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Do any of you have any advice in choosing a school?

 

Background - I'm brand new to homeschooling and have been using K curriculum with my almost 5 YO DD. I may be going back to work and would need to find a school for DD. If she goes to school, she won't be able to start a K program until next september because of her late fall birthday.

 

We live in a big city with a failed school district. The neighborhood school's test scores are about 50% (not considered a failed school by the district). It's about 90% low income and 60% English second language. There are gifted and classical public schools that require very high test scores (supposedly about 99%) for admission. I've scheduled testing for DD but have not done any test prep (seriously - for K????).

 

There are several private schools in the area with excellent reputations that also very selective. Most of their K classes are selected a year in advance so we're applying late.

 

There are also several parochial schools in the area. None have a reputation for academics but the communities are nice and class sizes are small. The curriculum they use is pretty uninspiring. Basically they use what the PS uses (Everyday Math and things like the Writer's Workshop).

 

I hate the idea of my almost 5 YO DD competiting to get into the rigorous schools. But I hate the mediocre curriculum found in the neighborhood PS and parochial schools. I don't think afterschooling would work at the rigorous schools because they assign many hours of homework and doubt that it would be necessary anyway.

 

The admissions people at the parochial schools hardly discuss curriculum or anything academic with potential parents. They brag about their test scores (acceptable) and where their grads go to high school. The parochial schools follow the common core which does not concern me if implemented well which does not seem to be the case. For example, they claim to be in compliance but did not change the math curriculum.

 

I feel like I'm having to make a decision with far ranging consequences without all of the facts that I need and it's making me crazy. I don't really know what questions to ask.

 

How did you choose your kids' school if you had a choice?

 

(sorry I know this is long)

 

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I generally think that it is best to have a happy child as a happy child will learn, an unhappy child won't (sweeping generalization). I have experience with 11 schools in four countries, and four children. I have had children in parochial schools, state schools, Montessori schools, internet schools, single-sex, co-ed, boarding schools ... quite a variety (no Waldorf yet, need to fit that in). I have experience with super-elite pricy schools and schools where lots of children would qualify for free lunch etc. Just to say that I have a wide variety of experience. I've walked away from most of the schools either hating them or feeling exceedingly "meh."

The schools I liked best are not necessarily the ones that you'd think are the best. The ones I like the best and that have worked out the best for us are the schools that have staff/teachers who have listened to me with an open mind when I discuss my child and his/her needs, and have done their best to be respectful and meet those needs. You'd think most schools are like that, but I've learned that some are so invested in their image that they will do everything to preserve it, say anything to keep the peace, but do nothing. I have deliberately chosen a state school for ds8 that draws from a disadvantaged area yet adds a huge amount of value. The head is present and approachable. She knows each of the 200+ children by name. The staff communicate and are aware of my ds's quirks (and we're not talking anything serious, just little things they need to be aware of) and deal with it. Academically it is not the pushiest school and ds could be pushed more, but he is a happy happy boy and likes school.

You also really have to look at your child. DS8 suits this school; DS13 would have been a basket case. He can handle only a certain type of school, very very small, single-sex, boarding. He needs structure and challenge. For him I had limited choices. DS8 could go anywhere and thrive.

So before this gets too long, I can tell you that my opinion is that what looks the flashiest from the outside isn't necessarily the best (sounds like you're well aware of that already) and to go talk and talk and talk with the schools and see where you feel respected and that your opinion is valued. If you can hear in the teacher's voice that s/he cares about the individual children, you'll probably be fine.

And think about what will keep your DD happiest.

You have quite a few opportunities I think to change schools in the future and to change direction. I could never ever have predicted where my dcs would have ended up on the basis of their kindergarten experience.

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Thanks. I hate the idea of changing schools once we start. We've moved and DD has already changed schools twice. I want her to have stability. I know that changing is always an option in the future but I'd like to make a good faith effort to choose a school now that I think will work for the next several years.

 

I'm leaning towards one of the parochial schools because I feel like they will be flexible.

 

ETA, is it reasonable to ask if a private school has a curriculum plan (or whatever it's called) for each year of elementary school? Should they be able to tell me what curriculum they use for language arts and math?

 

 

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Thanks. I hate the idea of changing schools once we start. We've moved and DD has already changed schools twice. I want her to have stability. I know that changing is always an option in the future but I'd like to make a good faith effort to choose a school now that I think will work for the next several years.

 

I'm leaning towards one of the parochial schools because I feel like they will be flexible.

 

ETA, is it reasonable to ask if a private school has a curriculum plan (or whatever it's called) for each year of elementary school? Should they be able to tell me what curriculum they use for language arts and math?

 

What might work better is to ask the school what texts or books they use.  Or ask for language arts what method they use such as daily five etc.  While homeschoolers use curriculum to mean the materials used, school tend to use curriculum to mean a list of academic goals (e.g.  add and subtract within ten by end of year).  A private school should be willing to tell you both.

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Coming from a very different place than you - we homeschooled for years, and just this year decided to let DS14 and DS11 go to school (8th and 6th grades, respectively) - so keep that in mind. We visited both the public school and 2 private schools.

 

I had several concerns:

 

- Creative, caring teachers. Many teachers at the public school whom we met were caring, some were beyond burned out, all were overwhelmed by large class sizes and an administrative system that discouraged creativity. One private school, good teachers, but a very prescriptive approach required for teachers. I think it works for most kids, but isn't as...fun. And learning can be fun. The one we ended up - well, the teachers get to decide how to teach. For example, in Spanish class, this means ditching textbooks for the most part to focus on an immersive approach (which seems like a lot of work for the teacher, but she loves it). The 8th grade social studies teacher clearly ditches the public school curriculum (a whole year of state history), but I love the topics she covers!

 

- Curriculum. Important at your stage - I would truly avoid Everyday Math and any reading curriculum that is whole-language rather than phonics based. I would be more open on other subjects.

 

- Emphasis on respect. Respect for teachers, respect between students. I have heard it can be hard to enforce at public school, definitely much easier at private school (where expulsion is an option). I'm amused as I overhear kids at our school discuss who got detention and for what, and share the info so others learn how to behave. 

 

- Flexibility for learning styles/learning levels. In our case, DS11 was a bit advanced at math, but the public school was adamant - either he do the 6th grade math or skip a grade entirely. From an emotional standpoint, skipping would be a poor choice. One private school said basically the same thing because of their large class sizes. The other was open on the issue, and now DS is thriving on a teacher-supervised advanced online math course that he can do while sitting right there with his 6th grade buddies. I know the small class sizes (about 10-12) make this possible.

 

The whole "selective" thing is a puzzle for me, though. Do they test incoming K students to decide who will be good enough? In what way?  I'm not sure how I would feel about that.

 

 

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In order to gain admission to a selective enrollment elementary school, the children are tested using a super secret test. Parents can't be present during the testing. The test is the same for the gifted and classical schools but they are looking for different things. The gifted schools are looking for gifted children. The classical schools are looking for children with aptitude for math and reading. Urban legend is that children who are reading score higher on the test. There are big debates about when to schedule your child's test. Do it early and get it over with or wait until the end of the testing period in hopes that your kid will start reading or be more mature. Supposedly they account for your child's age on the test so the expectations are higher for a 5 YO than a 4 YO. My DD will be 5 when she is tested because she has a fall BD after the cut off date to start school.

 

I'm a bit fuzzy on how children are selected but know it's based on scores and where you live. Each neighborhood in the city is ranked based on a number of factors such as average earnings. Your child is competing against children who live in a neighborhood that is like yours so the nicer your neighborhood is, the harder it is to be admitted.

 

The whole thing makes me very uncomfortable and I'm not sure I'll be able to go through with having my DD tested. There are a handful of selective enrollment elementary schools scattered throughout the city. You choose which schools to apply to and it is generally recommended that you apply to several to increase your chances for admission. So you might end up having to drive your kid halfway across town back and forth to school every day.

 

It is impossible to avoid Everyday Math here. It is used in almost every public school in the metropolitan area and most of the private schools, including every private school that we're considering. Even some of the selective private schools use it.

 

 

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Personally, I would pay less attention to which curriculum is used, especially if the curriculum is prescribed from on high (as opposed to the teacher's convictions). Individual teachers might supplement, emphasize different aspects etc. As long as test scores are acceptable I would think the curriculum is okay. Obviously, it would be great to have the best curriculum but as you say that isn't really an option so I would concentrate less on that.

 

In my experience it is the teacher (or the fit between child/school/teacher) that is the most important. Unfortunately, you probably won't know which teacher your child might get. If possible I would take my child to some of the schools (do they have some sort of open house?) to see if she has a preference. Also consider your child's character: would she do better as a "big fish in a small pond" (maybe a public school in a disadvantaged neighborhood wouldn't be a bad idea) or does she like to be challenged? Does she thrive on pressure or will she shut down etc.? Don't discount distance/convenience. My older son went to elementary son in a different town and it was a huge pain. Also it makes it much harder to visit school friends etc. (of course that kind of depends on how mobile you are - we don't have a car so it truly was a huge problem. If you drive all over town anyway it might not matter so much to you).

 

Honestly, even considering everything it is just luck. I chose what I thought was the perfect school for my first son but it was a far from optimal experience: too far, too much unsupervised time, not structured clearly, a bad fit between teacher/child, an (in my opinion at least) less than enthusiastic teacher. My younger son is going to the local public elementary and it is much better FOR US. Part of it is that younger son is very easy-going (he'd probably be okay anywhere). Part of it is that I understand that school better (went there myself) so know what to expect/how to fulfill requirements.

 

I am not trying to say a public school would be better. More that it is pretty much impossible to predict. I would make some minimum requirements (i.e. cost not over x amount, distance no further than x, classes no more than x children, test scores a minimum of x) and eliminate all the schools that don't fit. Then take a closer look at the remaining ones and see in which you think your daughter would be happiest.

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Personally, I would pay less attention to which curriculum is used, especially if the curriculum is prescribed from on high (as opposed to the teacher's convictions). Individual teachers might supplement, emphasize different aspects etc. As long as test scores are acceptable I would think the curriculum is okay. Obviously, it would be great to have the best curriculum but as you say that isn't really an option so I would concentrate less on that.

 

I agree.  School is more than curriculum titles.  Look at the whole picture.  Teachers, students, safety, resources, sports, extra-curriculars, tech ed, etc. 

 

Would I choose all the materials my dds use at their schools?  No.  Was it a deal-breaker?  No.

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We made a decision. We chose one of the local parochial schools because they offer a 3 day/part time PK program and if I do go back to work, DD can stay in the same class and go 5 days/full time. If I'm not working, we'll keep up with our math and reading work at home.

 

Next big decision - official kindergarten starting next fall. It's funny because I just noticed that every time I'm with other moms of 4 YOs, we always talk about school choices for next year. It's nuts! If I don't go back to work, the hard decision will be whether to put her in K with her friends from PK or to take her home.

 

 

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