When certain people hear that I'm planning on homeschooling my kids, they automatically assume that I must hate public education. I'm actually a big believer in the power of public education. However, I've also seen it's failures.
When I was a public school teacher, I saw things that the news would have written a segment about calling for the school to be closed. At least they would have, if that school were in a different neighborhood. There are certain schools that people don't want to send their kids too, and teachers don't want to teach at, and principals don't want to be in charge of for very long.
How do we change these failures of the public education system? It's not always the neighborhood, sometimes it's just the reputation a school has. I think the No Child Left Behind Act was correct to some extent, in trying to identify these failing schools and get them shut down. But instead of being shut down, they are simply being "re-branded".
Here's a somewhat radical idea that I think could actually work. Ask local organizations (including churches) in the same geographic area of the failing schools to submit a 5-year plan to turn the school around. Let them change the name to reflect the neighborhood, let the local businesses sponsor sports and technology and cleaning the grounds (if we can sponsor our local highways, surely we can sponsor our local schools). Make these schools back into what they used to be, what they should be. Open the doors to volunteers instead of making them jump through quite so many hoops. Yes, it's important to protect our kids, but what better protection than to have 3-4 parents, adults, and neighbors helping a group of children to read rather than just "leaving it up to the teachers".
I remember when I was eating lunch with my 6th grade boys in my only semester of public school teaching. I loved those little boys with all my heart. When one of them looked around at the yelling, screaming, noisy chaos of the lunchroom, he turned to me and said, "This is what 5th grade was like all the time." How can we expect them to learn to read in a chaotic environment? How can we expect them to behave themselves if they aren't adequately supervised? How can we expect the school to magically turn around years of regressive behavior and attitudes?
I didn't leave teaching because of the boys I taught. I didn't leave because of the fights I had to break up, and the kids I never saw because they were always in in-school suspension. I didn't leave because of the kids that couldn't read, or the kids that couldn't speak English, or the "honors" kids who still needed basic math facts. I left because the principal poisoned the entire school. She let illegal things happen and ruled by intimidation rather than truly caring for the students (or teachers).
It broke my heart when I had to leave those kids. So, for every back to school comment or post you see about how wonderful and fabulous teachers are and how much they care about their students and work before and after school to try to make their classrooms and teaching motivating to their children, keep in mind the schools that you don't see. The schools that aren't on the news because no one cares. The schools that are missing teachers, and missing supplies, and missing parents and volunteers. If you know about a school like that in your neighborhood, don't just ignore it, put it on your calendar, put it in your wallet, and put it in your prayers. Because the one thing that those schools need that they don't have, is a community that cares about them.
Since we've just moved, I'm not yet entirely familiar with the local schools. So, to keep things simple, the school supplies that I'm collecting at my son's upcoming birthday party will go to the school my son would be assigned to, if he were attending a public school. As well as some of the "extra" school supplies I've been picking up at the back to school sales. Let's get back to the community feeling we should have. We can say all we want that it takes a village to raise a child, but what do we do when the village goes dark?