The Role of Chance in Public Education

As much as we would like to believe that public education is providing equal services to all students, the sad truth is that much of what your student receives is left up to chance.  You can choose to have your children herded through the school grades like cattle, or you can take school “chance” out of the equation to assure your child’s education future.

Which school your child attends is determined by an arbitrary boundary.  Your child may attend a good school, a bad school or a mediocre school.  The parents have little control other than to move to a neighborhood in the school they want.  If the school is full, then your student may be bussed to another school.  If you move to a neighborhood because of a good school, as many parents do, the boundaries may change and your child would have to attend another school, even though you live a block away from the original school.

If the school is full, then your student may be bussed to another school. 

Sometimes, school districts offer magnet programs to entice parents to compete to enter their child.  What those programs tend to be is an attempt by the school district to equalize the population of the school.  They offer a really special science stem magnet program, but they put it in the school with the worst discipline, lowest performance and least desirable neighborhood.  The final option for a parent is to withdraw their child from regular public school and enroll him in a charter school or a private school.  Chance rules those schools too, but they tend to be more flexible with parent wishes because they depend on enrollment and are more eager to please.

Your child moves from grade to grade each year, and each year gets a new teacher, randomly.  It may be a great teacher, a lousy one, or a mediocre one.  The parents have little choice.  Parents try to game the system by researching the best teachers- asking other parents, online research, rumors etc… but the school counselors and administration make it extremely difficult, if not impossible to change your child’s teacher because it would mess up their perfectly balanced classroom numbers.  One teacher cannot have more students than another.  Charters and private schools use the same random method to assign students to teachers.

Your child moves from grade to grade each year, and each year gets a new teacher, randomly.  It may be a great teacher, a lousy one, or a mediocre one. 

Within the school, often students are categorized by arbitrary numbers: performance on state testing, grades, and age.  If your student happens to do well in class, they may be invited to attend a gifted and talented program, if they pass the test.  If your student is learning English as their second language, they may be assigned to the Bilingual, or ESL program.  If your child has a learning disability, they will be automatically assigned to a special program.  If your child is bored in class and misbehaves, your child will be given a behavior plan or labeled as ADHD.

Within the classroom, teachers may create a random seating chart that may put your child in the front or the back of the classroom.  They may organize the class alphabetically, in which case, if your child’s last name by chance happens to be Zander, then they will always be last and in the back.

If your child happens to be a well-behaved student, chance is they will be sitting in the back while they put the misbehaving child in the front so they can keep an eye on them.  In the back of the classroom, teacher/student interaction is diminished, visibility of the front of the classroom is diminished, and it is more difficult for students to hear the teacher (who typically stands in front of the classroom) due to the further distance, and the other interfering noises, of students, air-conditioners, papers, etc…

Who your child will associate with is also a chance occurrence.  Teachers love to assign students to heterogeneous groups.  This means that they randomly choose struggling students, medium skill students and an advanced student for each group with the hope the advanced student will help bring up the skills of the other students.  What typically happens is that the advanced student does most of the heavy lifting while the other students coast.  Most likely your good behaving child will be assigned to groups of children that misbehave, again, with the hope that your child’s good behavior will rub off on the others.

Teachers love to assign students to heterogeneous groups… with the hope the advanced student will help bring up the skills of the other students.

Perhaps most importantly, the teacher decides what to learn, when to learn it and how to learn it, arbitrarily or based on a district or state guideline that some expert arbitrarily chose.  If your child is interested in the content, wonderful!  What if he or she is not?  What if he or she already knows the content?  The teacher continues with the shotgun approach- hoping that most of the students will get what they need.

What are your options, then?  You could become one of those parents that teachers and administrators hate because they are so picky and want to know everything that goes on in with their child in the school and the classroom.  They call those parents “helicopter” parents because they hover over the students.  After all, who are you to decide what is best for your child and disagree with the college educated and certified teacher?  There are few administrators and teacher that will accommodate such a parent.  Why?  Because if they do, they would have to accommodate for all the parents.

You could become one of those parents that teachers and administrators hate because they are so picky and want to know everything that goes on in with their child in the school and the classroom. 

You can take your student to a charter school.  Charter schools are like magnet schools where there is a particular focus, or methodology they use to instruct the students.  Unfortunately, you have to shop around to find the one you like and that fits your student and the way you want them to be educated…and most likely, the school will not be nearby, which means that you will have to drop off and pick up your child each day because few charters have busses.  You could choose a private school in the same way, but for the privilege of sending your student to this school, you would have to pay.  These are both excellent options and if you by chance find the right school for your child, great!  Recognize that as I mentioned above, these schools run by chance too.

Your final option is to eliminate chance and take charge of your child’s learning at home.  For some, that is quite a leap of faith.  For others who need two incomes, it would be an economic sacrifice similar to private schools.  The typical concerns are that the parent is not a teacher and does not know what their children need to know, that the students taught at home are socially maladjusted, and finally that you can’t teach four different grades at one time if you have multiple children.

I would like to simplify the concerns by addressing them directly.  If a parent were able to bring their child up to their own level of intelligence and understanding, that is more than what any school can do. So teach them what you know and if you don’t know it, learn with your child.  The social norms at school are strictly controlled in the classroom, hallway, lunch room, and play ground.  The early grades main duty is to socialize the unruly, curious, and freethinking children and make them obedient, patient and unquestioning robots. In my opinion, schools cause social mal-adjustment.  Besides, if your student is the good student, teachers automatically put them with the bad students and your student will be bombarded with the bad habits, language and thinking that you would never let your child watch on television.  There is no such thing as being over-protective.  As a parent you have the right to choose what social group your child is exposed to rather than the random ones that exist at school.  Regarding the final objection, what is wrong with teaching all the children the same things?  Each child will do what he or she can do.  It is the same content, but different expectations.

So teach them what you know and if you don’t know it, learn with your child. 

Finally, there are somethings that are not taught at school and will never be taught in the current system.  In my workshops, I provide the essential traits that children and young adults need to be successful in schooling, career and life.  These traits go to the heart of teaching your child how to learn and developing learning attitudes and skills that will endure their entire lives.

If you are interested in taking “chance” out of the learning equation for your child, sign up for the next webinar.  If you want more, sign up to be a member of the Learning Craft community to share and obtain even more valuable tools, resources and guidance to help propel your child’s learning.

Best Regards,

Dr. Ben Johnson