Thursday, January 13, 2011


So I guess we're going to start doing it.

We had a parent-teacher conference before Christmas. I've been trying to write about it ever since, but never seem to find the time, and then the weekend before Christmas happened, which is the reason a lot of stuff I meant to do before Christmas didn't happen.

Anyway, we learned a number of things, many not surprising (our child is stubborn and likes to go her own way. Imagine our shock). But there were two things that stood out:

1. They have a two hour block of reading instruction every morning (and related, they're not supposed to have any formal playtime, but she has a good teacher who finds ways to give it to them by calling it other things). TWO HOURS of expecting five-year-olds to sit still and study the same subject, not to mention there's also math, science and social studies to cover over the course of the day. And then she gets to go home to at least another 45 minutes of homework.

2. One thing K needs to work on is that she tends to space out and fidget (gosh, I wonder why). And apparently that's fine now, but it won't fly in first grade, when apparently all six-year-olds are expected to stay on task at all times.

And perhaps the most important thing is that while K will vary on whether or not she says she likes school (usually based on whether she doesn't want to get out of bed or what sort of day she's had at school), she will very consistently say she's bored.

I don't want to make it sound like my precious genius is too good for public school. My concern is that 1) this curriculum is seriously developmentally inappropriate for five-year-olds and 2) if K's only good coping method for dealing with what must be a huge amount of repetition during the school day will start getting her in trouble, we have a real potential problem. And while moving might get her into a school with less crowding and better test scores, the curriculum is going to be the same.

So our conclusion is that while our preference for K's education is school, the Philadelphia Public Schools aren't it.* So after a lot of talking and thinking and discussing this with just about everyone we visited over Christmas, a couple weeks ago, we took a deep breath and pulled the trigger in the form of applying to Commonwealth Connections Academy, an online charter school. I don't feel quite prepared to come up with a curriculum myself this quickly, and truthfully, I almost always do better if I have a bit of external pressure motivating me.

There's a lot of logistics to figure out yet, ranging from what to do about my job to how to rearrange the house to how to manage several hours of schoolwork a day with an active toddler in the house. Part of me is really excited - lately, it's just so cool having a five-year-old around who gets so excited about learning - and part of me is terrified that I'll be scouting out unmarked graves in the backyard within a month. But we're really doing it.

*This is the place where I say that I don't think every public school here is terrible - there are certainly individual ones that are very good. But the conpetition for spots in charter schools, the only place we would escape the standard curriculum, is such that we would have to apply to every charter school within a five mile radius to possibly get a chance at a spot. And I'm definitely a big proponent of public schools in general. I'm the product of an excellent public school system and sometime I may treat everyone to my treatise on: Our Education System: Why It's Not That Damn Bad.

I'm also conflicted about leaving the public school system, since I generally feel it's not going to get better if people abandon it. By withdrawing my child, I'm also removing potentially involved parents, the influence and good test scores a good student provides, and perhaps most importantly, the funding that K provides. I mean, it's not like the cost of the facilities or teachers will change if K leaves, so the money they're losing is a lot more than what they would save. I generally feel that homeschooling parents probably should do something to make up for what they're taking out of the system. Fortunately, I think we have that more than taken care of by choosing to be underpaid civil servants in the public library system. We both provide for the education system all the time. But I've said more than once that it's not fair to make my child my agent of social change, and my primary responsibility is to prepare her for adult life in the best way I can.

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