Lately, I’ve heard too many stories from parents who are struggling with a sinister trend in public schools that seems to be growing at an alarming rate. At the core of the problem, money and a seeming lack of humanity. So I decided to share a few of those stories. I’ve thought about doing so for a while. I’ve gotten permission to share them but to leave the names out because those families fear reprisal in some way. Imagine that. Here’s a story that should make us all deeply concerned.
Student A: This is a story about a struggling middle-class family where in both parents work jobs that are at odd hours so that they could “be there” for their two children. Their first child, we’ll call Student A.
SA’s parents began reading to SA even before SA was born. Naturally, SA developed a love of reading and was quite advanced by the time SA entered pre-school. This allowed SA to be placed in an excellent magnet school. Expectations were high that SA would have a wonderful education experience and would soar. SA loved the school, the teachers and learning. The teachers had every resource and support available to them. They were allowed to be creative and classes were small.
The dream turned into a nightmare when SA lost their seat at the magnet school once they entered first grade because that’s when the lottery system kicks in. SA, a minority in an urban center where the school was located, lost their seat to a minority from a wealthier town to comply with a court finding that requires schools to integrated so that all students have equal access to a quality education. Really.
So besides skewing the court ruling, imagine being that young and you’ve worked hard, excelled, got along quite well with your classmates, adored your teachers and suddenly, you are told you can’t come back.
SA was then placed in a different public school with fewer resources and larger classes. SA’s family grew from three to four and the parents moved to a larger place in a much nicer neighborhood. Sadly, their move caused SA to lose her seat in her second school. SA was placed in a school that has been on the failing list for nine (9) years. This school has no resources, the classes are overcrowded and teachers and students are left to fend for themselves.
Despite the problems at this third school, the teachers were delighted to have SA and expressed the same high expectations for SA to do well and soar.
SA’s parents did their best to supplement at home what was missing from the classroom. The parents got together with other parents and pooled their monies to help SA’s teacher obtain some critically needed supplies, like paper. The parents became involved in the school’s governance board and the PTO and encouraged other parents to do likewise. These parents took an active role in how their children were performing, or not, sought out ways they could help. They also made the mistake of speaking up when something wasn’t going right.
For example, at a time when students didn’t have books and teachers were sorely in need of supplies, SA’s school administrators set aside several thousand dollars to rent amusement park rides for a special outdoor day at the school. The parents argued that the same funds could supply a significant number of students with Kindles a deep discount, which would be a win for both the students and the teachers. They also offered other suggestions such as use the money to give the teachers what they need to do their job.
The suggestions were not only shot down, they were frowned upon. And SA’s parents began getting a lot of flack for insisting that funds be better spent and most especially for speaking out about the inequities of the lottery system.
After a couple of years of getting nowhere, SA’s parents began actively seeking a scholarship and placement for SA in a private school. Because SA’s grades continued to soar, she tested quite well and won a scholarship to a private school that welcomed parents’ participation, has small class sizes, smart boards, Kindles and more. All that was needed were SA’s records and a final evaluation of SA’s performance during the last year at public school.
Over the next four months, the parents and the private school sent repeated requests to the public school for SA’s records and an evaluation but received no response. The public school’s failure to submit the records resulted in SA loosing their scholarship. The grandparents and the parents’ church community stepped in and secured the funds necessary to pay for the first year of SA’s tuition.
On the day of the admittance interview, SA’s parents were quite excited about the new school and relieved that the private school had finally gotten SA’s records and evaluation from the public school. Still a little apprehensive, they chose to bring with them copies of SA’s tests, some written work and report cards showing SA’s high grades and glowing remarks from their teachers just in case the public school did not include them in the packet.
It was a good thing they did that. When the administrator of the private school read the evaluation written by the public school, it was completely opposite of what was written on SA’s report cards and work product. In fact, according to the public school, SA was an average student with average grades and not expected to do well at all.
The other stories that I have heard are similar.
Student B is an “A” student with exceptional skills on all levels, starting before entering any formal learning expeprience. When Student B was graduating from sixth grade, SB’s principal contacted the parents at the end of the school year and said they were recommending Student B for a special scholarship to a prestigious prep school.
Everyone in the family was excited. Student B attended a welcome day with other students who were accepted to this prep school and all was well. All that was needed was Student B’s record and an evaluation. Because the request from the elementary school came so late, there was no funding for SB at the private school. But the private school was excited about having SB and said they would reserve a seat for the next year when they were sure to have funding.
In the meantime, SB went to a magnet middle school who almost outright refused to turn over SB’s records. I have to mention that like Student A’s parents, SB’s parents got involved at the school. Like Student A’s parents, the school was unhappy with that involvement.After unsuccessfully, over six months, getting the middle school to send SB’s records to the private school, the private school asked if they could at least fill out the four-page questionnaire that inquired mainly for SB’s grades over the past year and a quick mention of what SB was like as a student overall.
The middle school did not comply. In fact, SB’s parents had to pick up the evaluation papers from the public middle school and hand-carry them to the private school with only moments to spare before the submission deadline.
What the private school found is unforgivable. When the private school administrator opened the evaluation form, someone had spilled what appeared to be coffee all over the questionnaire. Only one page was filled out; the rest were blank except the coffee stains. Moreover, what was written about SB as an overall student didn’t match what was on SB’s report cards or what SB’s teachers had to say about SB to the parents. The unthinkable happened to SB. This student lost both the scholarship and acceptance to the private school.
For both Student A and B, the misrepresentations written on their records will remain unless they get them removed, legally. I need not go into what that entails for struggling families who barely have the resources to support themselves in a struggling economy.
So what would cause reasonable, professional, intelligent, degree-ed and well-educated men and women to do something like this? Is it because keeping a student with high grades keeps the school’s test scores up? Is it because keeping a student within the public school system means keeping the funding that comes to the school system; especially federal funds? Lose the child, lose the money.
I’m all for public schools. I know a great deal of excellent teachers and administrators who go out on a limb everyday on behalf of their students; who spend their own money to get desperately needed resources. I don’t know of anyone who would engage in this kind of behavior.
My first inclination when I hear stories like this is to immediately demand that those responsible be held accountable to the fullest extend of the law. But that’s not enough. We have to change the system. That’s a tall order but a necessary one. While we seek the best ways to educate our children, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to any problem that arises. We have to build a sustainable system wherein such activity has no place to emerge or grow.
In the meantime, I urge every parent to exercise their legal rights and get their child’s record and review it. Make copies of all report cards, written reports and papers and save them; clearly, you’ll need them.
- Who Owns the Public Schools? (dianeravitch.net)
- Nearly 40% Of Chicago Public School Teachers Send Their Kids To Private Schools (conservativebyte.com)
- Charter Schools and Magnet Schools (dianeravitch.net)
- School voucher proposals raise concerns (mysanantonio.com)
- Young, Gifted, and Neglected (educationnext.org)