Homeschooling the public school kid

Oregon public schools are in serious crisis mode. I know this isn’t a unique situation. Public education has been undermined by political policy across the nation for years now. (Why does a certain segment of those in power want the children of those who can’t or won’t send their kids to private school to be gravely undereducated? That’s a can of worms for another post, yes? We should talk about that one day, because… Yeah. We’re in trouble here.)

In April we learned that Kiddo’s school was facing devastating staff cuts–cuts that would do away with what is supposed to be the school’s core focus. We parents did some frantic fundraising, and Mayor Sam Adams and the City Council did some awesome emergency budget magic and those positions were saved for next year. Great. But what about the following year? And why should parents have to raise massive amounts of money to merely maintain the status quo of a PUBLIC school? The original amount needed to hold on to our teachers, before the mayor stepped in, was $177k. Ultimately, we had to raise $42k and did. But we should be raising funds to make the schools remarkable, not just to hold on to barely adequate.

Last night I went to a town hall meeting at the Kiddo’s school. State Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum and Representative Jules Bailey were there to speak with us and I was unexpectedly impressed by them, but came away even more depressed. The way school funding is structured in Oregon is a huge part of what is dragging the system down. Schools aren’t funded through the local government; they’re funded through the state, the money coming out of a general fund. There is no fence around the money for education. Schools are directly competing with jails for funds in Oregon. Right now, it looks like the jails are winning.

Representative Bailey told us about a meeting he had with the VP of Pyrus Energy, a major international wind turbine company that moved to Oregon. That VP said they’d moved here because there is so much support for green energy. He said that outweighed the number one barrier keeping other large businesses out of Oregon: the schools. They can hire the best and brightest from anywhere in the world, he said (the implication being that the best and brightest aren’t already in Oregon, because our schools aren’t producing at that level), but the best and brightest aren’t willing to put their children into the schools here. Rep. Bailey said that and a collective moan went up like he’d punched us all in the guts. I felt like crying. What had we done, leaving New York for Portland? Have we totally screwed our kids over by coming here?

There are solutions we can work toward on the political front, legislation that can be attempted, and I’ll be talking about that some on the blog as November approaches. I’m going to do what I can politically, but it’s going to take time to change the way things are done in Oregon. We need to change the state constitution to do it. (Would we have moved here if we’d known how bad things are? No. I’m glad we didn’t know. We’ll make do.)

Ballot measures and canvassing and all that… great. But what do we do for our kids RIGHT NOW? We, me and Billy…what do we do for the kids in this house?

Homeschooling is not for us. Kiddo is a social creature who thrives at school, and Girlie seems to be the same. I am the opposite and am a better parent for having that time when they’re at school to focus on my own work. But we can’t rely on the public schools to give our kids the same kind of education I got in public school in New Jersey in the 70s and 80s. Billy went to private school in Manhattan and called his teachers by their first names and sang a lot of Woodie Guthrie songs. We can’t afford private schools, and even if we could I still believe in the IDEA of public education.

Our house is full of books and Kiddo has his own library card that sees frequent use. We read to them all the time and Kiddo is often found reading to himself and to his sister. We do math problems and brain-teaser type stuff for fun with Kiddo. We’ve done some science experiments in the past, but not on a regular basis. We’re going to need to get more deliberate about it, though. I’m starting to research homeschooling methods to supplement what they’ll get in school. I don’t know what this will ultimately look like. I’ve just started thinking about it.

Do we do something very structured, like Monday afternoons are for math and Wednesday afternoons are for science and on Sunday mornings we work on writing? Or do we keep it more free form, like we do it now, but plan ahead with it and be more mindful to do it regularly? I don’t know. Are any of you doing this? Supplementing public-school education at home in a planned, deliberate way?

And Portlanders:
Check out UPSET

Get on the mailing lists of the elected officials who spoke at last night’s town hall. They are 100% on our side:
Senator Rosenbaum: sen.dianerosenbaum@state.or.us
Representative Bailey: rep.julesbailey@state.or.us

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15 comments on “Homeschooling the public school kid
  1. Caroline aka FiberTribe says:

    Cari, I live in a VERY rural, read 200 people, town in possibly the worst, lowest spending state in the nation, Utah. Most of the people with kids in this town homeschool before sending the kids out of town for high school. Or they move away until the kids are in college and move back then. That said they have found some awesome solutions and programs. I’d be happy to put you in touch with them. If you’re interested just pm me.

  2. Marisa says:

    Disclaimer: not a parent. (step-parent, but not full time… )

    I say no, not structured. I would look into the “unschooling” method… learning through experiences. You go to the movies, or the toystore or even the grocery store? Turn it into a math problem. Use the garden and the chickens and the yardwork and chores for science and math. Loading the dishwasher uses a lot of geometry and motor skills that adults take for granted! There are learning experiences in everything from calculating how much dirt you need for a raised bed to cutting up veggies for dinner and doing/folding laundry. Build spelling into the dinner conversation, writing practice comes with just about everything. Your kids are probably a little small for historical and current events discussion but those too can be incorporated into dinner conversation without it seeming like more school. I would guess that these are things you already do, without even realizing it. We do a lot of this with my step-daughter, and didn’t know until recently that there was a name for it. I thought it was just “parenting”!

    I would venture to say that if you do anything too structured you are going to get a lot of pushback. Kids are already in school for a long time (yes, they waste a lot of it! and so much of school is not learning stuff but learning how to function in society, no?) each day, I think it’s better to build the learning into fun activities, personally.

    It sounds to me like both of your kids are very curious and independent, as long as you continue to foster that and help them to understand that the learning doesn’t end at the 3:30 bell, the better off they’ll be no matter what school they are in.

  3. rachel says:

    I live in Kansas City, Missouri. Our school district isn’t accredited. I’ve lived in the KCMO metro for my whole life, and went to Catholic schools as a kid. That’s how long this problem has been going on here.

    Our son will be 3 in September, and we are trying to figure out where we will go. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to filling in the gaps I know public school will leave out. It just isn’t feasible to send him to private schools full-time (he goes to a Waldorf school twice a week. the tuition for five days a week is staggering.), and it’s killing me to know that I’ll have to move away from my home again. Our current debate is whether we will move to Kansas or to a suburb in Missouri.

  4. I do half an hour a day with my 4-year old, reading, math, writing, whatever. Not only is she learning, but I feel like I’m setting a template for this kind of at-home activity later on, too. I think being deliberate is a good idea, whatever you do.

    How are extracurriculars? I think I learned at least as much, if not more, from sports, band, &tc., in public school, as I did in the classroom.

    The problem in Wyoming isn’t money – there’s plenty of money – but, in my mind, the endless emphasis on standardized testing. My hope is that in the future my young’uns will come to learn that learning doesn’t necessarily equal filling out bubble sheets.

  5. Lizzy says:

    I don’t have any advice, but I wanted to offer some encouragement: having read your blog for this long, I’ve watched you achieve so much once you put your mind to it. Being worried and scared is understandable, these are your kids and you want the best for them. But between the two of you, I believe you’ll work something out. Good luck.

  6. My kids are finishing up 3rd and 5th grades at a public school, but it’s a state-chartered school for “highly intellectually gifted children” and they are doing coursework two grade levels above what’s going on in the rest of the North Carolina public schools, plus they get Chinese, Spanish, and orchestra or band. For all students, not as optional electives. My fifth grader had assignments this year the likes of which we didn’t see until freshman year in high school, and it has not always been smooth sailing, but I know that we are incredibly lucky to have gotten the boys in this school. They only have room for a fraction of the kids who qualify, and they pull numbers from an actual lottery machine in front of everyone to determine which qualified students get to matriculate — resulting in a room with 90% of the parents heartbroken or even crying, and 10% rejoicing inappropriately and doing goofy touchdown dances.

    Because charter schools do not get all of the funding that goes to regular public schools, they still hit the parents up in a major way for donations, which feels a bit uncomfortable to me even though I understand the necessity.

    Since their schoolwork is so rigorous, I don’t add much to that during the school year except Chinese tutoring for Lars, who just got into the school this year and had 5 years of Mandarin Chinese to catch up with. They have piano (both) and violin (just Anders) lessons all year long because we come from music people and that’s just who we are. But they do “mommywork” to earn privileges like video games every day over the summer. Initially it was to prevent the backwards slide of summer vacation and preserve the routine of homework before play, but I don’t just give them busywork. I tailor it to whatever they need the most practice in. Last year it was multiplication facts for Anders (there are some great math game apps for iPhone) and long division practice for Lars. This year they both desperately need to improve their writing and keyboarding skills, so I got a copy of Type To Learn 4 from Amazon to teach the keyboarding and they are putting their typing into practice on their very own locked-down, Mommy-administered blogs. When I read to them at night, I try to choose something just beyond what they would be successful with on their own, like the original Sherlock Holmes stories (great vocabulary) or, with my older son, I’ve read Animal Farm and now we’re into The Once and Future King (yes, my marked-up, yellowed paperback copy from MHS). There are some good science magazines out there for kids, like Dig! (Archaeology), Yes and Know (same concept, one is for younger kids), and National Geographic Kids magazine.

    It gets easier as they get older, get more opinionated, and generally become more interesting little people. You find educational opportunities everywhere. For instance, I’m sure your kids are learning so much from the chickens and the garden and the discussions at your dinner table. Learning is by no means confined to the classroom.

    All the parents I know are just as worried about education as you are. College tuition? Don’t even get me started! It’s so much better to worry about elementary school!!

  7. I’m facing similar concerns with the school district in Rhode Island (where the school district is hugely political, like everything else here). On top of the decline in the quality of public education, and cutting funding for important programs like music, art, and sports, the special education system is a joke in my district. I actually had to go back to school for a degree in psychology emphasizing in child development and applied behavior analysis just so I could make sure my boys got the services they need…and they still fall through the cracks. I’m facing the possibility of having to homeschool my youngest and although I’m qualified, I’m not sure if I’m a good candidate to teach my own children.

    I sure hope you find a happy-middle-ground, and that things begin to improve soon.

  8. Sandra says:

    As a Canadian living in a northern suburb of Toronto, I feel incredibly lucky that we have a wonderful public school system. Out town is also home to a very prestigious private school that pulls kids from all over the world as well as locally. As great as this school is, we feel no need to take advantage of it. Our son has had such a positive experience in the public system, and in his particular school. We had no idea when we moved here that our local school was so highly regarded, and he has reaped the benefits of it. He was classed as gifted in math and science a few years back, and the school bent over backwards to help us and him be challenged and really excel. I had taken all this for granted until I read your post – every kid, no matter where they live should have this kind of education opportunity. I know that’s a bit of a Utopian outlook, but education should be considered a right, not a benefit.

  9. rachel says:

    me again.

    I was looking at kindergartens for agent B yesterday after reading this post and found out he won’t be able to go to kindergarten until he’s nearly 6 (Sept. 17 birthday in a district with a Sept. 1 age cut off). So I guess he’ll either be homeschooled for that year if applying for an exception doesn’t pan out.

  10. Amber says:

    Ugh. I’m in Salem. If you think Portland is bad come an hour south! We are getting more charter schools that are filling in some gaps, but for most kids the pickings are slim. I have a 3.5 year old and we’re homeschooling for now, with an attitude that we’ll change or do what is needed as she develops. We couldn’t choose private school; there are no secular options within a reasonable driving distance. I go back and forth on structured/unstructured. I think it depends on your personality and your children’s. Free form seems to work best for us. I usually take something she’s interested in and push it a little further to get her to think about more things. Good luck! I hope you do keep us apprised of the political landscape in this area; especially state wide measures.

  11. There is enough money to offer a fine education to every child in America; there is enough money to feed every poor and hungry person in America. More than enough. The problem is allocation, of course, who is in control of slicing the pie and passing around the pieces.

    The point of power is control, and people who like to be in control, who want to decide the criteria for value (what is worth spending on and what is not) are the ones most likely to seek positions of control.

    Usually people naturally believe that their values, their epistemology,their desires are good, are indeed, the best ones — otherwise they wouldn’t cling to them.

    So people who control the money pot will expend from it in directions dictated by their own beliefs. When you have a financial power structure with the perverted and inverted philosophy that education is way down on the list of valuable ways to spend money, that’s how the money is not spent.

    In other words, the changes do not start at the schools, not even with school boards and city officials, or rarely so. Change must occur higher on the food chain. With the people who control the money supply.

    Such people — and consider that whacked out Las Vegas poobah who casually tossed millions of dollars into the campaign of a flagrant loser like Newt Gingrich — are usually, almost always, not very smart, dumb as a post in the real world usually, but through fluke, family, or accident happen to have a pot of money.

    A public clown like Donald Trump would be just another down and out ranting bum on Miami Beach if his Dad hadn’t given him a pot of money to play with. Without that money, Trump is just a nut; with it, he can run for President. He can buy the attention he could otherwise only get by committing a gruesome crime or screaming nonsense in front of public buildings.

    Sorry, I got carried away with the fun of writing. My point is, finally, there is nothing that can be done about the pitiful state of the American education system until first one either changes the philosophical priorities of those who control the money, or elect into positions of controlling the money persons who are smarter and more sensitive to the enormous macro impact of education than a rock.

    And that is no easier done than eating said rock.

    Because those with money are easily able to buy the votes of the simple-minded, and as the old saying goes: God must love the simple-minded because He made so many of them.

    As an aside, I made my way in a drunken stupor through one of the worst educational systems in America (south Arkansas), 2nd only to Mississippi from the bottom of the barrel. Yet, purely in spite of it, not because of it, I have 3 university degrees, one summa cum laude and two magna, have taught in universities, and have published 9 books.

    In the end, maybe focusing on the education of the person in front of you is at least doing something that can succeed. (But then it depends on the person. Education is personal.)

    Here’s a final finally, Cari. Your kids already have a good shot at feeding their heads because of the accidental good fortune of their parents, so I suggest you focus on the intellectual environment within your family and let the school enhance their social and survival skills — if your kids end up smart and intellectually alive, most of it will be because they knew it was a life to be desired.

  12. Mary K. in Rockport says:

    You’re right – you can’t wait to make important decisions when your kids will be going to school NOW. Does your area have charter schools or school choice? Can you start a charter school with some other like-minded parents? We would have sent our kids to a wonderful private school but couldn’t afford it. Our local elementary school was quite good, but middle school was, well, middling, and high school looked even worse. We were lucky that our kids got into, by lottery, an excellent nearby public high school through school choice. Interestingly, 3 of the top 5 students in my daughter’s graduating class came from that same wonderful private elementary school mentioned above. Fine education is an accelerating process; a good start snowballs. Do everything you can to make it happen. P.S. Home schooling full-time or as a supplement is hard, but some people make a real success of it. Your kid’s learning time isn’t wasted while 29 other kids are catching on, and social/sports activities can be arranged with other home-schooling parents and kids.

  13. In general, I agree with Marisa above–that what you do at home should follow more of an unschooling approach. I also think you should look at gifted programs in your area. I remember feeling the way you feel when our little guy was about the same age as your son. Ours is in a gifted program, and it has changed everything for us.

  14. Stephanie says:

    I’m in Eugene, and my son is also just finishing Kindergarten. My daughter has another year before she’ll be entering school. Our supplemental education does follow more of an unschooling approach (despite my disdain for the term). We have a membership to the local science museum, and my husband takes the kids once a week. The son is into astronomy right now, so we take advantage of natural phenomena, like the recent eclipse. We woke him up in the middle of the night when, a couple of months ago, three planets were visible in the night sky. He actually really likes doing workbooks, so we pick good ones up when we see them and he chooses to do those sometimes when he’d otherwise just be playing in his room. We’re also musicians and athletes, so supplementing the standard subjects with extracurriculars is just a given in this household, too.

    Keeping it pretty free-form has worked so far, and really, I think the most important thing is to keep him reading. That hasn’t been a problem, as he’s totally the kid who will stay up late with a stashed flashlight and sneak chapters of How to Train Your Dragon when we think he’s asleep.

  15. Kathode Ray Tube says:

    Given the number of progressive, community minded types in Portland, seems like there will be a groundswell of parents demanding more of their public schools. And rightly so. So, that’s a good thing. I don’t know how Oregon funds its schools, although you did say it’s an item in the state budget that is subject to change, which is good and bad. Can help if you need infusions of money, but bad if you’re redistributing pieces of the limited pie. School days can be long and stressful, whether the school is high quality or not, so I would not want to do much structured learning at home with a kid after school. I have a friend who home schooled her twins until 8th grade, but she and her kids are exceptional people. I can’t imagine home schooling my kids, given our personalities and skill sets. Parents won’t put up with crappy schools for their kids and they shouldn’t have to. Good luck…you can change things.

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