About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why We Bailed on Public High School: The "Good" Eugene Public School System is More Broken Than You Think

(Continued from previous post, "Relentlessly Positive")  
     My daughter was, eventually, after several emails, put into a Geometry class.  But doing so required that she give up her two electives and be given "soccer" as an elective, even though *she played for the high school soccer team itself*.    What an inane option.
     She was told the only other option was "free period" (83 minutes of free time), and that she'd already have to have a free first period all second term because there were *no* electives available that term at all.
     She reminded them that she already had a free fourth period every other day -- a result of the school district quietly changing the International High School system over the summer, when none of us parents were paying attention.  (The IHS program described to us last year in orientation was a four-credits-a-year program in addition to their core courses (math, language, science); now IHS only gives students three credits per year and, due to doing away with the "Projects" component for freshman and sophomores, every other day both first and second year IHS students have "free time".)  
     When she came home and told me how her schedule was "fixed," I went ballistic.  Not only had she lost electives she was excited about, but now her *only* elective was doing 83 additional minutes of soccer when she'd already be practicing 120 minutes each day after school.  And these free periods are not, IMHO, good for young high school students.
     I'm sorry, but only the most unusually mature and self-controlled and self-motivated fourteen-year-olds could possibly manage that much free time effectively.  Most, on an open campus, will be at Safeway or Market of Choice or McDonald's or Subway or Dairy Queen or Ron's Hawaiian Grill or Taco Bell or the coffee shop.  Loitering.  Or eating junk food.  
     Which, if you go shopping during the day in the little mall across from the high school, you will find to be true.  Every establishment is positively crawling with high school students with far too much free time.   Not that they all could fit in the library at once, either; I'm not blaming *them* --  only the system that ruins them.
    I was prepared to have my daughter have some free time either junior or senior year, for I already knew that the high school had some scheduling difficulties.  I was told by other parents of older high school kids that "if you go in there and fight each term you can get what your student needs".  So, I was prepared to "fight".  But not for "free time" or extra soccer as the only "options" for an ambitious college-bound first-year high school kid.
     The next day, I went to see the guidance counselor again, rather effectively (to my perception at least) suppressing my rage.  He tried to find some electives for her, calling the scheduler in front of me and asking "Please tell me what free classes there are first period -- ANY free classes."
     He was told "Soccer" and "Conditioning" or "free period".

     How, I asked, does the high school intend to prepare kids for college with this kind of schedule -- blocks of free time, often more than one a day, every week?  And with only three courses per term, how do the kids get enough credits for college?  How do they get the courses they need?

     "Ah!  I understand your frustration with the system.  But see, the aim of public high     school is not to prepare kids for college.  It's to get them an Oregon high school diploma, which is 24 credits.  If we give them three courses a term, four terms a year, after four years they will graduate.  Many of our best students have to take courses at X Community College or X University during their junior and senior year in order to get credits needed in order to apply for college."  

     To a certain extent, what the guidance counselor told me is true.  I also think he is in an impossible position and should not be in "trouble" for telling it like it is.  Public high schools don't have to promise to prepare your kid for college, they have to promise to give your kid a high school diploma recognized by your state.
     But, GOOD high schools have always had clear *and available* college prep programs for students interested in them.  To be perfectly honest, I went to a pretty darn average high school (at least according to rankings of Portland area high schools in the 1980s), but there was a clear way for any student who wanted to be prepared for college to do so.  In contrast, the high school my daughter was going to attend was rated by Newsweek last year as the second best public high school in Oregon.   

     On paper, this public high school looks good -- very good, in fact.  But when a guidance counselor has to tell a rightfully concerned parent that if he or she wishes his or her child to be able to apply to "good" colleges that that child is going to have to take classes outside of the high school itself, the guidance counselor is admitting that the system of "excellent public education" is broken.  Completely.
     I came home and thought about options for all of five minutes.  I called the local private Catholic college prep school.  I toured it that day (Friday) and set up an opportunity for my daughter to shadow another student on Monday.  We made the decision Monday afternoon and  Tuesday (yesterday) she began classes.

     The one bummer is that she can only practice this year with the team, not play.  OSAA regulations prevent a student from moving from one school to another (even for academic reasons) and playing for the second school if said student has already played for the first one.  We're seeing if an exception could be made, but we're not counting on it.  Of course, even if we had known about all this when the key deadline passed (August 22), we wouldn't have, at the time, thought the deadline had anything to do with us.

    We were about to send our kid to the second best public high school in Oregon.  Why would we worry about possibly screwing up her soccer playing chances at another high school in the same city?

    Still, the kids on the team welcomed her to their practice yesterday.  All the teachers, the students and the administrators have been warm and welcoming.  Classes are small.  There's no open campus.  Rules are relatively strict (but fair).  
    She's safe, busy and supervised.  She's going to get a good -- no, EXCELLENT -- high school education.
    Never thought I would say that I left public schools.  My other two are still in them (one in first grade; one in sixth).  
    But we truly feel we had no choice.  We hope the economy recovers, that the district can rehire teachers and make class sizes manageable again and be able to offer enough courses for all students.  Perhaps one day there will be enough money to build an additional high school to accommodate kids more easily -- you know, keep them ALL in classes in the high school itself, appropriate to their ability and to their aspirations, ALL day long.

     What a concept.

     But until that happens, private high school it is.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Relentlessly Positive

I have a bit of an experiment going on in my Facebook world (and publicly, with other parents).  I'm *trying* to be more positive -- "relentlessly so" -- for a whole month.  I've told people I'll explain the experiment (and the results) in four weeks.

But I've already flubbed up my data with my status line this morning, where I complain that I've had to stand in line at my daughter's high school in order to get her into the *right* math class.  Since I did not say that my blog was included in my "relentlessly positive" experiment, I'm complaining here.

She took Algebra last year, in eighth grade, and passed with an A-.

Does it make sense to make her re-take a class that she did so well in?

If you answer "NO" you then understand logic.

If you answer "Well, it depends" then you must design the system these kids suffer through.

When I picked up her freshman schedule yesterday and saw the error in her math assignment, I immediately did two things.  I called her middle school and left a message that there was an error and that I'd like to know if somehow the middle school had given the high school the wrong information.  I then wrote an email to last year's math teacher and this year's high school guidance counselor and asked if they would please fix the situation.

I didn't hear back from the school, the math teacher or the guidance counselor.

Off I went this morning to change my kid's schedule, although the note on the bottom of the schedule itself, all in caps, made me worry:


I waited in a LONG line for 40 minutes, during which time I chatted with other students about their scheduling problems:  NO math class, or only a half-term of Geometry instead of two, or missing a foreign language, or wrong literature class, or TWO free periods in the middle of the day, or --- my favorite -- only three classes, one of which was "basketball".

I do not remember this degree of system failure when I was in high school.  Perhaps it was because my high school had fewer specialized programs -- everybody just went to SCHOOL, basically 8-3, with the smarter kids taking slightly harder versions of the classes everyone else was taking.  In this school, there are three programs:  "regular" "honors" and IHS (my daughter's program).  Three programs plus over enrollment equals crowded classrooms and classes being "not available," even to students who are eligible to take them.

This all feels like college.

It shouldn't.  This is high school.  She's 14, for God's sake.

While standing in line, I *did* manage to get last year's math teacher on the phone.  She informed me that my daughter had not taken two of the 16 required concept tests last year, and that that was why, despite her excellent grade (and great scores on other standardized state tests) that she was not allowed to go on to Geometry.


Why didn't I hear about this *last May at the latest*?

Why, last year, did my daughter go into school on more than one occasion to make up tests?  Wasn't it, in fact, *those very tests* that she was making up?

Wasn't my daughter told last year that she had completed everything she needed to complete and would go on to take geometry?  (I swear I saw that on some form that came home, but of course now I cannot find it.)

"I've graded everything I have and I don't have those tests from her."

This is the same teacher who also told my daughter that she had not turned in assignments (she had) and that she had to re-do them (she did), only to be told a few days later that "I'm so sorry, but I did find your original assignments".

When I challenged this teacher that perhaps she has misplaced my daughter's tests, she only repeated the "I've graded everything" excuse and then said that my daughter (who, like teens everywhere, hasn't done math all summer) would retake the tests in order to qualify to go on to take Geometry.


I got in to see the scheduler, who told me that although it "made sense" that a kid who passed Algebra with an A- should be allowed to take Geometry, he (the scheduler) couldn't change a core class without permission from the Principal or the Counselor.

Off I went to the Principal's office, only to be told that both he and the Counselor were in a meeting.  But I could wait for 40 minutes and then "corner one or the other" to ask to get the permission to put my kid in the class she belongs in.

I cornered said overworked guidance counselor, only to be told the state won't let the high school give a kid credit  for a course taken in middle school *regardless of the grade in said course* unless they have passed all 16 concept tests.  He said we're "on his radar" but he has "500 of you" to deal with today.

I sympathize.

But I still want my kid not to have to retake a course she got an "A" in.

Welcome to the world of overtesting kids and lack of logic.  The way the system works, if a kid passed all 16 Algebra concept tests (with a 70) and got a "C" in Algebra, he or she could take Geometry.  But if a kid passed 14 of 16 tests (in reality, I strongly suspect 16 of 16), AND gets an "A", she must retake Algebra.

I've now written to the Principal, the Guidance Counselor, this year's math teacher, last year's math teacher, and last year's Vice Principal.  They're all doing research.  But there is no promise that my daughter can take Geometry.

My poor kid is so mad (about lost assignments and lost tests and the potential requirement to re-take tests that she took months ago, just to get into a class that, as I recall, has little to do with Algebra in the first place) that she's practically spitting nails.

Welcome to high school.

Should I mention that Newsweek declared this high school the second best public high school in all of Oregon?

I would hate to see the worst.

But I'll end on a positive note:  Algebra is her first class of the day, so at least tomorrow when she starts high school (with her schedule still "wrong"), she'll get that class out of the way first.