Checking up on your child's school
It's easy to hyper-focus on how the kids are doing in school and to lose all sight of how the school is serving the kids. Is your child's school making the grade? How can you tell? And what can you do?
Somewhere between homework, projects, field trips, and book orders, your kids are trying to eke out an education. Sure, you ask every day how school was, and you get the ever-helpful "fine" in response. And you go to parent-teacher conferences and show up for the science fair, but how much do you really know about what your kids are learning?
You see report cards, but even if your child brings home straight As, does that really tell you anything? Not always. That perfect report card may be a source of family pride, but if every kid in the class has the same one, maybe the curriculum isn't up to par. On the other hand, a less-than-stellar record might also be the result of poor teaching or inadequate supplies. Put your own education to good use: get out your thinking cap and figure out what's going on.
Assess the situationNo matter where your child goes to school, you need to get involved. Talk to other parents and find out how they feel about the level of instruction, the quality of education, and how the kids measure up. Don't base your opinions solely on theirs, but use the information you learn to guide you.
Ask your kids if they feel challenged or bored. Ask how others did on tests. Ask about the best and worst teachers, and get specifics. Yes, it is incredibly frustrating to get answers from teens. But it's also very important. If you can't talk to them about something as basic as school, how will you possibly know about other issues they're dealing with, like cigarettes, drugs, and even sex?
Talk to the school. Ask individual teachers and administrators about curricula. How are they determined? How have students traditionally fared on standardized tests? True, standardized tests are not without their own issues, but the more information you can get, the better.
Do your researchHead to the library or the local bookstore and start reading everything you can about education. Some books, such as the How is My Nth Grader Doing in School? Series offer assessments that can help you evaluate your child. Others will help you understand what an ideal curriculum should include.
Your research librarian can also help you find statistics for your school district and state that can help you figure out how your child's school is ranked and what standards it meets.
Take actionIf you're uncertain about the quality of your child's education, it's important to act. Share your concerns with teachers and administrators in writing. Talk to other parents. Make suggestions.
Your child may qualify to attend an area magnet school, a public school with an especially strong program in a specific area, such as music or science. You might choose to supplement the school day with an hour or two of independent research, courses at your local community college, or online learning. You might even ultimately decide that homeschooling is the best option for your child.
Stay involvedOnce you've made a choice, remember that you still need to follow up on that choice and ensure that your child is getting the best possible education. By keeping in regular contact with your child's educators, you can demonstrate your commitment and continue to work in your child's best interest.