Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Preppers and the Public Schools

            I know I might stir up a Hornets nest, but I keep hearing so much from Preppers and “conservative” media about how bad our public schools are. As a public school teacher, I have to respond. Below, I discuss the some of the current hot topics in public education bashing.
“Common Core State Standards”
            The Common Core State Standards are a set of English and Math standards developed by a group of people with input from anyone who would give it. The standards apply to K-12 education and have been formally adopted by most states. The standards were designed to build on student skills each year and require student to think more deeply about fewer concepts. So what is all the fuss about?
            The quick answer is: I don’t know. These are just standards that have always been there, just more concise. Some people have complained about the standards being too universal. Some complain that it teaches our kids to be communists (a laughable conclusion). I have never heard a cogent argument against the specific standards, only railing against individual assignments that have nothing to do with the standards. Assignments are generally made and distributed by teachers. If you think an assignment is offensive, blame the teacher. I will probably be standing right next you complaining myself. But blaming the standards for bad assignments is like blaming the Bible when someone kills an abortionist.
            By the way, Science education recently got our own set of national standards call the Next Generation Science Standards. Oddly, few people are complaining about these standards (except some science teachers).
            In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t think we need ANY national education standards. I believe in local control when it comes to education. If a local school is failing, turning out sub-par students, it should be up to the local community to fix them. If they don’t, they get what they deserve. We don’t need a huge, bloated bureaucracy thousands of miles away telling us what our students need to know.

“Charter Schools Are Better than Public Schools”
            If you have seen “Waiting for Superman,” you have seen some great examples of charter schools. Some of the greatest teaching innovations out there are coming from charter schools. That being said, you are comparing apples and oranges.
            Sometimes I think I would love to teach at a charter school. They are smaller, have more parent involvement, push their students more, have more control of their curriculum, take more field trips, remove poor teachers quickly, and lot of other things. That works really well for them because they are so small.
Public education doesn’t have that luxury. We HAVE to teach EVERY kid. We can’t pick and choose. If a student is falling behind or just doesn’t want to perform at the charter school, they can kick them out. Then what happens? WE get the student in public school. Of course the charter schools tend to look better. They take the better students from the public schools. I don’t begrudge any parent from wanting to place their kid there, but remember it is not necessarily the education that increases performance. It is often the ability to pick and choose who they teach. Their test scores are always going to look better because they don’t have the same range of students. It skews the results. I would put my top 20% against any charter schools top 20% any day.

“Homeschooling is Better than Public School”
            A lot of Preppers homeschool their kiddos for a lot of reasons. Some disagree with curriculum on religious grounds. Some don’t like the “Commie Teachers.” Some are afraid of the other students influence. I understand and sympathize with all of those comments.
The sad fact is that most home school educations are lacking. Unless you are properly trained to teach, formally or informally, you are probably not that effective. Now don’t get butt hurt and start yelling about how great a teacher you are. You may be doing a stand up job and I am not saying every homeschooling parent is bad. I’m saying most are not as good as they could be. Your specific child may flourish under you tutelage, but I have met too many homeschooled students that behind their peers in many ways.
A lot of homeschoolers use prepared curriculum. These resources are good enough, I suppose, but are they as good as having someone with years of training in that subject, and in the art of teaching, teach your kid? Probably not. How about teaching your kid to deal with others? They can deal well with mommy and the brothers and sisters, but what about dealing with “different” students? How well does homeschooling teach the ability to deal with all the jerks they are going to be dealing with the rest of their lives? You can’t shelter them forever.
I don’t want to argue with people about their particular situation because there are so many I can’t possibly address them all. I will absolutely concede that there are times when homeschooling is the better choice. Having a truly horrible school system in your area or a dangerous community environment, for example. But by and large, you may be doing your child a disservice by depriving them of everything a public education entails.

“Public Schools are Failing!”
            Yes, some public schools are horrible. And most of them are in large, urban areas. Chicago and DC come to mind. That doesn’t mean all public schools are failing all their students. Some are not serving specific populations such as English learners, special education, athletes, etc., as well as they could. Generally, students who want an education and are willing to work do well in public schools. Students who have involved parents, not just complaining parents, tend to get a better education.
            We face a lot of challenges in public education. That is not a dismissal of accountability. My students, school and district are one of the highest performing in the state despite having a high percentage of english learners, a high poverty rate, gang problems and a high level of student apathy. We also have dedicated professionals and involved parents which help to overcome a lot of issues.
            Why are some schools truly failing? Personally, I blame the Union mentality. After studying school reform for many years, I see the same problems over and over again. Poor quality teachers and administrators are allowed to remain in their jobs because they are protected by Unions and bad contracts. It’s far easier to reassign an employee than to fire them. Charter schools don’t have that issue. Homeschooling doesn’t either. Dissolve the teachers Unions, get rid of collective bargaining and make teaching a competitive job and you will see students perform like never before. If every Olympian got a gold medal just for showing up, would records still be broken?

            If you have chosen to opt out of public education, I urge you to examine the reasons why. Is YOUR public school system failing? Is it REALLY more dangerous for your child to be at school? Are you worried WHAT the school is teaching? If you look at all the data and decide to homeschool, I can’t really blame you. If your choice to homeschool is based only on things you've HEARD about public education, I urge you to reconsider.


  1. You're right. Parents should be asking themselves, not whether or not "the public schools" are failing, but whether there is a particular public school that's good that they can send their kids to. If the answer is no, then and only then should they even consider keeping their children at home to be home schooled, though I'd probably prefer to move to a better area with a good school than for that to happen.

    Children need to have peers their own age to engage with, otherwise they don't socialize properly, and although that's not impossible for a home school to provide, it's very difficult to be able to provide the level of same-age peer interaction that children need. It's just not fair on the child if they would have been better off in a school, and you can always supplement public education at home, /always/, which I feel people seem to forget at times. It's not no involvement in their education or 100% involvement, there are in betweens that will probably work even better.

    1. Kids need to learn to deal with other kids, especially the jerks and bullies. They are life lessons.

  2. While this is an old post I feel that I need to comment lol. Talk about stereo typing homeschooling. Homeschooling isn't what it use to be back in the 30s etc. There is regulations with it, yet not as bad as public school but there is more solid standards for it.

    homeschooling allows a child who doesn't do good in public school, this can't be fixed by switching schools etc. the same problems are there but I won't get into that. If done correctly children can learn so much more and in more depth. Also at the end of each yr the parents must either 1 have their kids be tested and the results turned into the state or get a teacher assessment done (some states vary). Also non social interaction is the thing of the past, all it takes it parents being proactive and becoming a part of co-op groups and homeschool kids have more social interaction then public school kids.

    We homeschool with a put together living book style curriculum and I always go a grade lvl higher then what the kids are this way they are always being challenged and enjoy to challenge themselves. Our kids have been assessed by certified teachers and one is techn. two grades ahead of what she is in and the other is a grade ahead, while typing this our youngest isn't in school yet.

    We decided to homeschool with our oldest and stuck with it for the others and her because she has HFA and is sensitive, public school was just to much. Plus with homeschooling you can teach the child with how they learn: visual, verbal, etc. or a combination of things.

    The fact is the parent isn't 100% relied on as the source of knowledge there are great resources out there to learn from and some even that ourselves, parents, etc. have learned from and great updated content to supplement to it. The fact is these "teachers" in public school with such "experience" lol okay, when honestly it is just them teaching from a textbook/resources also in their own personal way so it is nothing special.

    I went to public school and learned more through outdoors, self reading from encyclopedias and other books, then I did from what a teacher or textbook taught because a teacher teaches how they want too to the masses not how you as the individual learn.

    1. I am glad your experience is a positive one and that your children are learning well and thriving under your pedagogy. As I stated above, I know that some homeschooling parents take great pains to ensure their children learn as much as possible and I absolutely applaud that effort. However, the rules for homeschooling vary by state and locale. If a school is failing its students, and some do, it is widely reported, parents cause an uproar (hopefully) and change happens. If a homeschooled student isn't progressing as he or she should, there is little that can be done.

      Again, I really don't mean to deride homeschooling. It can be done very well and you sound like you are doing just that. But maybe we need benchmarks for homeschooled students just like public school students. Something to think about anyway.

      Thanks for your comment.


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