Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pulling our kids out of California public schools

This post is a little personal, but it does speak to a serious issue with the Valley and larger California economy - the quality of public schools. The problems are much more than funding, although current budget cuts are making the problems worse.

My wife and I just made a difficult decision to move our children to private school, our youngest will move next year and our oldest will stick with her public school through 8th grade and move when she starts high school. This was a very tough decision as we have always felt strongly about community, public schools and my wife is a former public school teacher and is the daughter of public school teachers. Finding the extra cash for tuition isn't going to be easy either.
I will not name the schools my kids currently attend, but it is a generally well-regarded school district. Based on our conversations with folks, the problems we have encountered are fairly typical of California schools. There are a number of issues, but the most important for us have been low standards and off-loading due to overly rigid enforcement of class size limits.

Low Standards. I am amazed at how easy it is to earn an A+. More than grading standards, the curriculum and reading lists are very weak. We really feel California standards are a solid year behind what we left in Maryland, and almost 2 years behind what our kids were actually doing because they do much less to differentiate instruction and assignments here. Our kids basically repeated 6th and 3rd grade and were bored to death. Most of my daughter's 7th grade reading assignments are things she read in 5th grade in Maryland.

Off-loading the new kids. Perhaps our experience has been exceptionally bad, but I have heard from others about how virtually all newcomers to California school districts are "off-loaded" to other schools. This is an absolutely terrible thing to do to new children and families when they move to a community, and it seems to be a common "welcome to California" experience.

Two years ago, my oldest daughter went through a nightmare experience being off-loaded to a school that was an hour bus ride away because she put the 6th grade class 1 student over the limit in the teacher's union contract. It was a nightmare, and we ended up pulling her out and home-schooling her for 6th grade.

Now it is my youngest daughter's turn. Due to the budget cuts, teacher layoffs, and increasing class size; we learned two weeks ago that our 3rd grader was being off-loaded for 4th grade. This was the final disapointment that made us decide to opt for private school.

Small classes are desirable, but not everything. Elementary class sizes are small in California, but I feel like too much has been given up to acheive those class sizes.

There have been other disapointments with the schools (virtually no art, music, foreign language before high school; little differentiated instruction, disgusting lunches; no lockers; too many videos in class, etc., etc.), but I will stop rambling. We love everything about our move to California, except for the schools.

Improving public education is a major economic challenge for the state. It is more than just workforce development, it is also a critical quality-of-life issue if we are going to attract and retain high-skill employers and employees who care a lot about the education of their own kids.


  1. I'm afraid your sad post is being recapitulated again and again, and not just in California, either. Both of my parents went to public school, and one of my grandparents became the first person in his family to learn to read and write because of public schools. He had to go to work when he was 14, but had learned to love books, and always remembered his teachers fondly.
    The usual arguments (good/bad teachers' union, taxes too high/low, good/bad standardized tests, and so forth) abound. But one thing I don't hear about is parental responsibility. Today, schools frequently serve as the primary food source for children, as well as day-care centers. Parents, when they do come home, lie stupefied before televisions, and there is not a book in the house. A private school tends to be a community of people who are willing to sacrifice for their children, and who value school as something more than a legal requirement and source of calories for Junior.

  2. Yes, the conditions you describe are not just problems in California.

    In our case, the local parents are generally responsible - it is considered a "good" district. However, we are surprised by their generally low expectations for schools. I feel like a snob talking to them, but they need to wake up and realize that they are falling behind the competition - both in the U.S. and internationally. And as I said, it is much more a matter of expectations and standards than money or class sizes.