I have always been a proud supporter of public education. I started my teaching career in 1997 and I passionately believed that if we all continued to work together, we could make the world better for our children and teach them tolerance and acceptance. I believed that the best and most innovative learning environment was the result of a great teacher with a devotion to working with children. The best place for children to learn these things was, naturally, in a public school with a diverse environment. Then in 2002, the 107th Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind Act, and everything changed. In 2003, I had my first son, and took some time away from teaching. Going back into the classroom in 2008, I still had that passion. I was visibly enthusiastic about all the ways I could help my students learn. Then my son went into first grade and I started to worry.
Watching him learn the foundation skills, I became concerned that he wasn’t really mastering anything. His reading was improving, but he was a visual learner, so that was a natural progression. Math was harder for him, the word problems were difficult. Even I had to read them twice to decode what they were asking. After No Child Left Behind, curriculum started focusing on higher level thinking skills. We suddenly had new demands on pacing and content handed down to the states from the all-knowing congress. But basic skills, like addition and subtraction facts, were not being mastered. The emphasis on fast pacing is so strong, the fundamentals are only briefly taught. One teacher I worked with told me, “I don’t have time to reteach this concept. We have to move on to the next thing in the curriculum, or I get into trouble.”
In July, we moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. My oldest child is in fourth grade (10 years old), and my youngest is in first grade (seven years old). The schools are overcrowded and the teachers look worn out. Honestly, it’s not new that they look exhausted. It has been happening every year since 2002. But when they have 30 kids to contend with, they are spread even thinner.
The research behind class size is confusing to non-education people. A Google check on “class size” will bring up a page of articles saying that it is an important factor in quality education and other articles saying that it is not a factor at all. Honestly, I don’t know why there is even a debate. Perhaps the politicians and policy makers need to pull their collective heads out of their asses. Maybe data doesn’t support the class reduction argument, but common sense does. If you are a parent and you have six children, your mental and emotional reserves are being taxed more than a parent with two children. I’m not implying that you are a shitty parent if you have six kids. I’m just saying that your mental and emotional energy is further divided. The same is true with a classroom. I’ve had classes of 15 and I’ve had classes of 32. My ability to meet the individual needs of the students was better in a class of 15, even with the inclusion of special education students. School districts are cramming as many kids as they can into classrooms and leaving common sense behind.
Every day, my older son comes home and needs his math lesson retaught. It’s not because he has a bad teacher. The pace of teaching has become a rush to complete all of the criteria that the test will cover. My youngest son tells me that it seems like he just gets started on something, and it is time to go on to something else. I’m alarmed by this because he should be learning things and mastering those skills. I don’t blame the teachers, I don’t even really blame the school district. The entire public school system in this nation has taken a wrong path. We live in the fifth largest school system in the nation, and houses are still going up all around me. I don’t have an extra $20,000 to put my kids in private school. Realistically, what are the chances of getting into a charter school in the fifth largest school district in the country? No high roller in his right mind would bet on those odds. So after supporting public education for 20 years, I am considering the vast array of options in homeschooling. I can’t help but look at the frustration on my kids’ faces and think, “There has to be something better.” We aren’t be the only ones. Many parents I know have decided to utilize the vast resources available for homeschooling.
A friend from another state said to me, “Those can’t be your only options.” I told her, “Welcome to reality.” My kids are lucky enough that we live in a state that is more supportive of homeschooling (thank you, Mormons). I’m fortunate to already have a degree in education. What keeps me up at night is wondering what will happen to the other kids being left behind in this system that has gone off the rails.