An acquaintance announced that they put their house up for sale. The sole reason was that they wanted to put their "naturally smart" kindergarten daughter into a "better" school district by fall. When I asked her what she wanted in the new school district, the list was long. She wanted foreign language starting in first grade, expanded art and music options in earlier grades, and more parental involvement.
I admit I was taken in by her version of school utopia. For me, it struck at a basic parental fear. Were we doing enough to give our children a solid educational foundation? Even though I'm mostly happy with our school district, I panicked and wondered if we shouldn't be looking for a new school district. I did a little research on neighboring school districts. I looked at what those districts offered in comparison to ours. I tried to figure out what made her think those districts were "better" than ours. Then the evening news came on.
In Illinois, school districts face a financial crisis. You can hardly turn on or read the news without hearing about drastic cuts in teachers, programs and services. It's not likely to get better any time soon given Illinois' terrible school funding formula. The school you adore today could be the next one in line for drastic cuts. This isn't a one or two year problem. It's a long term reality check.
My friends in pricey suburbs are panicking about what the school cuts will do to their property values. They worry about how these cuts will harm their children's college test scores. They worry about how much their taxes will have to go up to cover basic school budget needs.
This is one area I know our district shines. We have a $1 million surplus for this fiscal year. While other school districts are closing buildings, we're taking bids to put an addition on one of ours. Our test scores are very good, and the district is working to add programs. We have an administration that isn't afraid to try out new programs to see if there is a way to improve our children's education. We're not worried about a fiscal crisis in the district any time soon. We're in a good position to ride out the financial storm without damaging our children's educations.
I have to wonder if part of the problem is that our expectations are out of line. Do we ask too much of our public schools?. It would be nice if every school taught a foreign language from the day children enter the doors, but is that the responsibility of a public school? Is it the public schools' job to teach all children a musical instrument from an early age?
I think the public school needs to provide an age and skill-level appropriate, comprehensive education for all children. If parents want their children to learn something not on the curriculum, they are more than welcome to investigate private lessons. Let's face it. If the school district offered flute lessons to all children, then some parents are going to want their children to learn the oboe or violin or drums. I don't think any public school, at any budget level, can meet every parent's expectation -- nor should it try.
Once I took a little time to think about it, I realized we're in a good place and we'll stay here. We don't live in one of the brand name suburbs where people long to live. We're in a solidly middle-class suburb with very good schools, a new library and a good park district. Somehow I think our daughters will be fine, even if they aren't taking flute lessons in first grade.
This was originally posted on the Chicago Moms Blog.