Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Beyond Public v. Private: What do we want our children to get out of school?

I’m a new blogger, but long-time reader of SFKFiles. We are a west side family with two kids. The first one is in public TK this year. We’re in the midst of looking for a kindergarten for next year; we don’t plan to keep our child at the same school. We went through the SFUSD lottery process last year, so we’re perhaps a bit less stressed than other families that are figuring it out for the first time. I grew up in a major U.S. city, and experienced both public and private education. My spouse grew up in the Bay Area, and also experienced public and private education.

Our TK choice has been interesting and really great in many ways, but ultimately not a good fit for our kid. He’s unhappy and bored, and our efforts to improve the situation through working with the teacher and school have gone nowhere. We really thought that we had found a hidden gem, but our TK experience has spurred us to research and think more deeply about what we want our kids to get out of their schools so that we can do a better job of evaluating the choices. Does anything make you feel worse than seeing your kid suffer from a bad choice you made? We could afford to have our kids go to private school, though it would be tight, and we’re not opposed to the idea, but I developed a suspicion that public v. private was a bit of a distraction from the core question: “What do we want our kids to get out of school, and which schools can do this well?”

To answer that question, I hit the books. I’ve spent the last half year or so reading new and old research on learning. I freely admit that I thought that we had it all figured out before; who doesn’t know what a good school is? You know it when you see it, right? But reading and thinking about the questions raised by these books has significantly changed my thinking about school options. The common question of public v. private came to seem like only one key question within a host of other, even bigger questions.

I’ve talked to a lot of friends and parents I’ve met at events over the last couple of years about schools. It’s become clear to me that many of us are hungry for more and better information about how to even begin to evaluate the school options in San Francisco. What are we even looking at on these tours? Hazy, anecdotal memories of our own school experiences only get us so far. So I thought that other parents might appreciate a series of blog posts about some of the books I have found most helpful, and how it has impacted my thinking, with the enormous caveat that we won’t know for quite a while whether we have applied what we learned well in our school selection, and of course that we are just one family with our own particular proclivities and priorities. No doubt many other of you have also read these books, so I look forward to hearing your takes. These are the books I plan to cover:

Building a Better Teacher, Elizabeth Green

I look forward to a discussion about how we each answer the question, “What do we want our kids to get out of school, and which schools can do this well?”

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