Memo to my local school board: be careful what you wish for

I recently learned that public school officials in my area sent a letter to parents of their students, asking for the names and addresses of any children they know who are not enrolled in public school. This is troubling, because the historical response of many school districts to home-schoolers is to sic social services and the police on us. Volunteers from our local home-school association checked into the matter, and were told by school officials that this information gathering is simply so they can better market their services to those of us who elect not to send our children to their facilities.

Because that’s the problem, you see: poor marketing. I recall, years ago when I lived near Detroit, being part of a focus group put together by an organization financed by the Big Three auto companies and their dealers. We were asked to assess the door features on various makes and models, including foreign cars. It had never occurred to me that door features vary greatly, but they really do. One of the American models was so poorly designed that it actually hurt your fingers to open the door. A fellow in our focus group opined that there was no difference between the American and foreign cars, that Americans were simply being deceived by clever marketing. “I don’t think,” I replied, “that a feature of automobiles ought to be pain.” He shook his head in disgust. I was deluded, you see, by fancy foreign car marketing. The Big Three just needed better advertisements.

But the thing is, most of us aren’t stupid. I’m no education theorist, but I’m not blind. The problem with our local schools isn’t poor marketing, it’s poor quality. They churn out students with poor communication skills, poor writing ability, little critical thinking competence, and virtually no grounding in math, science, logic, arts, literature, or history. If you doubt me, look at student test scores. Talk to anyone involved in college education about the quality of incoming freshmen. Talk to people who hire high-school students.

This should not be surprising, given that the education major requires one of the lowest GPA’s with which one can receive a college degree. If that’s offensive, consider what happens in those rare instances when public school teachers take the standardized tests with which their students are afflicted — considerable numbers of them fail. Even if public school teachers were grounded in actual disciplines, rather than the nebulous pseudo-discipline that is the education degree, public schools would still underperform because they operate with a one-size-fits-all, teach-to-the-lowest-common-denominator mentality. Compounding the problem is that the best teachers are not rewarded, while the deadwood keep their steady-paying gigs regardless of performance.

So thank you, local school officials, but no, we’ll be teaching our children ourselves, or contracting out the work to folks with demonstrated competence. My advice is that you be thankful that you get to keep the lion’s share of our property taxes, even when we don’t avail ourselves of your services. The last thing you want, if you think about it, is for all of us to start showing up at your school board meetings, demanding the quality we see delivered in our homes and private schools.

In other words, don’t poke the bear.


  1. wife

    Always wondered why they kvetch so. It seems to me they ought to take the free money and run.

    Having one of those not so hard to get teaching degrees, I shamefully concede your point. I was thinking that I’d most likely fail one of those tests as well at this point, in fact I’m not so sure I could pass the exam to renew my teaching license.

    Are you rethinking your choice of educator for those precious darlings yet? Well, at least their ‘wasted’ time is somewhat valuable, and it’s bureaucracy free.

  2. Tony


    I have every confidence in your teaching ability, regardless of whether you remember the quadratic formula. Besides, I do so enjoy our parent-teacher meetings.

  3. Marc V

    Hmmm, seems like a post hit a little close to home(school) 🙂 . I guess you have “close encounters” with one of those teaching degree recipients, thus giving you a little edge when discussing their qualifications. Be sure to tell her that the highest compliment you could give is trusting her with the mind-molding of your progeny.

    Marketing?! How about sacrifice? Let’s see, spend (at least) a thousand extra on supplies and school stuff to keep them home or send them off to the public indoctrination tanks and have the spouse work bringing in extra $$ – tough choice. For those of you starting out the economic adjustment can be rough, but stick with it and you’ll reap rewards.

    Be careful if they start tooting the “socialization skills” horn, like in NH.

  4. nichole

    I agree with your assessment of public school, but it troubles me that so many intelligent Christians have given up on the public schools and don’t show up at school board meetings or challenge the psychobabble nonsense. Why aren’t we agents of change instead of retreating to do our own thing? I’m not naive. I know I have to supplement my kids’ PS education and we may still end up homeschooling, but I’m not ready to give up on my local school — yet.

  5. RockThrowingPeasant

    Interesting coincidence. I’ve been looking for ways to cut back recently and the tuition for my sons to attend Catholic school was on the block. I’m not Catholic, but was raised so and attended only Catholic schools.
    Reportedly, I live in a “good school district.” It seems more say this statement than can back it up. I checked the NCLB report cards. While the elementary and middle schools were okay, the high school report cards were horrendous. You don’t need to work with statistics daily, like I do, to realize something’s very wrong. The more time the children stay in the school system, the worse they perform. It is extremely unlikely that the high schools in the area deliberately tank the tests, given the consequences.
    So, Catholic school stays on the budget. It angers me, though. I’m paying for my child’s education twice because I can’t rely on hope that my boys will receive a decent education. It’s not like the schools are underfunded in Pennsylvania, either, or teachers are underpaid/not asked to jump through qualification hoops.

  6. Lucy

    I knew something was terribly wrong when my-friend-the-education-major got 3 semester-hours of credit for a class TOTALLY about … bulletin boards. At an accredited flagship state university. With a well-respected education program.

    I took a few graduate-education classes. The weirdest thing I was taught, and there were some REAL doozies, was the professor who told the class “Its a myth that you want parental participation! In truth, your worst enemy is a parent that’s educated-and-motivated.”

  7. Michale

    I commend the homeschool Mom who is now on the schoolboard of a town directly south of yours. It’s difficult to imagine teaching my children at home during the day and showing up for a schoolboard meeting at night.

    Wife, at least know what should be going on in your school thanks to your degree. 14 years (plus cont’d ed) of college (between hubby and myself) and I’m still learning how to teach my own children. It’s so humbling.

    I think what we all want are options. The freedom to choose the best situation for our children without harassment.

  8. Gray

    I sell technology equipment to schools in North Carolina, Smart Boards projectors among other things, and just today looking for a client email address I found myself on a school system website and was dumb founded when I discovered that this particular schools system spends $6,789 per pupil per year and worst of all this system ranks 107th in the state. My Gosh, we only have 100 counties and can’t have more than 120 different schools systems. This led me to check into the rather large systems in the state and sure enough Charlotte-Mech schools spend $7,991 per pupil per year.

    Do they know how good an education that these students could get in private school for that kind of money?

    Our tax dollars at work!

  9. Beth

    Lucy writes: “I knew something was terribly wrong when my-friend-the-education-major got 3 semester-hours of credit for a class TOTALLY about … bulletin boards. At an accredited flagship state university. With a well-respected education program.”

    The university may or may not have any desire to teach such a course. It is undoubtedly mandated by the state education board, and the university’s ed school will lose their accreditation if they don’t require it of their students.

    We are constantly frustrated by the ever-increasing “education” courses and in-class observations required by the state for our ed majors. (I teach at a private Christian college.) It makes it harder and harder for them to complete the program in a timely fashion, and many of us end up cutting down the number of required courses in the major for the ed students. So our English lit majors, who are planning to go to grad school or into publishing, etc., take more courses in the English department than do our English ed majors, who are going to go directly into the schools to teach the subject!

    We do see more and more of our students — the really good students, who desire to excel in their subject areas — taking the regular major and then seeking alternative routes to certification rather than ed school — because of such absurd courses like the one Lucy describes.

    One thing I am fully convinced of — there is no need for an ed major or ed courses to teach your children at home, unless your state has a legal requirement for it. It’s a waste of time and money and good minds.

  10. Chad

    As a parent who is thrilled with our local public school, it gets a bit tiresome to hear Christians always looking at the negative. Our schools are also full of very capable, hard working people who care deeply our children excel in their studies. Just stop it. Stay home if you want to, but stop slamming something you are not a part of, and only stand back to criticize.

  11. David Andersen

    nichole wrote: “Why aren’t we agents of change instead of retreating to do our own thing?”

    Because the costs are high and the odds are long. It’s far easier to do it yourself than to fight a massive, entrenched system. I argue change will occur faster when more parents pull their kids out. A bad system should not be given even tacit sanctioning. Don’t reward it by trying to work with it. It needs to end and the sooner the better.

  12. Eli

    I was a music major with an emphasis in education. I don’t really know what the tracks are for other education majors but my requirements were to learn every instrument at least well enough to teach the first 2 years and achieve fluency in 2 instruments (a primary and a secondary). We had to go to the psyc. classes and the ed. classes that other education majors were required to attend. We had our own education classes specific to our concentration (band, orchestra, or choral.) We were required to pass two certification tests in order to teach all grades in all music classes. And then there are the continuing education credits you are required to take after you become a teacher.
    If I wasn’t prepared to teach when I left my school, I wasn’t paying any attention.

    But that was my experience. I’m proud of my school and the hoops I had to jump through in order to teach your kids.

    Of course, I then went on to teach band to home-schooled kids. We had a blast.

  13. Tony

    I should have been clearer, as Eli and Chad indicate, that of course there are dedicated and competent people teaching in the public school system. The data, however, don’t bear out the notion that these people are a majority.

    Something else we need to keep in mind is that commitment is not proof of competence. There are plenty of parents, for example, who are committed to cooking meals for their children every day, but that doesn’t make them very good cooks. I think sometimes we tend to look at teachers who have been doing it a long time and assume that their longevity indicates commitment (when sometimes it indicates satisfaction with the status quo and lack of alternatives) as well as competence. The quality of students coming out of many public schools, however, belies these assumptions.

    And Chad, I’ll be more than happy to mind my own business when public schools stop: a) charging me for a service I don’t want, and b) harassing those of us who choose an alternative to their services.

  14. RockThrowingPeasant

    Let me be clear. I would be thrilled if my local school district matched the reputation on the street. As I’ve said, I’m not a Catholic anymore (still Christian). So, some aspects of the Catholic education are not ideal for me and how I would like my boys raised. I want their beliefs to closely approximate mine (“My beliefs may change, but the fact that I’m always right never will”).
    I’d like to be in a situation with a great public school that I’m already paying for and teach my children about God at home. Most of my family was educated in public schools. I can find other things to do with the money that I spend in tuition for Catholic school. However, when you look at the school systems, you may not find the reputation matches the results. All parents should check. In the end, I make the choice to spend even more on education.
    I don’t picket the schools. I don’t confront teachers and principals. In short, I let the public school system continue without my input because the unions in Pennsylvania are strong enough to ignore parents. However, when discussed, I will let my opinion be known and I may vent some anger over the situation.
    My local school district, West Shore, is out of excuses for poor performance. The teachers are well credentialed, they are well paid, they have a high $ per student cost, low student per teacher ratio, smaller classes, good standard of living in the area, low crime rates, etc. The more time the children spend in the school district, the worse they perform.

  15. RockThrowingPeasant

    One last thing. I thank God – I truly do – that I can afford Catholic school and that there is affordable private schooling in my area. What about those not in my situation? You’re darn right they will complain loudly. What message are we sending if we don’t voice concerns?

  16. Jeff Brokaw

    Excellent post, Tony.

    We live in a pretty good school district, overall. But the thing that scares me is we have to live in a world with people educated in all those *other* school districts, and they will become our leaders of tomorrow. So the issue isn’t so much a local and family-centric one, as many would like to think.

    A receding tide lowers all boats. 🙂

  17. Deb Johnson

    A comment for Eli: my sister has a degree in music and education. What you wrote describes what my sister went through 30 years ago: a rigorous education in music. She did complain that the education courses she received outside the music department were unimpressive.

    My own experience in the elementary and special education departments at the same university was that my special education classes actually taught how to teach phonics while the elementary education “reading” class was a waste of time. This too was at a state university with impressive credentials.

  18. Eli

    A “back at ya” to Deb: I hear ya. I was definitely more impressed with my music education courses them the ones outside the department. I thought it was because those classes outside my little music building were just to generic. Are you telling me that education major that have a different concentration (say math or history) don’t have anybody telling them HOW to teach math or history–just the philosophical ideals of education?! wow.

    p.s. I had a reading class too! (Questions posed were “How do I teach 8th-graders reading in a band class?” It was pretty lame.

  19. wife

    Husband – thank you, and yes I remember the quadratic formula and have this nifty way of teaching it. Thanks for the boost.

    Chad – I know how frustrating it is when one is satisfied – to hear others complain…mealtime is a good example. However, I was once a dedicated, motivated, definitely caring, and if the test scores bear any weight, good teacher. But I was a peer to too many and in a system of too many (I had to do workshops with them), who were not good at their jobs. A few excellent teachers in 12 years is just not worth the risk of wasted talent and despairing socialization in my children.

    Honestly, my two summers in Montessori training taught me leaps and bounds beyond my two years in the education department about how to TEACH all of the subjects and how the brain works in order to engage it in the learning process, it is in fact why I know how to teach the quadratic formula and therefore why I still remember it. Yes, the sequence is correct there.

    How wonderful it is for you that you have such an excellent, and anomalous, school system available to you. As you can tell, most of us wish we had such a boon. Please give us grace for being frustrated that while you are paying for a Ford and getting a Mercedes, that we are paying for a Ford and getting a scooter and still having to buy a Jeep.

    Nichole – I think your idea regarding participating in changing things is wonderful, and frankly idealistic. I only had that kind of energy before children, and thus little motivation. I am now doing the jobs of three teachers and at least a few administrators. Besides being the main repair person on the premises and the cook, laundress, maid, cheerleader, floor manager, chauffeur, events planner and executor, bill payer, and secretary, I also manage the planning, schooling, and record keeping of three different grades and also the training of habits, social skills, and morals (the last three would only occur by default in a socialized setting). The latter responsibilities also apply to another child, along with his potty training. Oh and there is so much more going on, music, planting, serving others, getting animals and vehicles taken care of … I cold go on and on. It was FAR easier to teach 30 in the same grade, than it is to do what I am doing right now. And back then I had planning time alone, and lunch alone, and someone else taught science and computers and took them to P.E. And when something required my whole attention from home I could take a sick/professional day and take care of it, alone. I offer that without ire. I have a sneaking suspicion though that not all wives have some of the responsibilities that I have interfering with my political forays into saving other people’s children. You’ll have to forgive me for begging off just now due to tiredness.

    I know, I’d be less tired if I let other people do my jobs and just took a different one, but I’m not willing to let others get paid to do it more poorly than I, nor willing to double pay just yet, and sacrifice who knows what in my children, and give someone else’s children the best of me. Grace, please, tons of it. Consider that perhaps your comparative advantage is that you serve your children, family, and work force better in your current job and that your children are actually getting a better education in your PS, all allowing you the time to bombard with diligence your school board. But this isn’t the case for everyone. You be the stomach and I’ll be the bowels. No sense in having three stomachs and no bowels. If you know what I mean.

    No complaints though people, this is what I was made to do. Just please consider the whole truth, the parts you don’t know, before deciding we home schoolers are being contrary or snobbish or politically lazy or… Oops, gotta go teach a math/science lesson with the cereal and milk.

  20. Ken O'Shaughnessy

    I recently returned to college after 20 years away, taking online classes through the local community college. I have, thus far, been appalled by the quality of literacy displayed by the vast majority of my virtual classmates. I applaud their desire to receive more education, but one of these classes is English comp – something taken for several years in high school. And many of my classmates are well into adulthood, as I am. The problem is endemic and long-standing.

    Two of my four are in public school, however; one is, shall we say, less than gifted academically, and taking advantage of vocational education, and the other is smart enough to rise beyond his classroom training.

    There are, in some communities, resources that the public school is required to make available to home school students as well; it could be these that they are planning to market.

  21. Marc V

    “… this is what I was meant to do.”
    For some reason that brought a slight tear to my eye, partly due to the hope that my wife would say the same thing, and partly due to me not currently being able to say that. I know my talented and lovely wife gets frustrated with her three students, feels overwhelmed by all the work and spends many nights trying to get organized, yet she still thanks me for being a stay-at-home(school) mom.

    As for me, I have an idea of what I want to be doing and what I should do to get to that point, but it will be a gamble. I have to ask myself one question: well, do I feel lucky … well do I, punk?!

  22. Deb Johnson

    Eli- I can’t speak to math or history education since I was in elementary (K-6) and special (K-9) education. Elementary education teachers at least 25 years ago had classes in how to teach reading, science, math along with child development, children’s literature etc. in addition to general education classes that all university students take.

    My complaint was that my university failed to competently prepare elementary school teachers how to teach reading to first graders. They managed to do an excellent job for those of us also training to be special education teachers.

    I had a younger cousin who went to the same university where she earned a remedial reading degree. She was not taught to teach children phonics either.

  23. Donna B.

    My youngest is 28, but I paid for private schools whenever and however I could until we moved to a city with magnet schools.

    I realized quite early I didn’t have the temperament to home school when I tried teaching my daughter how to play the piano. Though she learned, it was a frustrating and unpleasant experience for both of us.

    The problems with public schools have been around for some time and they are getting worse as far as I can tell.

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