Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Battle for a Better School

    Raise your hand if you want your children to surpass your current station in life.  Well, my hand is firmly planted in the air.  Now that I am a bonafide stay-at-home mom, I find that although this has always been my mission, I am now in the trenches up to my nappy roots.  My renewed mission is to not only to help my children stay on track but more specifically, it is to get my son in an Academic Center for 7th and 8th grade and my oldest daughter into a Gifted Center.
    For those of you that live outside of the Chicago area, Chicago Public Schools created an Office of Academic Enhancement for the sole purpose of making parents and students compete to send their children to a select number of schools that maintain academic excellence.  In layman's terms, all of the "smart" kids apply for a chance to get out of their crappy neighborhood school and get bused to a good school.  Although this whole concept warrants a long conversation about the fairness, rationale, and morality of this whole process - this is not my point today.
    My children have always performed well and this makes us very proud.  However, I have been conducting some informal research on what is needed to get a child into an excellent school vs. a good school.  The process in Chicago is broken into 3-300point scores on a scoring rubric. A student's ISAT score, grades, and their entrance exam are each 300 points. Parents and teachers have a hand in how well a child is prepared when it comes to the ISAT and report card grades; but the entrance exam is left a mystery.  Why, do you ask?  Well, there are no study guides, teachers and administrators give you a scripted response when you ask about it, and there is no appeal process.
    What kind of craziness is this?  I was told by one administrator that the test, test how well a child thinks.  What?  So, with a little research I have found that the test is more of a logic exam, with word matrices, analogies, and pattern analysis.  Here is the rub; teachers in the less affluent neighborhoods are not teaching these skills.  Not because they don't want to, but because they are told repeatedly to teach for success on the ISAT (not to mention the lack of time due to constant behavior issues and insufficient resources).  However, the ISAT is not, at all, set up like the entrance exam for select enrollment schools.
    Can you guess where this is going?  If I, as a parent of a child attending a lower performing school, send my child to take this test, armed with only the skills his or her teacher has given him or her, they have a much higher chance of failing.  Or, they get into the lower performing Academic Centers, still in the heart of their homogeneous community, that have a lower college completion rate. So, I ask myself, who is this process set up to help or hinder?  How would I have known this if I was just "joe smoe" parent, trying to get my kid ahead? 
    So my mission - try to beat the system.  I have found a couple of sites that give information on these types of admissions tests; so I plan to use their information and shop around for my own.  My advice to other parents - NEVER take what is said to you at face value.  ALWAYS, dig deeper, especially when its your child's future at stake.

1 comment:

  1. What a frustrating process. It seems to me the core problem is in making education operate like markets (where the privileged gain and everyone else eventually loses) instead of like a human right. All these testing systems show we're just over-thinking the competitive aspects of the market, when the nature of education should be simple and nurturing. If the adults don't get it, how can we expect the kids to take it seriously?