district! - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 8 Old 09-11-2012, 06:15 PM - Thread Starter
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I will try to make this as concise as possible, and I appreciate any and all advise.  We live in a wonderful neighborhood in a house that we love, but happen to fall into a school district that may be less than desirable.  When my husband and I purchased our house 7 years ago (well before kids) we just figured that we'd move when it was time for school.  Well my DD1 will start kindy next year and we are absolutely torn on what to do.  Here's the deal:


Our current district is one of the largest and by far the most diverse (economically and racially) in our area-Cincinnati, OH.  It has recieved "Effective" as the rating by the state.  It's not so much their education I'm worried about, as I'd actually prefer to not be in a super high pressure academic environment, but the general atmosphere of the school.  Some of the communities that go to the district are basic working middle-class, but there are a couple that are downright "ghetto". 


I'm not racist at all, but I do have a concern with sending my girls to a district where they will be the minority.  The district as a whole is rated at med-high poverty and has up to 20% of students who are "not English proficient."  Now, the flip side to this, and is what I consider the biggest selling point of the district, is that they will definitely have to learn to accept/deal with people of all backgrounds.  


Because of the size of the district they have one of the best programs at the HS level in terms of AP classes, International Baccalaurette (sp) programs, many foreign languages, etc.  The district just passed a levy, by a significant percentage, to build a new middle and high school (all elementary schools are new within the last 5 years).  Due to the large diversity I imagine that there would be a peer group for all kids and possibly not as much peer pressure to "fit in" as there would be at a predominately white, upper middle class school., which would be the district we would move to if we make that decision.


I actually have a meeting with the elementary school principal next week and I just really want to know why the district isn't performing as welll on the tests and what the general class atmosphere is like.  I have thought about sending her for kindy and making a decision once we actually get into the district but I really hate to move into a new school once she starts if can avoid it.  


The overwhelming majority of kids on our neighborhood use private school, which isn't an option for us financially.

Although we will move if it really is best, I would love to stay in our house for as long as possible, but I just wonder if I'm doing the kids a disservice of not putting them in the "best" school district.  


If anyone has any help for me I would really appreciate it, I'm so torn on this that I'm literally losing sleep.  Thanks so much in advance!! 

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#2 of 8 Old 09-11-2012, 08:26 PM
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My kids go to a school that is 85% free and reduced lunch. 67% of the kids are in ESL. In K, I'd say 50% of the kids don't speak any English. Over 2/3 of the kids in our neighborhood choose to go somewhere else because they look at those numbers and freak out. It's racism/elitism at its best. I've had kids tell me "My parents don't think [the school your kids go to] is good enough." They've never been there, they're going on test scores and reputation.


My kids are minorities in their school. There were 24 kids in my daughter's 2nd grade class. 5 were European American. 8 spoke English at home. My daughter had a fantastic teacher with lots of enrichment.


My kids are getting a really good education. Despite the reputation, they've had a great education. Excellent teachers. Nice kids. And a lot of things that their friends who go to richer schools have to deal with (the right clothes, accessories, bullying, etc.) simply aren't an issue because too many of the kids at our school are too poor to be able to play those games. The other thing I'd point out is that it takes more skill to teach kids who struggle than it does to teach the top 10%. So, my experience has been that our school has really really good teachers. Other schools are more variable. Some are good, some not so hot. We've got one child starting middle school this year too, and I'm worried because the demographics suddenly switch from 80% poverty to 20%. I've already encountered the helicopter/tiger parents. They talk about how the only way they can discipline their kids is by taking away their iPods. Most 5th graders in our elementary had no iPods.


In terms of test scores. I can tell you why the test scores are lower. Test scores correlate highly with income and education levels of the parents. My kids do great at school because I'm a professor. My parents were teachers. The culture of our house matches the culture of school rather nicely, for my kids. We can reinforce things at home that they learn. Some of the parents at our school can't. It's not that they don't want to. They come to school functions. They are eager to help. But they had a less than 8th grade education and don't speak English well. They're not discussing the difference between sarcasm and irony at the dinner table with their kids (yes that was a conversation we had). Their kids are learning amazing things from their parents, just not academic things.


You can have a great school that's teaching children well and still have the children not do so well on the standardized tests for a variety of reasons. You can have a lousy educational experience at a school that teaches to the test.


Originally Posted by mom2lucy View Post
Our current district is one of the largest and by far the most diverse (economically and racially) in our area-Cincinnati, OH.  It has recieved "Effective" as the rating by the state.  It's not so much their education I'm worried about, as I'd actually prefer to not be in a super high pressure academic environment, but the general atmosphere of the school.  Some of the communities that go to the district are basic working middle-class, but there are a couple that are downright "ghetto". 


I'm not racist at all, but I do have a concern with sending my girls to a district where they will be the minority.  The district as a whole is rated at med-high poverty and has up to 20% of students who are "not English proficient."  Now, the flip side to this, and is what I consider the biggest selling point of the district, is that they will definitely have to learn to accept/deal with people of all backgrounds.  


I think you'd have an easier time dealing with this issue if you admitted to yourself that your concerns are either racist or elitist, or both. Until you can take that step, you won't be able to evaluate the schools fairly. I know. I've been there and done that. But saying that you have concerns sending your kids to "a district where they will be the minority" is racist. Coupling that with calling schools "ghetto" is racist. It's better to acknowledge that and work your way through it. Given the current birth rates among various ethnic groups, your daughters WILL be a minority at some point in their lives.

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#3 of 8 Old 09-11-2012, 09:31 PM
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My kids are in highschool, and I don't think you are looking at the right things. What really matters for now is what your locally zoned k-5 school is like. The rest of the district doesn't effect you. One of my friends is a school counselor in a k-5 school in our cities largest district, and in a "bad neighborhood."  The have a special class in every grade for children who don't not speak English. My friend can't stop talking about what a great place it is and what a wonderful principal they have. The principal sets the tone for the school.


In our city, there is a huge mix up when kids start middle school, and again when they start high school. I don't see any advantage at all of being in the same district the whole way through. The way it works in our city, even kids who don't move end up going to different schools because they are looking at the options that are best for them as a person.


Some of the most amazing programs in our city are offered through a biggest, most urban district. We have 2 highschools in our city that are awesome college prep schools where they kids all end up getting big scholarships -- one is a selective admissions high school operated by our big urban district, and the other is a private school that cost 25K a year.


But neither of my kids are in those programs because the tremendous pressure wouldn't be appropriate for them. The highschool that I would have picked out as being "the best" when my kids were 4 or 5, isn't the best for the actual teenagers I have in front of me. My kids go to a small school that they love.


Right now you can only guess what is the best highschool for a generic teen in your city -- you cannot start to pick out what will be the best highschool for your children when they are a teens.  Part of that equation really depends on your kids.


And our "best" district -- the highschool has a cocaine problem. Lots of kids with lots of cash and no parental supervision. It has open enrollment so people outside the district can enroll their children their if they have open slots, which means that every single class has the maximum number of students allowed by law in our state. And parents are pressured to "give or raise $2,000."  Some of the nonsense that goes on in schools you don't hear about until your friends have kids attending those schools. Rich white kids aren't all they are cracked up to be, and schools that assume that parents are loaded can be problematic if you are not.


When you look at the test scores, look at them by demographic and compare the demographic scores from district to district. Look at how kids in your same demographic do in different schools/districts.  The elementary school my kids went to was a Title 1 school whose test scores were not as high as the schools around us, yet every single demographic preformed better on tests at our school!!! We just had a higher percentage of kids from demographics who tend to score poorly.


My kids now attend a private school that gives away a lot of money in scholarships every year. If you really want a private school, ask questions and apply for financial aid.  I wouldn't assume that "private" means "better."  It's just different, and what is right for a specific kid is very individual.

but everything has pros and cons  shrug.gif

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#4 of 8 Old 09-11-2012, 10:00 PM
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I love our local district and we have a very high ESL percentage. We test "fine" but with a high ESL population, we're just not going to have the highest scores in the county. The ESL kids work hard but it can take them a few years to test well in this new language. It doesn't effect MY kids education in the least. We also take in a lot of neighboring districts learning disabled kids (kids whose issues aren't enough for their own district to provide services.) They tend to test lower for awhile too. Again, doesn't interfere with my kids education. You need to look at where your demographic lands. In my state, you can look-up a schools test scores by economic level, parental education, ethnicity, ect. You may find that your child's demographic scores very high even in a school that doesn't seem to test well in general.


Changing schools or districts is really not a big deal... at least it was not an issue from my youngest who did K in one school and 1st in another. My eldest went to a high school in a different district where she WAS the minority and never had any social issues at all. We pulled her for academic reasons but she's an unusual case and was better suited for an early college program. The first high school was part of a gigantic district that had schools all over the map... some rated best in the country, some among the worst. You have to look at individual schools and what is the best fit for the particular child in question.


In our area, our local school district is what we call our best kept secret. It's fantastic. Offers individualized and innovative education, is well funded, heavy in languages and arts. Outside out district, we're seen as a little hick-town with too many recent immigrants. People look at our "fine" scores and head for the coast where the schools are lily white, wealthy neighborhoods, almost no ESL cases and high test scores. However, I've been in these schools and they aren't getting as strong and well-rounded education my own kids got in elementary/middle school.

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#5 of 8 Old 09-12-2012, 07:34 AM
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I agree that you should not worry too much about MS and HS at this point. Focus on ES. The kid you have in five/six years will be different fro the one you have now, as well as the one you have in eight/nine years. The "best" school may be very different than what you anticipate.

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#6 of 8 Old 09-12-2012, 03:48 PM - Thread Starter
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I honestly can't thank those that replied enough. I really appreciate your perspectives from an experienced point of view. And especially to those who shared their stories in a district that sounds similar to ours.

It really is my own issues with diversity and people who are different then me that I need to work through. DH and I both went to predominately white, middle-upper middle class schools, including college so that's all I really have to compare to

In my heart I really believe that the district is worth, at least, a chance and that the diversity will be a huge character development experience for my kids as well as myself. However, the only other parents I know (those from dd's preschool) a go to the "best" district and think I'm crazy for even considering anything else

Your stories have really validated what I really feel deep down and have given me the "courage" to go against the grain and give it a shot
Thank you so much and any other insights are greatly appreciated
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#7 of 8 Old 09-12-2012, 08:37 PM
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The district as a whole need not concern you and the HS programs are currently irrelevant. You should only look at the k-5 home school or another local school you could choose to attend and would be admitted to. 


I'd prefer for my child not to be a minority in their school. I think most parents would. High poverty/ESL would cause me pause because those those things do not correlate with high test scores. Also, while it might take a talented teacher to work with a diverse group of students good teachers, experienced teachers, teachers with master's degrees and subject area specialities and years of experience are often nowhere to be found in low performing schools. Instead you have high teacher turnover with emergency credentials and little experience. 


Our local school wasn't very good in a district that stinks on the whole. My mom, who just retired as a teacher at a very good public school in a very good district, took one look at the test scores and said "you can't send your kids there. It doesn't matter what else they are doing that is good." Our state provides a breakdown of test scores along various lines including ethnicity and income and no one, no one was excelling at the school. 


There are lots of good schools with low income/free lunch/ESL students. But there are far more that are not.


Luckily we were able to get into a charter school that is diverse, has lots of income levels, and is helping ALL student achieve. 

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#8 of 8 Old 09-13-2012, 07:26 AM
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I really like everything LynnS6 had to say. Six years ago, we bought a home in a neighborhood with a low-scoring school district. It's also a wonderfully diverse neighborhood with a lot of people who don't speak English as a first language, and I do think that not speaking much English can definitely affect test scores.


We honestly hadn't given any thought to the school district, because of our plans to homeschool our daughters all the way through. However, our 12 year old has just let us know that she really, really wants to go to public school. Since, up until recently, she hadn't had much interest in pursuing academic studies, and we unschool and have never worried about grade levels, we're having her spend this next year working on her academic skills (she has been doing an awesome job structuring this study on her own, by the way!). This January, I plan to visit the school district and present her transcripts, and see about getting her tested to enter the 8th grade this next fall.


At first, I was very upset about the information that our district's schools recently lost their accreditation; then I got to thinking about the fact that this is all based on test scores, and we don't place all that much stock in tests, anyway. I didn't do that great on tests myself, just did what I needed to do to scrape by, until I started my junior year of college and all of a sudden became highly motivated and interested in what I was learning. Then I got nearly all straight A's, so I'm basically someone who's all for just helping my kids pursue their own interests and develop their own passions, because I know that really getting passionate about something is the real key to success.


Well, my 12yo is currently very passionate about expanding her social circle. I've met other homeschooling parents who've said their own kids expressed the same desire around this age, and they found ways to meet all these needs while continuing to home school. However, my dd wants daily, face-to-face interactions with other kids. Maybe some homeschoolers can manage to provide this, but we're finding that, as dd has gotten older, it's not as easy to strike up relationships in the neighborhood. She does sometimes meet other kids her age at the park or at library activities, and strike up conversations, and she does have one good friend in the neighborhood -- but so far, this just hasn't resulted in her having a group of friends to hang out with on a daily basis.


Because her desire is for more day-to-day social interactions, dh and I have decided to stop looking into the college prep school and the other school we've heard about that's privately run using public funds (I forget the word for that), neither of which is in our part of the city, and, instead, to try to get her enrolled in our local neighborhood high school, which is for kids from 7th through 12th grade, and is just a few blocks from our house. I feel that this will provide her with the best opportunity to build friendships with other kids whose homes are in walking distance, and, of course, I plan to provide snacks and a welcoming environment so that her new friends are more likely to want to hang out at our house.

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