Friday, March 23, 2007

Hard Work and School Choice

I am blushing... first Edspresso and then Sara over at The Quick and the Ed linked to my post on choosing a school for my upcoming move to Anchorage.

Both make the excellent point that getting information on schools is difficult even for tuned in, education savvy, web literate parents like myself.

My research had me downloading data from three different websites, making two excel charts, and at one point comparing six adobe acrobat files side by side.

I had to figure out what a "scale score" is, research Alaska standards, make several phone calls to the schools and one to the math curriculum coordinator at the district, and then sort through all the data.

Even after all this, truthfully I would be hard pressed to tell you which of the six schools I considered was the "best". For every plus I found, there was a negative. Nothing was explained clearly. In the end, I am almost sorry to say that it came down to convenience.

The base schools are walking distance from base housing.

At first I felt a little guilty for choosing the schools on base, but then I realized that choice isn't an end... its a means. Just because it's there, doesn't mean I have to choose it. It serves its purpose right now. Some parents decided that the charter schools were the best option for their kids. Perhaps they lived in wrong neighborhood, perhaps the schools were closer, perhaps their philosophical differences with the neighborhood schools was just to great.

I may of chose neighborhood schools right now, but it's nice to know that the option is open for me if I need it in the future.

For now, public schools were the right choice, but it's nice to know that the charter school option is open for me if I need it at some point in the future.

Now if someone could just come up with an easier way to compare the schools, life would be grand.

Update: I am hiring Lynn Truss as my official blog editor. She rightly points out that I should watch my grammar. Of course she is right, though I suppose I could just blame the education system :)

8 comments:

rightwingprof said...

"My research had me downloading data from three different websites, making two excel charts, and at one point comparing six adobe acrobat files side by side.

I had to figure out what a "scale score" is, research Alaska standards, make several phone calls to the schools and one to the math curriculum coordinator at the district, and then sort through all the data."

Welcome to my world.

Lynne Truss ;) said...

"I may of chose"

"I would of chosen"

{{shiver}} I'm sorry - I know blogs and emails use lower standards than more formal writing. But on an education-oriented blog, couldn't you make a teeny bit more of an effort to avoid such egregious errors?

Parentalcation said...

Don't be sorry... I'm not a college graduate.. and a product of public schools.

Jim said...

"Even after all this, truthfully I would be hard pressed to tell you which of the six schools I considered was the "best". For every plus I found, there was a negative. Nothing was explained clearly. In the end, I am almost sorry to say that it came down to convenience."

if YOU cannot make an informed choice, how is Joe-Lunchbucket-with-vouchers ever going to? this has been my basic argument for why voucher plans will not succeed: that sadly, there is no such thing as a truly "informed choice" in the "education market". it's not like shopping for vegetables or toasters.

9 out of 10 times, something like convenience, neighbor recommendation, or gut feeling is going to win out. those kinds of 'market forces' are not going to lead to raised achievement levels i'm afraid.

Parentalcation said...

Jim,

There are two reasons why I couldn't easily make a choice.

1. The base schools are not typical charter schools.

2. The way data is presented.

#1 doesn't apply to Joe Public.

#2 can be fixed

I agree that many choices will be made by less than scientific methods, but its like an election. 10% of the voters determin the outcome, the rest just vote the way they have always voted.

Its those 10% that are savvy enough to get the data that will really determine the success and failure of a school.

Jim said...

eeyikes! please, no more comparisons between school success and election outcomes. that sent a chill up my spine! ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi - my first visit to your blog (well, I was interrupted earlier today and came back).

If you didn't visit the schools you were considering, then I would add that fact as the third reason you had a hard time making a choice. And it would be a big reason, if it applies in your case. You can look at all the data you want, but until you see a school on a school day -- and even have your kids visit for a day, like most private schools require -- you can't really have a good understanding of what you're getting. You could have two schools that look very similar on paper and yet are very different on the inside.

I would assume most people who are moving from one state to another have a problem really discerning which school district to move to and then which part of town to move to in order to get their kids in the "best" schools. For civilians, real estate agents play a big role in where people ultimately purchase homes and where those kids go to school.

Also, to the commenter who thinks "Joe Lunchbox" is just too dumb to figure out which school is best for his kids, please leave your disdain for the working class at the door. Parents of all socio-economic status are more than capable of deciding what's best for their children. In fact, the poor and working class are BEGGING to be allowed to make those choices. They don't have the luxury of being able to afford to leave town and find a better school district.

At the very least, even "Joe Lunchbox" can figure out when the public school down the block sucks and the private school across town doesn't. That's why many working class and poor Americans find scholarships for their children at local Catholic schools, for example.

Also, I find it fascinating that rather than insist schools clean up the way their report their data, you'd rather keep the bad reporting and use it as an excuse to block parent choice. Let's fix the bad reporting and make it easier for ALL parents to find out which schools are the best fit for their kids.

(Sorry for the rant. But the Joe Lunchbox thing was just too condescending.)

Jane said...

I had a hard time comparing schools when I was applying for jobs here in CA. You really don't know what you are getting with out a visit. The princial sets the tone for the whole school. It's worth an interview. However, I have heard such great things about base schools!