Sunday, December 2, 2012

Parents Who Chose Privates: Is Your Child Bored?

As I sit down to work on applications to a handful of elite and very expensive private schools, my main question is this:  Will private school keep my child from being bored? 

I'm not worried about my child being academically prepared in public school. Most children of highly educated parents do well academically no matter where they are. 

I'm worried that my child will be bored. 

I went to public school until 9th grade. My main memory is one of boredom, despite many great teachers.  An entry in my 6th grade diary has a bitter complaint about how we're learning fractions again!!!  Just like 4th and 5th grade!!!! I skipped 8th grade, and to this day I don't know what I missed. A friend who teaches public school said, "That's because you didn't miss anything." 

That's what troubles me.   The years of mindless boredom when I could have been learning. I would sacrifice a lot to spare my child those wasted years.

My friends with children in public schools, even "trophy" schools, routinely talk about how to handle their kids being bored.  They talk about their kids acting out at home after having to sit in class all day without learning, children not wanting to go to school. It starts as early as 1st and 2nd grade. 

So I ask, parents in private schools, is your child often bored? Did sending your child to private school keep them engaged in school?

The issue of private vs public is a heated one, as is the question of differentiated learning.  I am still looking at public schools and will continue posting reviews, but my question here is specifically directed to parents of private schools.   
     If you'd like to share your experiences on differentiated learning in public schools, please go to the 10/29 post on Jose Ortega, where some parents started discussing GATE and differentiated learning.
    If you'd like to share your thoughts on private vs public, please go to the sfkfiles post on 11/19 post on Children of Highly Educated Parents where a lively discussion is in place. 
  This will help readers find the information they need, instead of having to search through many posts. Thanks! 


57 comments:

  1. This post pains me. My kids are in school in SF in public school. They have so many things going on during and after the school day there's no time to be bored. Their public school experience is nothing like mine was. For one, parents are much more massively involved and the afterschool activities are deep and rich. They're studying music and mandarin ( not at an immersion school) and play soccer and go to constant performances (last week Symphony, Asian Art museum; this week Velveteen rabbit - all through school.) Your kidd has no excuse for boredom with all the stuff going on; our problem is the opposite (and a nice problem to have) - a surfeit of stimulating activities

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  2. This is definitely a concern of mine. At this point the only thing deterring us from going private is finances. My 4yo is currently bored at his preschool, and it is quite the process in the morning to get him out the door. I truly don't want to fight this battle for every day of kinder let alone the next 13 years! I really WANT to like the public schools we've toured, and some of them we like everything EXCEPT how easy the kinder curriculum seems.

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    1. I have similar memories of being bored throughout elementary school and as a result, completely disengaged in middle and high school (and this was during the Golden Era of public school funding in California, and I lived in a wealthy, resourced CA county.) It's kind of a miracle that I even got into college, given how checked out I was (but was still managing to pull As.) For this reason, I sought out what I believed would be a more engaging and challenging environment for my oldest child. She attended CAIS from pre-K through 8th grade. It was a perfect fit for her: she was definitely engaged and not bored (and is now bilingual to boot.)

      Now, I have no direct knowledge of present day elementary school via SFUSD. But for my second child, CAIS turned out to be not a great fit due to some learning issues. The curriculum was just too rigorous. This child is now in a SFUSD middle school, which is a huge relief because it is far less demanding. For this child, public school curriculum is the right fit.

      One thing I noticed is that much of the public school 6th grade curriculum is a repeat of skills taught in 4th and 5th grade at CAIS. That's good for my youngest, as he needs more time to master these skills. My high school sophomore has noticed something similar. She is on an advanced math track, but the class is currently covering things she learned in 8th grade at CAIS. As has been mentioned in other threads, CAIS is particularly good at math and science (and Mandarin.)

      This is our particular experience; not sure that you can generalize it to all of private schools, but for what it's worth.

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    2. I think the above poster makes an excellent point about knowing your child and seeing what will be a good fit for them. Some children might become bored in public school, not because it's too hard, but because they don't connect with the teaching method or subjects. The best course is probably to rely on feedback from your child's preschool teacher about what type of environment in which they think your child will thrive. For privates, you really need to get information on what teaching methods and process. One poster mentioned the San Francisco School and kindergarten reading. The San Francisco School is Montesorri based for Pre-K through K which means that don't teach reading in the same way as a public kinder would. If the parents would have asked about reading at the kindergarten level, they would have known and maybe not chosen the San Francisco School for kindergarten. Many of the privates are geared toward educating the whole child and therefore might not have the academics that you might be seeking. The reasons parents choose private schools are because they feel that their child might be happier in private school because of school facilities or other non-academic reasons, that their child's unique learning style and interests might be addressed more at private schools, and that there is more commitment to teaching the child at their level, whatever it maybe at private schools. If you want academics, I agree with the other posters that CAIS is very strong academically and also provides a lot of support for students so they can meet the academic goals of the school.

      This process - for both publics and privates - is a lottery. You don't know where you will get in so you need have an open mind and a few options on the table. It seems that you are doing the right thing by applying to both public and privates to see what options you have come March.

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  3. Yeah, I'm not quite sure of the premise here: all public schools are boring?

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  4. I'm pretty sure children of not so highly educated people get bored occasionally too, in private and public. It happens.

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  5. I agree that many public schools, especially those with strong PTAs, provide great enrichment activities. To clarify, my question is more about the pace and depth of the academic work, especially in English, math and science.

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  6. If you feel that you child might become bored, I would suggest immersion if you go public, especially an academically focused school like Alice Fong Yu.
    I was also bored in elementary school, even in my GATE classes so I am sympathetic to your question. I think that boredom for some children is a reality and that it needs to be addressed. The public school system curriculum is designed to meet the needs of the average student; the system, at this point, because of the way funding is structured spends its resources on bring students up to proficiency, meeting its obligations to children with learning disabilities and handicaps, and English Language Learners. I think this is great; as a society, we need a system that can educate everyone. At the same time, because the education system has been in an incredible funding crisis over the last ten years, it also means that students who are proficient and above do not get a lot of resources in terms of staff and curriculum. Hence, real GATE programs are non-existent and there are no specialist who pull gifted students out of class and work with them one-on-one.
    My son is in private school and no, I do not feel that he is bored, but that is part of the privilege of private school. There are schools like Alta Vista and Nueva that are geared for academically gifted students. If you feel that you child would test into them, you should investigate them. Another route would be to go into public and when and if you feel that you child is bored, start looking at privates. Most privates have spots that open up in 3-5th grades because people move.
    Yes, I agree, if your child is in a good preschool, it does seem like many of the public kinders are doing curriculum which is similar to preschool. Remember, as the schools are public, there are some children entering kinder that have never been to preschool so there is a huge gap between the children who have spent 1-2 years in preschool and those who have not attended preschool and enter kinder without any classroom experience. From what I've seen, most children who enter private school have already been in preschool and are therefore ready for the classroom upon arrival.

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  7. What grades are you really asking about? Elementary grades or middle and high school? Do you believe that private schools by definition teach more deeply and comprehensively in English, math, and science? Is there any way you can measure that, especially at the elementary level?

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  8. The way I read the post, it seemed like SF Geek Mom is wondering,

    "If I am spending all this money on private, can I be guaranteed that my child will be challenged academically?"

    I think the answer is - "there are no guarantees"

    I would be very interested in feedback from families in private or who have friends in private. I know that many private schools are less academic than public. We have friends that transferred from The San Francisco School, to a K-8 public school. They were frustrated that the school wasn't teaching the kids to read in Kindergarten. They would notice their friends kids in the same grade in public (or presumably other private schools) reading voraciously by the end of K.

    We are in a Spanish Immersion school. Our neighbor was interested in immersion for the sole reason that he thought the immersion programs would offer much more challenge for his son (whom he believed would be bored with the typical kinder curriculum). I do have to agree that I believe the immersion programs provide more challenge, at least in the earlier years. They are learning to read, write and communicate in two languages instead of one. When I asked my child how "hard" Kinder was compared to preschool, my child said, "much harder". That gave me good confidence that the class was challenging enough.

    We are still in the early years (2nd grade). Whether the curriculum and pace is fast enough is going to be a big issue for our family as soon as 4th and 5th grade. We are dialed-in with the school and GATE coordinator and trying to learn as much about middle school options.

    I hope this helps!

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  9. We arrived in SFUSD from elsewhere late in the ES game for my older child, who was horribly bored. (She is interested/involved/challenged in middle school now!)

    My observation is that having a cohort/peer group for your child is the biggest predictor of whether they'll be bored. If in a class of 22 (or 33 for 4th and 5th grade) yours is the only child who has understood/mastered certain material on the first or second teaching, and the other 21 (or 32) need a few more repeats, the teacher's focus will be on getting the other kids up to speed, and will have little incentive to focus on your child. If, however, some larger chunk of the students in the class are fast/advanced learners, it provides critical mass.. and the teacher will be more likely to come up with a solution.

    As for the "K" curriculum being easy, I'm finding that it's no less rigorous than it was at our "fancy pants" E. coast school district. We do have more English Language Learners, but this doesn't seem to be affecting my son's learning negatively. He comes home with tales of what they did in school, interesting projects, and blossoming reading skills.

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    1. I couldn't agree more about the importance of a "cohort/peer group" of advanced learners. It really makes the difference. The kids push one another as well.

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  10. SFGeek Mom. Philosophically, it sounds like you'd be most comfortable at a school filled mostly with Asian families (who share many of what appear to be your values). Either CAIS, or a very academic private (forget a lot of them; many are less academic in the lower grades than public) or a public like Alice Fong Yu (where I know several families who have pulled out their kids because it's too academic -- even lots of homework over the summer) or several others in the Richmond. At many publics, very good ones too with robust learning, I think your values might not work. At many, it's not OK to bemoan the number of ELL students or lower income students. Unfairly in some ways, many see that view as essentially anti-San Franciscan. It's sort of the opposite of what some called the overriding view at Alta Vista.

    The problem though is getting in. You don't always get what you want, so it's not a bad idea to be receptive to more than a few options.

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  11. Thank you for this question. We are asking the same question in our house.

    One question I started asking on tours was approximately what percentage of their kinders went to preschool. For example, when I asked at Marshall the principal said the majority of their K kids had no prior school experience. This is important information for us as our child will have two years at preschool prior to entering kinder.

    We have decided that the only way she will not be bored (in public) is to go immersion.

    It's so important for teachers to be able to teach to ALL kids and recognize a difference in learning and learning speed and be able to support the entire spectrum of learners.

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    1. I don't know if preschool attendance rates are the best way to determine whether or not a child will be bored. I teach Kindergarten, and many of the children who did not attend preschool have strong academic skills. They may be less familiar with the structure of the school day, but Kindergarten is a transition for all my students.

      Also, over the six hour day, teaching the alphabet to children who haven't yet learned it is a very small portion of the day. Any whole group lessons on the subject allow multiple points of access so that learners at different levels can participate and learn, and they're not long. (Early in the year, these activities teach classroom procedures like what to do with your work when it's finished, where to find supplies, etc. that all my students need to learn, too.)

      The vast majority of the day in my Kindergarten is spent in differentiated small group/individual instruction (for instance, during Readers and Writers Workshops), in hands-on, inquiry-based projects in sciences and the arts, or in rich developmental play. I find that these activities are engaging for all of my students and they are rarely if ever bored.

      (Also? For the record, I attended private school and was bored most of the time. Honestly, I think that classroom environment has more to do with a child's perception of boredom than the academic content.)

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  12. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question about boredom. Different kids are bored for different reasons. First you have to identify the causes of boredom. Most of the time it has to do with the teacher's personality and style versus the child's.

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  13. I agree there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It's really hard to hear from a few and then extrapolate that for everyone. I would say think back to the schools you have toured and try to remember if you saw kids engaged in their learning, particularly in the upper grades. It's all about the right fit for your child and your family. Public or private, they're all going to learn to read and write and be ready for high school by the time they're in 8th grade.

    Having said that, from my personal experience at a private school, both my children were not bored. Were there days when they didn't want to go to school? Sure. But it was more "kid stuff" than school stuff. What they received (and what I paid for) was individual attention, a personal relationship with each of their teachers, teachers who really knew them and cared about them, and an education that taught them critical thinking skills. You need to sort about what you want your child to have day in and day out.

    Good luck.

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  14. It's hard to know about boredom at the kindergarten level. I don't think you can say it's strictly a public/private dichotomy. It depends on the kid and how the approach suits his/her learning style. It depends on individual teachers. Some schools emphasize hands-on, moving-around activity, while others are more focused on "traditional" academics, with lots of drills and worksheets. You find hands-on public schools and traditional privates and vice versa. Language immersion helps keep many kids interested, but can be a struggle for kids with certain learning challenges like dyslexia or poor memory function. My kid likes a lot of action and gets bored easily; his best friend can be quiet and concentrate for days.

    The typical perceived advantages in private schools are (a) smaller class sizes and regular paid classroom aides so each child gets more personal attention, (b) more "bells and whistles," and (c) an intentionally selected student body so the teachers are not forced to teach "all over the map" as much as in the truly random selection of the public lottery. Well-resourced public schools can often compete with (a) and (b), especially at the K-5 level, through PTA fundraising and parent volunteerism, and that can also help with (c).

    I know there are exceptions, but I believe that most of the time, for a typical kid who is not highly assertive or self-motivated, privates do better at alleviating boredom at the 6-12 grade levels. Classes tend to be smaller and teachers have smaller teaching loads, so they get to know their students better and can push even the quiet kids to achieve and get involved in extracurricular activities they might otherwise not consider. Assertive, driven kids will be probably do just fine in most public schools, and enjoy the range of electives and extracurricular activities. SF is lucky that we have SOTA and Lowell public high school that cater, respectively, to artistically and academically gifted kids.

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  15. Just a thought, but is it worth $30 K a year for each child (remember it's tuition of $25 K plus an expected extra "donation" of roughly $5 K per year and tuition rises 10% every single year) just so your kid is not bored? Couldn't you just spend $10 K per child a year on enrichment activities as a family to challenge them (eg, musical instrument, new language, art class, etc.) or an international trip per year during the holidays. People on this board must have a lot of money if they can justify this much money just to avoid the risk of boredom ...maybe I'm in the wrong line of work ...

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    1. It might be. To me, a 2-week trip or fantastic hour-long art class don't make up for sitting in class bored out of your mind for 8 hours a day, day after day. Plus I leave work at 5:30, so who'd take my child to those enriching activities?
      I'd do a lot to save my child from that kind of boredom, and to keep my child from "checking out" of learning. For example, I would be willing to stay in our modest apartment for the next 15 years. I'd be willing to keep buying big purchases like furniture and birthday bikes off Craigslist. We live comfortably but simply: no cable, no Wii/playstation/iPad, no international trips, no housecleaning service. I'm OK with continuing that, and probably will even if we choose public.

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    2. SFGeekMom, I have to say that I'm also in a similar position where organizing activities with different groups of parents and children seem a bit daunting and that I like the integrated approach that you can get with private. I don't want to have to shuttle my child around town. I also think you're not really asking a question about enrichment but about differentiated learning in the classroom. That said, I do think, depending on your child, that many public schools have great after school programs that are well thought out and integrated and if your child is above average but not a significantly above average that many of the public schools seem like they would be fine. From your posts, it looks like you're already doing this, but maybe you should look at the whole picture of the public school - before care and after school options - when doing your evaluations.

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    3. SFGeekMom, I'm with you. I'm a single parent and live a very modest, even spartan life. With financial aid I was able to send 2 kids to CAIS. It was a sacrifice, but one I was willing to make. I work full time and am not able to take my kids to a bunch of extra-curricular enrichment activities, so I'm happy that they received many of those opportunities within the context of their normal school day.

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  16. I know that the blogger asked a different question, but I see a couple posters above considering immersion because they are concerned about boredom. At the immersion schools we toured, I saw teacher led lectures teaching vocabulary and simple concepts via repetition. I saw many distracted students and glazed over eyes. My concern was that my child would be MORE bored in immersion. What attracts me most about some private schools is the various approaches they take to actively engage children in learning, e.g. project based learning, experiential learning (e.g. seeing kids learn about shapes by building various shapes.) I know several teachers within SFUSD who spend a lot of their own time and resources to incorporate these concepts in their classroom, I wonder if there's enough bandwidth for immersion teachers to employ alternate approaches (I imagine it's quite difficult to teach a group of children in a language many of them have never heard before.)

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  17. Hmmm. We went private for this very reason. The K classrooms I visited in October were drilling what my kid's 2s class had done (via projects, not via drill at preschool): shapes and colors. Meanwhile, on my tour of the school my kid's now at, a 4th grader showed us an art project he'd made based on the Fibonacci sequence. I don't really care about acceleration, but I do care that a kid can go to the next level if he or she needs to without skipping grades. For the record, though, that's not happening at all private schools either.

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  18. Okay, the million dollar question - what public schools did people tour where students seemed engaged?
    I think it's pretty much a given that at private schools they have the resources and motivation to engage children most of the time. In all my playground conversations, I have never once met a private school parent who said their child was bored at school. Maybe that's because if you're paying 25K per year, you're in denial. Who knows? At any rate, boredom in private school has never come up in my nano-world of parental conversation. My question is what's working in public schools? Does anyone have any public schools that they've seen in action where the children seemed really engaged and happy? Sorry to the original poster to ask this question but the discussion has made me wonder.

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  19. Who here besides parents of kids already at SFUSD public schools can honestly answer your question? You see very, very little on tours. It's the parents who volunteer in classrooms who really know what's up. Also, talk to a few parents of kids in older elementary grades in private. You will find they too have kids who report themselves as bored, in part because at a certain age kids start picking up on colloquialisms, like "I'm bored." They do this in both private and in public and it generally has nothing to do with what they're teachers are teaching them. There are lots of very engaged kids in both private and public schools - lots of them. To suggest that a large number of kids are bored in public elementary schools, but never in private, is insulting to actual parents on this board with kids in actual public elementary schools (especially those who've been there at least three or four years) who do not see what people who do not actually have kids in elementary school are speculating about (that is, rampant bored, unchallenged kids.)

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    1. Granted, I haven't toured any private schools but of the 8 public I toured, I never saw any kids that I would call bored or disengaged (mostly they were distracted since there was a gaggle of adults in the room). How do you judge boredom or disengagement in elementary school kids? My 4 year old tells me she's bored at the drop of hat and to some extent, "bordeom" can be a really good thing if it leads a kid to figure out something to challenge themselves. (See, http://www.didyoulearnanything.net/blog/2009/02/06/the-importance-of-being-bored/). Also, learning to be "bored" as in not constantly bombarded with activity and enrichment isn't a bad thing, in my view. That's not to say that sitting in a bland, stultifying windowless room for 8 hours a day without anything to do is the goal but I don't expect or really want teachers to feel like they constantly need to put on a performance to meet the expectations of our fast-edit society.

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  20. 7:21 you are right! Parents currently in SFUSD are probably the best source. It sounds like you have children in public school and like it. What is your school?

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  21. McKinley. My kids have had very good experiences. Second grade was especially good. Kinder son is thrilled this year (and came from a fancy school.) Also have very satisfied friends with kids at Grattan, Peabody, Rooftop, Claire Lilienthal, Sherman, Dianne Feinstein, Commodore Sloat, New Traditions, Rosa Parks JBBP, Flynn, and Alamo. What's also striking is the amount of creative teaching freedom teachers have at each of these schools. Same age kids doing very different things even using the same curriculum.

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    1. Also at Argonne school. Any of you looking there? It's year-round approach allows for some extra extended learning opportunities. Interesting population there as well.

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    2. is argonne really year round? i thought it was an extra 4 weeks.

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    3. It's not truly year round - more like what you're saying. But the calendar is different. When I toured they explained that the schedule provided different people different things. Many families with family far away (like across oceans) like the schedule because some of the breaks are longer and allow for extended travel. But the summer is shorter, which is easier for many working parents. The extra time also allows for more in-depth exploration of certain subjects.

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  22. my child is in public at garfield and she loves it. not bored at all. and of course i also like to think my kid is highly intelligent and needs to be challenged.

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  23. The public schools listed at 9:40, except maybe Rosa Parks JBBP and New Traditions, are all quite high-demand schools. Of course there's no guarantee you will get into any school, public or private, just because you think it will be a good fit for your kid and he or she won't be bored there.

    The "save the tuition and supplement public school offerings with outside extracurricular activities" approach works for some families and some kids, especially if there's a SAHP or part-time worker parent, but it has limits. It can't make up for a school-day environment that bores a kid so much he checks out and doesn't learn his academic subjects, and it won't work if time constraints prevent parents from getting kids to the activities. I am not suggesting that all public schools are boring or that boring academics are limited to public schools, only pointing out that there's no single approach that works best for every family.

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    1. 9:40am here. One thing to remember is that there is a huge amount of movement in the first few weeks of school. Of the 22 assigned to my child's kinder class, 14 showed up the first day. There were also no-shows in the other kinders (3 kinders.) There are now 22 kids in that class and the other kinders have filled as well. And actually we've had another switch as one girl moved away and another boy came in this week. Lots of people come in at the start of the school year at my kids' school and at other so-called high demand schools. So much is determined after the first few rounds. Many though, give up, right after round 1 if they don't get what they want.

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  24. I can't really answer the original question, as I have two children in public school (1st and 3rd grades). I'd encourage everyone reading this thread to watch the documentary "Race to Nowhere." If you haven't heard of it, the film was made by a Bay Area parent who looks at the pressures that kids in both public and private schools face these days. When I hear the word "bored," I sort of scratch my head. I mean, we don't want our kids to be staring at the ceiling because they're so far beyond what's being taught in class. But I'm sensing that "bored," as used in this thread, is sort of a stand-in for "Not Being Challenged to One's Fullest Potential at All Times." "Race to Nowhere" looks at how society can overdo it in the quest to always be racing for excellence. The film is a bit more nuanced than I'm probably describing it, and of course I'm over-generalizing. But it's a good movie, and you may want to consider watching it to get a fuller picture of some of the down sides to always being "challenged."
    http://www.racetonowhere.com/

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    1. Thank you!!! I really loved that movie. Well, I had some issues with that movie, but I loved that someone was raising those issues.

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    2. I'm also happy that movie was brought up. I think Arabelle would like it, if she hasn't already seen it.

      I was struck by a conversation I had with one of my friends raised in Japan, where education is generally very disciplined and rigorous. Emerging from high school, she completely lost her drive, and sort of floated through college undirected. She was burned out. Many years later, she's moved to the US, thought about her past educational experiences (always being challenged among other things) and is now not only education all her kids through the Waldorf system, but has become a Waldorf teacher herself. It's not the system of education I choose for my kids, but how she got there intrigues me, and demands respect.

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    3. Thanks for the movie rec!

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    4. I can only speak for myself (I chimed in earlier about being bored throughout my public elementary school experience and beyond) but my definition of boredom is: never being challenged, always achieving an A with minimal effort, and eventually losing interest altogether. The negative impact of this was that I never learned a work ethic (that lesson was rather rudely imposed upon my during my first semester of college.) Not saying that this is the universal, or even the common, experience in public school today, but it very much colored my perceptions when I was looking at schools for my kids. And, to be clear, I wasn't seeking the brutal, relentless pressures depicted in "Race to Nowhere" (a film I thought was simplistic and flawed) but rather a just-right level of challenge.

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    5. 7:03, it sounds like we had similar experiences. I was so hungry to learn more. I have great memories of a summer camp where we studied 1 academic subject for 8 hours a day. The 7th and 8th graders would cover 1-2 years of high school math, or a year of physics or in 3 weeks. It wasn't stressful, it was fun!

      Now I'm feeling really geeky. Of course it was summer camp, and most of fun was outside of class... but what I'm trying to convey is that between not challenging a child and pushing them to the limit, there's a happy medium where learning is engaging, rapid-paced and lots of fun.

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    6. When your kids are old enough (not that old, just 6) try to get them into the Randall Museum summer camps. They are fantastic -- really well done, and filled with learning. Reasonably priced too, as they're part of Rec and Park. SFARTSed also does a really good summer camp, again reasonably priced. The summer camp supplementation can get very expensive though, if you go for the Gallileo type camps. There's also a program (very reasonable) called SummerGATE which provides more intense summer learning to kids starting maybe in 2nd grade (can't remember if it's before or after.) Have heard mixed experiences with this.

      For working parents and/or parents who need/want to have their kids in summer camp all summer, there are SO many learning opportunities. It's a whole new industry. My kids did 10 weeks of amazing camps - really deep and rich in learning, and fun. That said, they add up. So when trying to figure out your annual education costs, don't forget about camps. It doesn't matter whether your kids are in private or public school, you're still likely to need things for them to do/places to be, unless you are one that can pull off extensive travel or long time off.

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  25. We have friends at a number of independent private schools, parochial schools, and public schools. I haven't heard of any kids at the independent private schools complaining of boredom. I have seen families get counseled out of independent privates or not having "space" for siblings. I have seen families pay for tutors while at the independent privates because their kids are having a hard time keeping up with the curriculum - which is a lot on top of a $25,000 a year per kid tuition bill. But in general, the people I know who are paying for independent privates are quite happy - as they should be considering the investment. We made the choice to go public since we don't have unlimited resources. We are wealthy by most metrics, but we couldn't fully save for our retirement (can't borrow for that!), pay for college (I am still jealous of the kids who could go anywhere they wanted without factoring in financial aid packages - I was lucky but I had a number of friends who had to settle for state schools when their parents couldn't pay for the private colleges or who graduated with crushing debt loads from said private colleges), AND pay for K-8 all at the same time. In general, most of my friends in public school are happy and their kids don't seem to be complaining of boredom. There are a handful of complaints about a lack of differentiation but nothing systemic.

    As a public school parent, I would encourage you to take a look at the content standards and to read about the common core standards that have been adopted in California. that will tell you a whole lot more about what will happen in a classroom in a year than a 10 minute tour. Kindergarten is a lot more these days than shapes, colors, and knowing the alphabet.

    Public elementary schools are very different the elementary schools of my youth (some 30 years ago). Growing up, I went to a number of schools, Catholic, public, and independent privates. I was bored for many many years, and while I am not on the short list for potential Supreme Court nominees and I probably won't wind up winning a Nobel Prize, my academic life turned out pretty nicely. It would be pretty hard to get completely turned off to learning with a curious mind and parents who believed in academic excellence. I skipped a year too, and I spent most of the time (until college) wondering when the rest of the class was going to catch up. I was lucky that it usually took one teaching session for me to get something.

    My older daughter is that way too. I've seen a lot of small group instruction at my children's school - tailored to the needs of each individual kid. So if a chunk of the class is reviewing something that she has down pat, she's working on a project that really deepens her understanding of what is being taught - either on her own or in a small group with other like-minded kids.

    Modern technology has really made it so much easier to customize learning for kids. Information is no longer doled out from a handful of resources. So my kid was learning about the fibonacci sequence and doing an art project about it in second grade because her teacher thought it might be something that interested her. It's so much easier for kids to be active participants in their own education these days and with a school culture that wants to meet the needs of each individual kid, boredom isn't rampant.

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  26. 11:40 and other public school parents, if you are writing about public schools, please include the name of the school. It's super helpful, especially as you are speaking from direct experience. The idea of small group instruction is really appealing to me. Thanks so much for taking the time to write and contribute.

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  27. That would be Alamo. It's all about the teacher quality.

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  28. 11:40 here. We're at Glen Park, but there are 74 elementary schools in San Francisco and I think many of them work this way, or least it's common among my friends who teach in SFUSD. I know that the whole district is adopting Balanced Literacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balanced_literacy. Read the District's Strategic Plan: http://tinyurl.com/austcyf It's full with educational jargon, but you can see how there has been a big push to meet individual student needs with data helping to identify who needs what.

    SFUSD isn't perfect, but it's not the cesspool of ineptitude that many people think it is.

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  29. 11:40 Thanks for your comment. I've heard a lot of great things about Glen Park, I wish that Glen Park had a website that told more about its partnerships, after school programs, and class size. It's hard to find out information on the school and it's vision and resources. I've looked at the PTO Facebook page and the school loop site but they don't feel very complete. Maybe one of the parents or the school administration could update the school loop site.
    I think SFUSD is doing a great job and certainly when you compare test scores to similar cohorts to other districts, even relatively homogenous, affluent districts, it shows the district is strong. I just think the conversation in SF is different because we have a large number of highly educated parents who are also very affluent (relative to the rest of the country) who tour a lot of schools that offer many different types of programs. Also, it is very hard to compare public and private schools because there is a huge resource gap between a private school that gets 20-25K to educate a student they select and a public school that gets $5K (I forget the exact amounts for SFUSD but it's not even half of private school tuition) to educate any student that shows up. At any rate, it seems that parents in SF start to make a laundry list of their ideal school situation and anything less than that starts to look unappealing. The amazing thing is that they can usually find a school that matches their exact list. The only barriers are if they get in and if it's private, if they can afford it. I feel that if people in SF were to go outside the city and say, 'I want a public Spanish Immersion program with a strong arts component that is also K-8,' there would be no way that the public school system would even come close. But in SF, we actually have a school, Buena Vista, that fits that description. SFUSD schools and populations don't resemble those of wealthy suburbs but they do have a lot to offer when it comes to unique programs and creative ways of addressing the the broad range of students that enter the public school system.

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    1. We went on a tour of Glen Park last month and I think it'll end up near the top of our list. Sure, it has some challenges but there's a core of committed parents, a new energetic principal, and what appears to be a strong framework for growth.

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  30. Yes it is a hidden gem of a school!

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  31. Great principal!!!

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  32. To repeat a PPSSF mantra: There are a LOT of great public schools in this city. You don't have to go private, or move, to get a great education for your child in San Francisco. AND...
    To repeat a poster on a PPSSF blog: If you rely on [a school] for your child's entire education, you will be disappointed.
    I am a parent at Thomas Edison Charter Academy (TECA) with a son in the dual-immersion program. He attended 2.5 years of preschool @ Holy Family Day Home before TECA, and I'm very happy with our choice.
    Both our English- and Spanish-immersion teachers knows how to differentiate (my son can read fairly-complex sentences & do double-digit addition/subtraction math now; some of his classmates are still struggling with "a" "I" and basic letter-sounds). So, for example, his English teacher has him write full sentences where she requires those with more limited knowledge to only complete more basic tasks. Our arts program supports the academics - music class is as much about math literacy (counting to a beat) in the early years as it is about holding a tune.
    Our school is considering strategies to bring those without formal preschool (or with purely-play preschools) up to speed faster. We have an awesome, no-nonsense principal who's thinking about pre-K "bootcamp" or expanding the after-school tutoring program for free for those who need it. I want to help her fund it (not there yet/we'll get there, somehow).
    Yet nothing's perfect! I dream of our school's coffers being filled the way that the trophy-school coffers are; I dream of knowing every other parent by first name, so we can collaborate and find the time and money to support our teachers better. En espanol y en ingles. :)
    I do think extra-curricular activities are important - testing is a way of life in public schools these days. If you want a kid to learn math, start a baseball team and have him learn 6 + 4 + 3 = 2 (baseball #s for a double play).
    Just don't come on a tour of our school and accuse us of not teaching hard-enough concepts because you see lots of dark-haired kids on the rug (mine is one).
    Back off my soapbox. Good luck to you all in the process.

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  33. We are quite happy to have our child in private school. We are not wealthy but with financial aid it has been quite do-able for our lower middle class family. Our child is never bored and has better skills for self-reflection/examination than 1/2 the adults I know which is a direct result of the school program. Best of all our child has learned to love learning and has been encouraged to be inquisitive and experimental in thinking and reflection. So based upon our experience I would highly recommend a independent school education.

    I do not think that we need to toss public or private schools under the bus in these discussions to articulate good things about education in both arenas. Make up your own mind there are great things about many schools in this city.




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  34. SF Geek Mom, I'm curious how your parents and teachers responded when you were bored in 6th grade. Did your parents encourage you to talk to your teachers about your frustrations and to seek out ways you could become more engaged in the material or in advanced material? I'm not trying to criticize your parents if they didn't, but I think parents who are really on top of things (as you are) will be better prepared to help students proactively seek out the best opportunities for themselves so they are not bored. I know I struggled with some lackluster teaching in middle school and 9th grade in my well-regarded public school system and as a result, my parents encouraged me to check out private schools. I ultimately decided those schools weren't a good fit for me (long story, mostly related to the part of the country where I grew up), but that investigation actually helped me realize that were great opportunities in my high school, I just needed to be really proactive about getting the best teachers and taking the classes that were the best fit for me and sometimes doing things a little differently. My experience ended up fantastic. I went on to Stanford for undergrad and a master's and I think that experience of learning to be a proactive not just reactive student actually helped me when I got to college, too. Some of my college classmates (from public and private schools) didn't always know how to chart a course for themselves in the same way.

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  35. Phew... just read through all of the comments! Lots of insights... Wanted to say that I wish that public school parents wouldn't get defensive when people worry that their child is going to be bored because they were bored when they went to public school (decades ago). We're not attacking public school, we're just trying to do what is best for our kids- and for some of us, our only true experience is decades old and miles away! But, we're not attacking public school... we're just looking for insights and reassurance. In any case, our family is focused on and committed to immersion, so our search necessarily has crossed the public/private divide b/c we are trying for as many options as possible knowing that the chances of getting a public immersion are risky at best. In general I have found all of the schools I have toured to have engaged children. I wasn't 100% sure about Alice Fong Yu middle school enthusiasm, but I think that probably is just that older kids are less OPENLY enthusiastic about school than younger kids (right?)... I have to say that of all the schools I toured (CIS, AFY, John Yehall Chin, Notre Dame des Victoires, CAIS, PKS... think I'm forgetting someone), all of the kids seemed excited and engaged. John Yehall Chin (which I think outscores everyone on the API test) was the only school where I did not want my child to go there... (I don't think anybody has expressed interest in that school on this board, so I won't bother with the details.) Just wanted to make the point that I do think the kids seemed quite engaged in their studies and excited everywhere I toured, public and private.

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  36. I'm a mostly happy public school parent, waiting hear about the possibilty to enter our one first choice independent school for second grade. When public school is working well, I feel like it is a great deal. I love the price (free) and the great stuff that comes from the mix of parent participation and some great teachers.

    Other times, it feels like a a lot of worksheets, waiting and not-nurturing-enough approaches to kids. I don't feel as confident about some future grade teachers.

    So if we get the chance to go to our first choice independent, we will likely go, at significant financial sacrifice. Will it be worth it? I seems impossible to know.

    The combination of lots of "choice" in SF, and very limited access to those choices creates a constant questioning in me as to whether what we have is good enough. I see this in other families, and I think it is a very unfortunate result of the system.

    So I'm waiting for March 15th, and hoping the ultimate right thing happens, whatever that is. Good luck to all of you.

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    1. Did you end up getting in and deciding to switch? If so, can you tell us what school you were hoping for?

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