When you have kids it’s like someone transplants a new chip into your brain (and heart). All of a sudden you are a protector and dreamer, and an untrained life coach.
As someone who has invested all of my professional energy into education I thought school and my own kids would be easy.
The universe laughed at me.
What the universe gave me was creative, curious, loving, and big thinking kids. Kids that live and breathe their membership in Generation Alpha.
Then the universe gave me schools that are safe, clean, loving, and sadly stuck in the world of a GenXer. Great schools and great scores, but not capturing the curiosity of my Generation Alpha kids.
The universe is getting a good chuckle out of my life as a parent.
Parenting is hard stuff and it’s no lie when I say that even if you have a deep well of knowledge and understanding of education, when it’s your own kid you feel pretty darn helpless.
So when it comes to choosing a school for your kid what should we expect?
Faced with a pretty tough decision about school choice I took off my “sometimes emotional mom-hat” and looked at it from the researcher/educator/advocate lens.
So I made myself a list of the things that research on learning, education, systems change, and “kids today” tells us about what we should expect from our schools.
I present to you, the list, with hopes that maybe my professional brain might help another parenting heart (as I attempt to make sense of my own conundrum and my quest to identify schools that are ready for my kids).
- Start with some real data. By real I mean this: data from the National Center for Educational Statistics. here you will find enrollment trends, ethnicity counts, and free and reduced lunch participation. Word to the wise: diversity in economics and ethnicity is a good thing for our kids, they will grow up in a world where they must understand the value of everyone regardless of the color of their skin or the brand of shoes the sport. Choose your school wisely, and if it appears that the district is pushing all kids of color into one school… huge red flag.
- Look at who is leaving. Right now 5.7 million kids attend non-public school. Further, 2.3 million kids have opted out of public education to be home schooled. Many states publish statistics on district and school transfers (often referred to as mobility). Here is Colorado’s for an example. Pay careful attention to the number of gifted and talented kids that leave; it may be a sign that innovation and personalization of learning aren’t happening. If kids are leaving in larger numbers (large number would mean enough to fill a few classrooms in a smaller district ir enough to fill an elementary school in larger districts)… red flag.
- Do a Google Search for something beyond reviews. Look for news articles; real news articles. Click “news” in your search results to see the actual news stories about the district and the school. Is it all sports and test scores? Thats a little “blah” for 2019 so keep looking. If you are seeing a focus on the sports alone, the politics and behavior of adults and kids equitable access to great learninh that should be (say it with me now)… a red flag.
- Look for vision and strategic planning at the district level. We just conducted an analysis of schools in two states and preliminary data suggests that schools with publicly facing visions and strategic plans had fewer students per capata leaving, more steady enrollments, and more visible teacher professional learning. If there is no vision or strategic plan: chances are district leaders are focused on managing rather than leading education. That friends is a red flag.
- Speaking of teacher professional learning. We have to feed our teachers professional curiosity if we expect them to do the same for our kids. So get on the district site and look for things like micro-credentials, edCamps, and individualized learning plans for teachers. No evidence of what all teachers have access to for continuous, individualized professional learning? Red flag.
- We know that social-emotional development is important to our kids. Look for a SEL commitment. I didn’t say SEL curriculum because anyone can buy a book, but not everyone can change their environment and commit. Look for evidence that the school is focused on the whole child. Look for contradictions in commitments and ask how teachers are developing the social-emotional capacities of our kids through their own instruction and ask for exampmes of how learning environments have changed to support our kids. If a building leader is unable to tell you… red flag.
- Look for a 1:1 technology initiative. Is there evidence that the district and school are committed to developing the digital fluency of our kids? Are the materials they share focused on creating digital learners accompanied by a list of apps and resources focused on math and reading/spelling preparation tools? If they aren’t financially committing to creation, production, and quality research tools for ALL of our kids K-12… huge red flag.
- Check out the non-discrimination policies. Are they fully inclusive? Are they setting our kids up to live in the diverse inclusive workforce and world of tomorrow? At a recent professional event there were gender-neutral restrooms, it’s not new and different it’s reality. How is the school or district really shaping the culture of inclusivity through policy? Note that if it doesn’t include gender, gender orientation, and sexual orientation along with race and disability… the largest red flag you have ever seen.
- Does the school or district have an apparent respect for our planet? Are there signs of outdoor learning (not just recess), recycling, and an effort to contribute to the overall wellness of our kids? Recent reports suggest that outdoor learning improves student retention and experience. How are spaces being developed to get kids outside? And where are the recycle bins? Can kids refill their water bottles and keep them at the ready all day? Don’t see any… well then red flag.
- Ask careful questions about assessment. Because we are seeing some great innovative commitments that are pulling our focus away from standardized test scores. Look for rubrics, observation tools, inter-rater reliability for any grading systems and ask how the school and/or district train teachers for assessment? If they are still just putting numbers in a book and giving assignments without any learning criteria… red flag.
- Ask to talk to teachers and visit classrooms. Are people nice? Are they welcoming? Are they nervous when an unknown person pops into their classroom? Are the environments for learning student-centered? Can students freely access materials, can they collaborate, can they sit where they want? If it looks like a classroom you would see fifteen years ago… red flag.
And that friends is it. The 11 things we as parents should be looking at — from a perspective of learning science, research on education, systems change, and “kids today.”
Notice I didn’t mention standardized test scores. That’s in part because that score really doesn’t tell you much about the school. And that conversation is outdated and boring (for everyone).
Schools are increasingly customer focused. If the adult customers (i.e., parents) are comfortable with questions from 2001; our schools will be comfortable with the answers of 2001.
I’ll give this list a try and see how we do. This parenting gig is hard stuff, but do me a favor and look to your public schools first.
They are an asset to our nation and we need to keep them growing and advancing along side the rest of us.
Call me a dreamer, but I’m positive these schools exist and are proving themselves to be “Kid Ready.”