Monday, January 14, 2013

Confessions of a Possible Homeschooler

The public schools in our area are in trouble.  Big trouble  Huge trouble.  Our school board is seriously considering cutting all art and music education for next year, along with reducing funding for libraries, support staff, gifted programs, remedial programs, and a whole host of others.  These ideas are very scary for most parents, and they are on the verge of becoming a reality.

More scary stuff: the standardized testing.  In our state, like most other states, standardized testing is not optional.  If students don't pass their state standardized test at the end of the year, they fail the grade, regardless of their previous grades and coursework (unless their teacher chooses to step in and submit proof that the student should be promoted regardless).  I hate state standardized tests, but so far they have merely been a necessary evil, or more accurately, something I couldn't do anything about.  I knew they started learning how to take the test in 1st grade, and much of the course work in every grade has to do with these tests, but they don't actually start testing until 3rd.  The other day, I found out something disturbing.  The kindergarteners at our school are now learning how to neatly fill in bubbles while test questions are read to them.  I was unbelievably frustrated with how much focus there is on these tests.

Add that to the whole Reading Counts situation.  I don't hate the RC program, but I hate the way it is implemented.  Basically, it works like this: a child reads a book from the Reading Counts database, then the child takes an online quiz.  If the child passes the quiz, they get a certain number of points.  Now, don't get me wrong, there are lots of books in the database, but it is far from comprehensive.  In fact, last year I purchased 5 chapter books from Scholastic's own book fair, and not one of them was in the RC database.  Frustrating?  Yes.  Why?  Because the way our school is using RC, a child does not have time to read anything that is not in the RC database.  It was supposed to foster a love of reading, but really did the opposite.  Much of what he is interested in isn't in the RC database.  Philosopher Child currently has to read a chapter book per week and then some to keep up, and he's only in 3rd grade.  If he doesn't earn enough points, it negatively affects his reading grade.  If that isn't bad enough, Philosopher Child told me that he is allowed to take out 3 books from the library each week, and it is mandatory that at least 2 of them are RC books.  This feels wrong, and since this has been pushed on the kids, my amazing reader has started to hate reading.

So, for argument's sake, let's say that the school board shuts down all the wonderful programs they are threatening to.  What then?  I don't particularly love the charter or private schools here (nothing wrong with them, they're just not right for us), so that leaves homeschooling.

Homeschooling has been a back pocket plan since the beginning.  It's not something we wanted to do.  It's not something we really intended to do, but every year we face more and more issues with the public school system, and every year we review the homeschool laws, just in case.

I know that from what I told you it looks like we're making a knee-jerk reaction over nothing.  These things may seem like minor annoyances at best.  But know this: I'm only telling you a small portion of what is going on.  What I haven't told you about yet that I'll just briefly touch on are the following: bullying (we're talking physically dangerous stuff that the principal called security over, not just name calling), being told over and over by a previous teacher that something must be wrong with Philosopher Child and he needs to see a doctor (turns out he was just bored and not being challenged), being told every time I question a policy that makes no sense (and is often detrimental to education) that it is "because of the standardized tests," and get this: there is a kindergarten teacher at this school that covers her windows so the kids can't see outside.  A kindergarten teacher.  Of course there's more, but you get the idea.

The final straw is the removal of the art and music programs paired with test drilling starting in kindergarten.  It's not right.  It does a disservice to our children.  Not just my children, but all the children.  At this point I think I can say with a clear conscience that we, Husband and I, can do better for our children.  Ideally, issues with the schools would be fixed and Philosopher Child and Little Viking would continue to play and learn with their age-mates.  At this point, however, I know that we, personally, can't save the arts in schools.  We can't save the gifted program.  We can't save the support staff that are being cut.  There isn't enough money and the school board has decided that their best choice is to close several schools and severely cut programs and funding to the remainder.  The money needs to be pulled from elsewhere, but it is impossible for me, as a parent, to convince the powers that be that maybe some of the money should come from other (sometimes ridiculous) places.

So, you may ask, now what?  Honestly, I don't know.  We can't make a definite decision until the school board votes later this month.  In the meantime, I'm gathering information, curriculum possibilities, and acquainting myself with the homeschool laws.  If the time comes, I want to be ready.

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