This week the kids’ school is hosting a series of curriculum nights, and although some parents I’ve met have skipped it because it’s probably about the same every year, I went because we’re new to the school and also I don’t want to be marked as an uninterested parent. (There’s plenty of time for that later on in the year when they need volunteers and I’m “busy,” after all.)
My impression of this school—the school that I pestered every member of the administration whose phone number and email I could get my hands on to get the kids into—is that they are the epitome of the old expression about making lemonade out of lemons. This SHOULD be a lousy school, for a variety of reasons I’ll talk about in a bit. On paper, some would argue that it IS a lousy school, although I (obviously) disagree. One thing I can say for certain is that this school (really, this district) is making me realize how spoiled we were back up north.
You know that whole No Child Left Behind thing? Yeah, well, I didn’t. I mean, I knew it existed. I’d heard about it. Maybe I even read about it a little bit when it first happened. But here is where I’ll cop to being privileged, educated, middle-class parent who was once a student as the child of privileged, educated, middle-class parents.
Our old school? Rich town (oh, we lived on the “wrong side” of it, but the millionaires’ tax dollars still funded our schools), well-funded district, the biggest problem we faced was the ongoing battle over building a new school. (More and more kids were in classes out in trailers because the building was being outgrown, but plenty of folks in town—most of whom didn’t have kids—saw no reason to build another school.) Test scores weren’t something that I ever really thought about, there.
Our new school is in the poorest county in the state. No Child Left Behind is on everyone’s minds because right now, this school is graded as “failing.” Last night I got to hear about how last year the state-mandated testing caused over twenty third-graders to be “retained.” (No, they didn’t fail third grade. They were simply retained. Like water when you eat too much salt.)
I knew this stuff before we came, of course. I did my research. We struggled with the right course; do we move to the county with the “good” schools where everyone is relatively well-off and white, or do we stay in the county with diversity where the schools are struggling? We chose to stay here for a number of reasons, chief amongst them that, hey, I think diversity is a good thing.
But to sit there and listen to the statistics—to hear how Adequate Yearly Progress is measured and that this school struggles to meet it, well, that was a whole ‘nother ball game. To sit amongst a group of “concerned parents” and do a bit of mental math and realize that not even half the parents had showed up for this event, that the mythical “parents who don’t support their children’s educations” aren’t at all mythical and in fact live right around the corner here, that was hard.
Yesterday I was busy bitching about how MY KIDS ARE SMART AND I WANT GIFTED EDUCATION AND I’M GOING TO FIGHT FOR IT (which, by the way, drew an almost immediate response from the principal about how both kids have already been recommended for the program by their teachers and testing starts in a week or so, which just goes to show you that there is NO END to how often I can stick my foot in my mouth) and then I went to this thing and realized that I am so sheltered from the realities of most of this country that it’s embarrassing.
There was FIFTEEN MINUTES of an hour-long presentation devoted to why it’s important to have our kids read every day. One quarter of the allotted time. And they did a nice job with the presentation, but I cannot adequately explain how saddened I was, first, that there would be a need to go into such detail and passionated exhortations about this, because we are all readers here and in my happy little bubble of nerddom I can barely comprehend people NOT wanting to read, and second, as I realized that the parents who really needed that pep talk probably weren’t even present.
In this town, in this school, the “rich” sit in class next to kids from the projects, and the school motto this year is “If you miss school you miss out” because attendance rates are abysmal for the kids living in poverty. My bleeding liberal heart hurts when I consider that; the kids who are impoverished can get two free meals a day at school (even if nothing else), and yet they are often absent because—why? Because their parents don’t care? Because their parents are working too many jobs to be home and get them on the bus? Because they’re taking care of siblings? Chances are if they’re missing school they’re not eating, either. My mind boggles. I have taken so much for granted.
And I have been listening to my children, asking them about their friends and their classes, and realizing that even at seven and nine they are picking up, on some level, who is “like them” and who is not. Chickadee in particular delights in giving me a laundry list, each day, of how many kids got into trouble. This many kids had Think Time! That many kids had Silent Lunch! Soandso was on the tree! (I picture hangman, when she says this, but I think it has to do with losing recess and not with being strung up.) The children my kids have befriended are the offspring of the parents I saw last night. These are the kids whose test scores are high and whose parents are involved and who have plenty to eat and help with their homework, and even still, this is not enough to balance out the Have Nots.
Adequate Yearly Progress was the hot topic of discussion—and constantly being referred to as AYP, which had me imagining the administration leading the school in a hip-hop style pep rally—with the various tests throughout the year being grumbled about as a distraction from the Real Learning. And yes, as I looked at all those charts and graphs and schedules I again wondered why they don’t call NCLB NCLU, instead (No Child Left Untested), but I suppose there has to be some sort of metric.
And this is one of the GOOD schools. I’m confident my kids will get a good education there. What I can’t help wondering is what’s going to happen to those other kids, the ones who need more than that.
The fact that THOSE kids are the reason that MY kids are such stand-outs, and both so well-loved by their teachers, already, isn’t lost on me, either. I feel like I should be apologizing. I’m not sure to whom or for what, exactly, but it’s disconcerting.