I went to tour the public school yesterday. Like most things in life, there was some good and some bad. First the slightly disturbing: due to budgeting constraints art is once every two weeks, music is once every two weeks, there are no foreign language classes, no separate computer teacher (classroom teacher instructs on computer use) and no field trips at all (but considering where we live, this isn't much of negative). Culture is a luxury that can not be afforded in a district that not only pays their teachers less than the national average, but also less than the state average by a couple thousand.
Now the good: for the core curriculum of reading, writing, math, science, and social science, the grade expectations are clearly spelled out and appear to be equivalent or even more demanding that expensive private school, there is state mandated testing to ensure students are meeting some standard (unfortunately, the school's ranking and pay raises are tied to these scores which means teachers spend an inordinate amount of time preparing for the standardized test), the administration was forthcoming with both the achievements and the challenges at the school, class sizes are currently below the state law requirements and classroms have only a few students more than expensive private school, daily PE (which is really needed when they are so young), separate classrooms and special education teachers for students with severe learning disabilities and ESOL students, and paraprofessionals for students they are attempting to transition to the mainstream classroom (expensive private school has none of these programs and just throws all students into one classroom and expects the teacher to "deal with it").
The really bad: The enrichment (or Alpha) program is available only to students who score a certain IQ number. It doesn't matter if a student is close to the number and has great grades. It doesn't matter if a student has crap grades and mediocre work, as long as the IQ is above the number. The number is the determining factor ALWAYS. And the kicker - the number is ridiculously high. Higher than the number used by many other public schools in other states. So high, that I called my sister who has a masters degree in Special Education and has worked in Exceptional Student Education for years, and she laughed and asked if they had any kids in the program. The number is above my IQ, my sister's IQ, and my brother's, who is a friggin' engineer in charge of constructing and fixing nuclear submarines for our military (and some secret stuff that he refuses to answer questions about . . . but that is another post).
So my choice is to have my first grader tested for her IQ or just forget about the program. Yes, there will be in class enrichment, but my fear is that just like this year at expensive private school, the teacher will have more troubling students to deal with and my daughter will be allowed to coast for the first half of the year. And maybe she is above the number, but in reality I think she is just a bright little girl who loves to be challenged and thinks it is great that she gets attention for being at the top of her class. Obviously, if we test her, we will NEVER tell what it is for or tell her the results. Even if she is a genius, she doesn't need to know :)
The question of private versus public is pretty much answered. Is weekly art, music, and foreign language worth the cost of tuition? My mother pointed out that the kids could have weekly private lessons in all of these and it would still be cheaper than the private school tuition. The thing is, if I truly believed the entire education at the private school was more beneficial to the kids, I'd pay it, but I think I know that for this school, it isn't worth it. So why am I so upset with having to make this decision? Is it because I can't still believe we are still here and that by sending them to public school I am admitting that we aren't leaving? Or am I just in need of a nap?