The opening of the letter hit me: “In January 2002, Congress passed the federal law, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 The purpose of this letter is to inform you about this law and your option of public school choice”.
What? I had heard last spring that my son’s elementary school had not made its goals for improvements in standardized test scores. And that the school was going into PI, or Program Improvement, status. I’m not one who puts ultimate faith in standardized testing, and tend to vilify it as training kids to be bubble-fillers who devise cookie cutter safe answers to questions, rather than to truly teach children to think and to enjoy learning.
But seeing this letter put me in a different frame of mind — that emergency, panicky feeling of quick! Jump off this ship before it goes down! Grab the nearest safety vest! The school is so bad that the district is legally bound to offer us a better alternative? Just the day before, I pooh-poohed the idea of transferring schools, thinking about another parent who applied to have her son transfer to our school and whose daughter is enrolled in a different magnet school. Thankful that my kids are automatically entitled to an education that families who live in even worse school boundaries have to apply and hope to get into.
I have to admit, it was seeing the list of non-PI schools that got me. Graystone, Simonds, Williams, Los Alamitos… all the schools in the extremely suburban and high-achieving neighborhood where I was raised. And I have to admit that I do put some degree of trust in those scores. After all… unlike my seven year-old son, test scores don’t mumble vague answers like “Okay… yeah… nothing much,” when asked how school is going.
“When a student is transferred to a non-PI school, he/she may remain in that school through its highest grade,” the letter continued.
I can practically hear my mom’s voice in my head. How can you not jump on an opportunity like that? It’s an offer you can’t refuse. And you don’t even have to move to the ‘burbs. Of course, if you try it and you like it, you can always move there in time for middle and high school.
These thoughts fill my head as make the long drive down the expressway, my own private Congo River. At each intersection, I move further and further away from urban life, walkability, economic and cultural diversity… and towards that land of high school sports, SAT prep courses, and keepin’ up with the Joneses. Of course, there are plenty of the latter in my current neighborhood, but tempered with enough free school lunches, bus-riding disabled people and the occasional homeless person to remind me constantly of how blessed I am to have what I have.
I reach my son’s Chinese class, and join the other minivans in the driveway, popping the door and letting him out to join the other tan, black-haired children learning Mandarin as their second language. You know that I have an unsettled feeling that I am not doing right for my children by raising them in an environment where there are not many other kids who look like them or share the same traditions. Thus, I make that drive each week to give my son some exposure to Chinese culture, to rub elbows with the children of first-generation immigrants, who remind me of myself at that age.
By the time I chauffeur kids around to Chinese class, grandma’s house, make trip to the grocery store and head back, I am beat. My eyes are strained from driving into the setting sun. Would it even be realistic to consider making this trek twice a day? And knowing that I have an evening full of reading, spelling practice and the last minute homework sheet, do I really want to subject my son to more?
Anyway, our school’s PI status is based on an averaging of test scores: and in our school there is a segment that performs really well (as high as comparable students in those really desirable districts) but there’s also a segment that needs help. My second grader isn’t old enough to be counted in the statistics, but I do know that he’s reading well ahead of grade-level and enjoys the supplemental programs in class and community activities. And we already know that he’s a good boy.
In my heart of hearts (of darkness?), I think know what I want. I don’t want to move my kids. Not now, at least. But there’s the part of me that thinks, better the devil I know than the devil I don’t know…