It’s not about charter schools. While I used to be firmly anti-charter schools, I have come to change my mind over the years. Vesia Hawkins, in particular, has persuaded me that for students who are frequently marginalized and under served by traditional public schools, charters are an important choice. For example, “only 17.5% of Black/Hispanic/Native American students read at grade level,” but minority students who attend charter schools focused on their success do better on test scores.
And though I used to be firmly anti-test, I have become persuaded that we cannot ignore them. Even though researchers can predict test scores solely on parental socio-economic status, regardless of educational quality, with the exception being the very worst schools, we cannot pretend these tests don’t matter. To quote Jasmine Lane, “Only those that have never had to worry about passing standardized exams have the privilege to say that tests don’t matter.” So yes, I test my children.
I happen to think that our local public schools get quite a bit right, and are actually doing a very good job in many senses that the general public tended to ignore pre-COVID. For example, they provide medical and dental care, vision checkups, two hot meals a day, clothing for children in need, weekend food for parents who can’t afford to feed their children, referrals to social service agencies for the homeless, etc. These are all real, tangible benefits that our public schools provide and I think they’re critical family supports.
My choices are not because of ethnicity or race. Charter schools aren’t available in West Virginia, and neither is school choice—you get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit. My local public school is 92% white. West Virginia as a whole is 93% white. It’s not like my children’s diversity exposure would increase by attending my local public school. But, through their many extracurricular activities pre-COVID, they met children from all income tax brackets, from those whose parents can’t afford to buy their children lunch every day to those who hire full time, live-in language tutors. Because I have more flexible time as a homeschooling parent, I have led clubs and other extracurricular activities for all children.
My choice doesn’t impact what’s going on in the local public school. I still pay taxes (60% of my local property tax are levies for the district), and the fact that my children don’t attend means that more levy money is available for the local children because it’s not spent on my children. Furthermore, 25% of the local district’s funding comes through excess levies. That’s $135 per student, or $3200 per class that isn’t spent on homeschooled children in my district and stays in the district even though my children don’t attend.
Yes, the local district loses state aid on a per-child basis, but the statewide pot is enlarged for others because my children (and 20,000+ other children in West Virginia) aren’t getting a share. Only 12% percent of WV school funding is from federal public education funds. That means that West Virginia saves $247,456,000 a year by not educating homeschooled children, or almost a thousand dollars per student—nearly 8.5% of the total per student funding. I don’t think many parents would appreciate their district’s budget being cut by 8.5% if homeschooled students moved back into public schools wholesale.
Parents of gifted children, especially gifted children with other exceptionalities to compound the issue, seek out private schools and many, many of them home school because public schools are not cutting it, after years of begging and pleading and IEP meetings. Often these children have significant mental health issues because of years of their needs not being met. I’m not willing to let that happen to my children.
I’m morally obligated to do my best by my children because they are my children. They are totally dependent on me for their food, shelter, clothing, and every other support in their life—and I made them that way by choosing to have them. I have to see my commitment through. If providing them with adequate support means providing them with more than my local public schools can provide, then that’s what I’ll do. Making sure our children have a better life than ours is part of what the US is all about.
Yes, my children would probably slide on through in public school, because as a middle class parent in the modern USA, I practice High Intensity Parenting. We make sure our children do the schoolwork that is assigned, and then we go beyond by doing after schooling with our children, signing them up for academic camps, theater classes, sports clinics and enriching their education in the ways that public schools are not. Nearly 70% of West Virginia fourth graders are not proficient readers. I want my children to be proficient readers and I will teach them myself if that’s what I have to do.
I would argue that parents of color who can afford it do the same thing—time spent on parenting has increased across all social classes in the United States, but middle and upper middle class parents spend 7 times as much on their children’s extracurricular activities as lower SES parents. If I’m going to spend money on a field trip, I don’t feel guilty about making sure it’s a field trip that my children actually have a real interest in—and those public school field trips are among the endangered classroom “extras”( like end-of-year performances) that we have deemed unnecessary.
It’s not that parents are adjusting the expectations of the local public schools—those are set in stone at the state and federal level. At least in West Virginia, school administrators, teachers, and parents don’t have much say in how schools are set up, no matter their SES. What about the general expectations of society for the local public medical system? We’ve had so much success changing that at the local level, haven’t we? Oh, wait, that’s not true. Why would it be true for schools? These are systematic issues, bigger than any one parent, teacher, or principal.
I was wildly underprepared for college level courses by my local public high school, but it wasn’t a bad school. They did the best they could with what they had for the largest number of children. My teachers were genuinely caring human beings, for the most part. But sometimes, the best that you can do just isn’t good enough. My choices were limited by my preparation, and I want my children to be able to make whatever choice they want.
Moreover, my children’s attendance at their local public school wouldn’t make it better for the children suffering in the bad public schools—and yes, they do exist, albeit not in my local district. My local district is one of the best in the state. Refusing to eat my dinner does not make anything better for a child hungry elsewhere in the world.
That said, my children may not deserve better than another child, but since I made the choice to bring them into this world, they deserves the very best that I can offer them. It’s my moral duty as a parent to do my best for them, and that means giving them every advantage I can provide—which does include a sense of humility about their privilege. I’m not ashamed of doing my best for my children, and I don’t think any other parent with a functioning moral compass would be either. In the end, my children are not sacrifices to an ineffable public good.