Assessing School Options
The last few decades have produced many changes in the scope and landscape of modern education. Perhaps one of the biggest changes has been the evolution of options from which families can now choose, providing tailored opportunities that can fit more precisely with the individual needs of families. Choosing which option to pursue, however, can be an overwhelming process for families, and not all options are created equally.
Traditional Classrooms and Public Schools
These are still the mainstay sources of education in America. Governmentally funded and nationally regulated, public schools provide educations to children from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, across all landscapes of neighborhoods. Recent debate has stirred on the topic of paying teachers for performance, one of the ideas discussed in efforts to improve the quality of classrooms in public schools. Opponents argue that the diversity in classrooms is a variable that cannot be overcome by even the best teachers, and that it is unfair to punish teachers for having a classroom full of children who are struggling with things like divorce, illness, or social struggles, which might make academic progress more difficult. There is no doubt that public schools serve a need in our country, but there are varying opinions about which schools are making the grade.
Even though many people may not realize it, charter schools are public schools, with different budgeting and managing strategies. In 1992 the first charter school opened in St. Paul, MN, paving the way for more than 5,000 of them to open across the country in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools must raise larger portions of their funding, often through business sponsors, and the schools must prove their success rates in order to stay in business. Charter schools operate with 3 basic elements of consideration: choice, accountability, and freedom. These 3 elements are intertwined, combining the choice that parents pursue for their children’s education with the freedom schools employ to develop their specific strategies and plans, and adding in the accountability that students have for their studies as well as the school’s managerial skills.
This term often conjures up images of school uniforms and stuffy hallways of ancient buildings. Sometimes this is an accurate portrayal, but there are many private schools that don’t appear too different from public schools, especially those public schools in wealthier neighborhoods. Besides the extra expenses and admission guidelines for students, private schools often also provide faith based instruction, a draw for many families. Within the walls of private schools you can also find teachers who are paid higher salaries, often invoking higher levels of teaching, another benefit for students. While the academic benefits many times give students real advantages in future pursuits, the costs associated and the rigors of private school life, especially boarding schools, are out of the reach of many average students.
The Montessori approach to education was first developed in 1907 in Italy by Dr. Maria Montessori, and has spread to the United States and beyond. This approach is perhaps most well-known for the framework where children are grouped in ages of 3 year spans, where children are encouraged to learn from each other perhaps more than they are from a teacher leading the classroom. This approach often includes larger classrooms, but supporters of this method feel that there is less emphasis on singularly directed classroom activities by one teacher and instead shared learning experiences that incorporate all of the 5 senses of children. Repetitive busy work homework is not assigned, and shorter, more meaningful homework assignments are typically only given when they are truly valuable to the classroom experience, and not done until the upper grade levels.
Perhaps one of the most innovative changes in academics in recent years, online education is a recent phenomenon that is taking the academic world by the horns. Even kindergartners can attend virtual classes, led by public school teachers who connect with them every day. Older kids are turning to online education options for reasons ranging from bullying, to academic choices, to travelling and work issues. Virtual schools can be either public or private and range from the earliest years through college. Some brick and mortar schools are incorporating virtual education by offering half-days to students where classes are attended online for a portion of the day, and the other part of the day is spent at a central school location. These bridges in education give students the social interaction that some say is lacking in a virtual education, while offering reduced building expenses and meeting the demands of modern families.
As the home school mother of 4 children who has always been on this road with her children (my oldest is 15 and dual enrolling in college this year), I can speak personally to the benefits and challenges of this educational option. The product of a public school system myself, and the daughter of two teachers (1 public high school, 1 public university), I can attest to the strengths and opportunities that public schools offer, especially in light of the tools with which they are provided. However, I always just wanted something more for my children, and didn’t want to play what I felt was a game of chance with their education and development, hoping they got the right teacher each year. Home schooling is not for everyone, certainly not the faint of heart. It does, however, provide parents with the amazing possibilities of growing with their children, providing them with the tools and experiences to develop into truly independent thinkers and doers. There are no shortages of curriculum offerings for parents, and the styles and methods of home schooling are as various as the families who choose to pursue it.
There is no typical school day, but families often strike a balance between work, household responsibilities, and academic life, combining all three of these into a melding pot of options. The kids are socialized, often in ways that parents of public schools students tell me they wish their kids were. They are socially conscious, morally responsible, and less likely to experiment with risky behaviors. Studies show that home school students often excel academically, and go on to lead successful and full lives.
Successful and full lives. Isn’t that at the core of what parents want for their children and their education? As technology, the needs of families, and the interconnections of societies are developed even further, the paths to academic and life sucess are becoming more varied. Parents no longer just choose between private and public schools, but are instead faced with many directions in which they can lead their children. Whichever approach is chosen, it is imperative that parents lead with conviction and confidence, supporting their children and their activities, remaining involved in their studies, their pursuits, and their lives.