Picking an elementary school can be terrifying. As parents we are concerned for our children. We want our child to love learning, to be around good friends. to avoid bullying, to get good grades, and to be ready for advanced schooling. We are worried about the school our child attends because we’re scared their future depends on it. But are our worries directed at the right source? Does a specific elementary school actually determine our child’s future? Are some schools actually better than others?
What Research Shows
I have written several articles looking at what research shows about academic achievement, how preschool effects future test scores, and what greatschools.org ratings actually mean. Each of these articles were supported by a key fact: academic success is more influenced in the home than in the actual classroom.
Think about that for a second. What parents do in their home is more important than what happens at school. It doesn’t mean that school isn’t important. Or that we should just start letting kids stay home all day. What it means is that when children have their needs met and have a supportive home life, they will be able to learn. If parents are giving their child food, shelter, and love, they will learn skills that lead to success.
And guess what? This is even the case with students who have disabilities. Parents need to stop putting kids into a “this is what success looks like” box. Parents in the United States love to do this. We love to say if my student has all A’s, or if they get into Harvard, or if they ace their SAT test, or they… (you fill in the blank with your idea of success). But those markers don’t actually measure the ability a child has to be successful in life and happy. Just look at all the students who drop out of college, or college graduates who have no idea how to land a job.
Children who are successful in adulthood are children who know how to persevere when things are hard, figure out how to learn new things, and can navigate working with others.
As a quick side note, I understand that no amount of extra love and support from a parent is going to magically cure a student with a severe disability. But it will create a situation where that child has the best chance to grow.
“But the schools in ‘that’ neighborhood have an F on the great schools rating.”
Look at their actual scores. Refer back to my great schools article for more insight on what the score actually means. Since home life has a larger impact on academic achievement than teachers, teachers can be really effective and still have students with failing state test scores.
“But everyone I talk to says this school is bad.”
Do they have a degree in education? Where are they getting their information? GreatSchools.org? Refer back to the last thought.
“But all the students in that school are _____(race)_____.”
If you are brave enough to actually admit this scares you, good for you. That is a really awesome first step. Now admit that it is a racist thought process. You’re not a bad person, but this needs to change. First, I would try to really think about why that is upsetting to you. Then go see if you find any facts that actually prove your fears true. Read this too. Oh, and this post on how to change racist thoughts.
“My child will be exposed to worse behaviors.”
Will they? Check out the suspension rates on great school ratings. Does the school you’re looking at actually have more discipline issues that another school. Also kids are going to talk about sex, drugs, swearing, at any public school.
Picking A Good School
Here’s what to actually look for in a good school:
- Does the principal support the teachers or do they cow-tow to parents? This might seem to work against you as the parent, but it actually will provide better teachers for your child.
- Do the teachers stick around more than 2 years? Teachers who teach in one school for a longer period of time are going to be more effective.
Wrapping It Up
And that’s really it. Great schools are schools where the teachers and principal support each other. And great learning happens there. And if your child is cared for and supported, they will learn there too. The secret is a supportive school staff plus parents that care about their children. The bam! We have a learning machine.