Monday, June 17, 2013

Summer Is School Choice Time

It is almost summer. Most schools across the nation have had their last day of the school year. Most students are released for a summer of pools, beaches, bike riding, day care, latch-key self-raising, day camp, and the like.

Some parents have saved and budgeted so they can send their kids to specialized day camps such as those that center around soccer, swimming, gymnastics, cheer-leading, baseball, martial arts, or even Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Others have opted to send their kids to some form of Vacation Bible School.

Then there are those families who are fortunate enough to have one parent at home during the day.

Regardless, this is when education is up to the parents and kids. It is the time of ultimate school choice. Some parents choose some organized, professional curriculum (that is, hopefully, also fun). Some choose to let their kids run the streets and take an extended break. Others take advantage of whatever local programs are available.

In our home, we are homeschooling over the summer.

Our daughter, whether she wants to admit it or not, is a little gifted. In fact, if bored, she doesn't bother to learn. However, put something new in front of her, she will study it, energetically, until she gets violently frustrated or the topic has exhausted her attention.

So, we came up with a rather flexible plan. She will for a minimum duration a day. Any new words will be explored in a dictionary. She will write. Whatever she writes will be graded for spelling and grammar. Her comprehension will be checked.

She loves math and science. So, she is taking some math classes that are a year ahead of the grade she will start in the fall. She gets a little frustrated at first. However, after a little practice and having mistakes kindly identified, she "gets it". From there, she will play with the concept until it starts to get boring.

Give her a science topic and she will gladly research it. She will tell you all about it. She will even write on it, happily, until it is time for those spelling and grammar checks.

And, she asked to learn a foreign language. For the price, German ended up the choice. She is picking it up rather quickly.

It's our choice. My wife and I spoke about it ad nausea during the past school year. Two weeks of homeschooling last summer put her ahead. So, the goal is to set her up for contention in a STEM or TAG program come this fall.

Our daughter wants this. She complained that too much was boring this past year. It was "all review".

The trick is we set our guidelines. We set the minimums. Then we asked her what she wanted to learn, do, accomplish. We incorporated the above together. No, she is not wasting her summer. Yes, she is having fun. The curriculum is a minimum of 3 hours a day. That leaves plenty of time for riding bikes, running in sprinklers, and other fun activities.

We also have family trips planned. There are museums, parks, zoos, art galleries, and all sorts of things to learn out there. We have many of these planned. Even a day at Six Flags will be educational, because there will be some writing or research activity linked to it. Imagine this -- the roller coaster is fun, but how does it work? Why can we float in a wave pool? What forces are at work when you ride The Scrambler?

Your kids' education is your (parents') responsibility. Sure, you pay taxes that pay for schools and teachers. But their job has always been meant to be supplemental. Kids normally look to their parents as the primary role-models and standard-bearers. Just because school is out of the building doesn't mean that schooling is on pause. Like any other muscle, if you don't use that brain, it will go weak, flabby, and eventually rot.

This is also the time to get involved in the school. That first day when the PTA/PTO/PSTA starts begging you to join is too late. Many of the decisions for this next school year were decided during the past 4 months. The remainder will be done over the summer.

Here in Texas, many laws governing education were passed. Now the local districts and the state bureaucrats need to implement. That means they are coming up with policy, curricula, and regulations. That means it is time to start plugging your local board with your wishes as the parents of the students. Remember, you employ them. They work for you, not the other way around. If you don't get involved, you have only yourself to blame if you don't like what they decide to do.

For those parents who believe there is nothing they can do need look only towards California. California is not the most school-choice friendly state. However, one district was forced to give in to the state's "Parent Trigger" law.

Desert Trails Elementary was not making the grade. 75% of the students could not read at their current grade level come the end of the school year. They (the teachers) failed to perform at the level parents demanded. So, the parents petitioned, then demanded the local district disband the local school and replace it with a charter school. The parents won.

Given that reading level, however, the parents failed as well. They failed to do free reading with comprehension checks every day. They failed to check homework to make sure it was a) challenging b) done c) accurate. They probably also failed to turn off the television and the video games, replacing the remotes and controllers with books, microscopes, or a library card.

You want better supplies and equipment for your local public school? Now is the time to do some fund-raising. Yes, public schools (and many parochial and charters) can accept donations. Now is the time to engage you local board over prioritizing that budget.

It is time to review text books and other materials. Many schools are leaning more and more to digital (internet-based) aids such as First In Math, Brain Pop, Ticket to Read, and the like. Check out what your school intends to use, as well as what they are not using. If better is out there, it is time to suggest it.

Education is a parental responsibility. It is not a government authority. When parents cede their involvement and standards to the government, or to anybody else, they seek mediocrity or failure for their kids. That is a fact that some want you to ignore. It is also why national standards are reprehensible. They steal one of the greatest responsibilities and joys of being a parent.

The Heritage Foundation released this video regarding national standards and Common Core:

The bottom line is that summer is the most crucial time for parents in regards to school choice. What you do, or do not do, will impact the entire upcoming school year. Are you setting the conditions for your children's success or are you sitting idle, as an obstacle to it?