Send Your Child to a Bad Public School? I Did -- and I'd Do It Again

Dollars & Sense on 03.13.11
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Photo credit:  Doug Wilson/Creative Commons

Every time we've moved somewhere new, I've been struck by that heart-thudding panic when someone says:

"Everyone here sends their kids to private school as soon as they get to third grade," or

"Most of the kids are on free lunch and they get bussed in from rough neighborhoods," or

"I would think twice about that school.  I know of a family who sent their kid and it was a disaster."

I panic because I really need public schools.  We are on a very tight budget, and schooling is one area where I can save tens of thousands of dollars, not just a buck or two.  However, as anyone who has children above four knows, the question of public schools in the U.S. is anything but simple. 

I have agonized over -- and put long hours into -- finding and supporting good schools for my children.  We have placed them in schools that some wouldn't have dared to.  Each time we have ended up being very happy with our choices.  If I had taken hearsay as proof, we would have missed out on great educational -- and economical -- opportunities.

If you are getting alarming warnings about your school, try these steps before you think about moving to another neighborhood, or coughing it up for private school.

1.     Go to the school for a tour and a meeting with the principal.  Many people who spread rumors about a school have never set foot inside.  Don't worry too much about trying to evaluate the school in some official way.  Parents have a sixth sense: trust your gut feeling.

2.     Talk to parents who have children at the school -- now, not five years ago. Things can change quickly at schools with a new principal or curriculum.

3.     Attend an event at the school:  a fair, open house, sports game, or PTA meeting. Get an idea of who shows up, who is running things, and the general mood. Introduce yourself and talk to parents, teachers and kids.

4.     Volunteer at the school. When my daughter was three, I started a community support group for our maligned yet hidden gem of a school. By the time she was kindergarten age, we were joined by a slew of neighborhood kids.

The most important lessons I took home from our experiences of moving around and trying out new schools? Make the extra effort to go beyond rumor and find out what's real. If friends don't agree with your decision, try to remember that everyone will have a different view. Only you can decide what's right for your family.

Have you ever swam against the tide by sending your child to a "bad" public school? 

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