How to get the Right Education for your child
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How to Get the Right Education for your Child
by Malkin Dare
Let’s imagine you’re the parent of a nine-year-old boy named Jack. He is now beginning grade 4 at his neighbourhood school, John Dewey Public School. Starting from when Jack was in grade 2, it has become very obvious that things are not going well for him. Not only has Jack not learned to read, but also he is starting to get a reputation as a “behaviour problem”. Things are going from bad to worse, and none of your discussions with Jack’s teachers has made the slightest bit of difference.
The time for waiting and hoping is over!
- Jack is not going to miraculously “bloom” one of these fine days.
- His school is not going to experience a conversion on the road to Damascus.
- Aliens will not suddenly descend from a flying saucer and give him a brain implant.
The sooner you take action, the easier the job will be. So, what to do? Of course, your child’s name is probably not Jack, and his or her problems are probably not identical to Jack’s, but the general approach is the same. I have divided your options into three main categories.
- Working with the System
- Supplementing the System
- Opting Out of the System
Working With the System
In Chapters 2 and 3, I go over how to approach educators to ask for help. Most parents start with this option, and some do get satisfaction. And of course if you do manage to get help for Jack from the system, it won’t cost you a penny. So, it’s a sensible place to begin.
Be warned, however, that many parents get nowhere with this approach. For one whole year, Maureen Somers asked in vain for help for her son Adam. At last, along with other parents of children in the same class, she managed to get them tested by the school board. It turned out that 12 out of 21 grade 4 students were reading at a mid-grade 2 level or worse. When the parents asked for direct, sequential instruction and remedial help for their children, the resource teacher (whose own children were in a private school) told them they would “have to go out and pay for it”. Many did. Ms Somers’ three children and many of Adam’s former classmates left for other schools, including private and home schools.
I relate this story not to frighten you, but rather to warn you that you must not blindly put your faith in the system. I have heard thousands of such stories. While every story is different in its details, each testifies to an utter lack of responsiveness on the part of educators.
Of course, it is terribly unjust and wrong that schools can get away with turning their backs on parents like this. But much worse is the fact that parents can (and often do) waste years trying to arrange to get improved service from their child’s public school, precious years which their children can’t afford to lose.
Barb Brown first realized that her son was in trouble when Trevor was in grade 4. She immediately began a one-woman campaign to get help for him, an odyssey which was going on eight years later when Trevor reached grade 12 still reading at an elementary school level. In all that time, only one school official had ever even acknowledged that he was at risk, while remedial teaching was never provided by the school system. Finally, Mrs. Brown in desperation arranged for him to be tutored by a retired teacher who lived on her street. According to the tutor, Trevor had the ability – he had just never been taught.
Mrs. Brown’s case, and thousands of similar cases, has convinced me that parents should never waste much time trying to change individual teachers’ programs. It may be the cheapest choice, but so is trying to drain a swamp with a teaspoon. If you do choose to persist with the local school however, be prepared to praise anything good that happens in school, to be constructive and direct in asking for what you want, and to do much of the work at home yourself.
My advice is – ask your child’s teacher for reasonable changes but, if you don’t start seeing results right away, start examining your options. Jack will never get another crack at grade 4, and he is already three years behind schedule.
Since it is almost impossible to change teachers in the middle of the year, your first option is to try to find a better public school. Schools vary a great deal and good ones do exist, although they are scarcer than underpaid superintendents. Fortunately for you, school rankings have recently become available, and I will show you where they are on the Internet.
Identifying a good public school is still only half the battle. There can be a lot of red tape involved in transfers since there are plenty of administrators who believe students should attend only their assigned schools. A further difficulty is that good schools are often bursting at the seams. You must also bear in mind that it is always up to parents to provide any necessary transportation to the new school. Nevertheless, sometimes all the hassle is worth it, and I give advice on how to tackle this project. There is another exciting option called “charter schools” on the horizon, but as yet the only Canadian province to allow these schools is Alberta.
If it turns out that you’re stuck with the John Dewey Public School, there are possibilities beyond the classroom teacher. For people who a) cannot afford to pay for help, b) are extremely stubborn, or c) like long odds, I include information on the appeal route. Although most of these activities are usually time-consuming and frustrating, I give advice on such things as meeting with school officials, obtaining curriculum, arranging testing, interpreting report cards, handling legal issues, accessing student records, and requesting particular teachers.
Another option is to work with other like-minded parents at the school to try to make school-wide improvements. Because some people don’t seem to mind spending many boring and unproductive hours sitting on school councils, I have provided some ideas on how you might try to make your experience of some value. Because most of these councils are advisory (as opposed to decision-making) bodies, they are usually an exercise in frustration.
Working with the system generally pays off right away – or not at all. If you’re getting nowhere fast, I urge you to turn to the next category, and think about supplementing the system.
Supplementing the System In Chapters 4 and 5, I talk about how you can ensure that Jack gets the teaching he needs. This option is so widespread that it has been given its own name--after-schooling. A survey of the parents at Whitney Public School in Toronto revealed that an incredible 45% of parents had taught their children at home "over and above normal parental assistance with homework." In addition, 29% had paid for extra help from a tutor.
In most cases, after-schooling helps a lot. Sometimes, it is the life-jacket which makes the difference between staying afloat and sinking. Of course, after-schooling is not without its drawbacks:
- It can get expensive, often beyond the range of the average pocketbook.
- The necessary teaching takes place after school, on weekends and in the summer, times when the children should be at leisure.
- The kids are often uncooperative, and sometimes your extra "homework" sets the stage for family friction.
Whether you plan to teach Jack yourself or pay someone else to do it, I provide information to guide you through the labyrinth. If the former, I tell you how to get started and I list recommended texts and workbooks, along with sources. For the latter, I outline and evaluate the options, ranging from the retired teacher next door, through Kumon, through professional remedial teachers, through remedial services. I also give information on how to go about getting Jack tested. after-schooling services are booming, as a glance at the "Schools" section of your Yellow Pages will attest.
If you have already tried both working with the system and supplementing the system and it's still not enough for Jack, you may be ready to opt out of the system completely.
Opting Out of the System
In Chapters 6 and 7, I describe the remaining two possibilities. Those who flee public education can choose between private schools and home-schooling.
For those who can afford them, private schools may be the answer. But there are no guarantees. Standards vary widely, as the Joneses (not their real name) found when they transferred their children from one private school to another. Not only did the Jones children find the work extremely easy and unchallenging at their new school, but also their parents were appalled by how rough some of the teachers were. The Joneses became so dissatisfied they withdrew their children from the school. And then – the school refused to refund their $20,000 tuition fee! Only the threat of legal action pried their money loose – although $1,000 was held back.
The moral of the story? Do not assume that a school has high standards just because it is a private school. I give guidance on how to seek out and evaluate good private schools.
If you don’t have several thousand dollars lying around or if you can’t find a good private school, you may wish to try home-schooling. Numbers are really hard to come by (since many home-schoolers don’t register with their local school board), but the numbers are significant. The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents estimates that 1-2% of Canadian children are home-schooled (for a total of approximately 60,000).
Home-schooling is not as daunting as you might think. For one thing, there is a vast supply of teaching materials available. For another, home-schoolers tend to be exceptionally well-organized, with local support networks everywhere. And lastly, home-schooled kids can soak up learning at an incredible rate. Most spend two or three hours a day on academics, yet cover the year’s work with no difficulty whatsoever.
Barb Benson took her grade 5 daughter out of the public system at Christmas. At that time, Blair was unable to add one-digit numbers without counting on her fingers. She read grade-level material very slowly, with an average of one or two mistakes per sentence. By June of the same year, Blair was reading adult-level material with no mistakes. In math, she could do rapid calculation, fractions, decimals, and the beginnings of algebra. Blair had even memorized the metric and imperial tables and could convert from one to the other.
There is a huge amount of resources and networking available in the home-schooling community, and I provide a start-up kit on how to plug in to this vast support system.
So there you have it. Those are the choices. I wish I could tell you about other options – like how to sneak a common sense pill into educators’ thermoses. Unfortunately however, science has not yet found a cure for progressive teaching methods.
If you’ve tried working with the system, supplementing the system, and opting out of the system, and you still haven’t had enough, there’s always trying to change the system. Those of you who refuse to accept the status quo should check out the Society for Quality Education, an organization which is dedicated to the significant improvement of student learning in Canada. More on this in my last chapter. For the time being however, you must choose among these somewhat limited options.