Education Frustration

About a week ago, my middle son brought home a letter from school, which, at first glance, made me happy. It started out praising his proficiency in math and writing and then invited him to participate in an extension program for selected students. It described how well known this program is and what a wonderful opportunity it would be for him, such a privilege to be included. Boy, my head was swelling with pride!
But then it said the program would take place at 8:00 a.m., two days a week at school over the next 12 weeks. Hang on. School doesn’t start until 8:45! Why is Zach being “invited” in early twice a week for additional work in these subjects if he’s already doing so well? Knowing my active, sporty, nearly 8-year-old boy, he wasn’t going to see this as a privilege—more like a punishment. Sure enough—he did. He chose not to participate.
Also, it seemed like a punishment for the whole family. How was I going to get him to school that early twice a week and balance that with my other two children and my job? My kids want to participate in almost every program we learn about, so we limit their extracurricular activities. He is signed up for his maximum already this term, as he is every term. If we were going to add in additional learning programs, we would have needed to know about them in advance, and he would have had to cut something else out.
The letter closed by stating how the school greatly looked forward to sharing this special program with my son. No sign-up option was mentioned. So, naturally, we just skipped it. I intended to email his teacher with my displeasure that the program was offered outside school hours and make clear that, in my opinion, any extensions to his learning abilities should be provided for during school hours, not as an extracurricular activity. However, I’ve been dealing with some surprise health issues (more on that next week) and it never happened. I did discuss the letter with my husband, a high school teacher, and another teacher friend of ours, and they both agreed with me.
While I was at work this week, I received a message from his teacher saying the program is compulsory and if he is not going to participate, we need to let the principal know. It is an expensive program for the school to provide, so they need to offer the opportunity to another child. I called her back in between my classes, but of course, she was in class then and couldn’t talk. So…. then the school got my email. And I was even more upset—they can’t force us to be there at 8:00! They have six hours a day, 40 weeks a year with my kids, and any learning they want to provide for them should be done in those hours. The rest of the hours are my husband’s and my responsibility to educate them how we see best.
I told them I hoped the email format would allow my concerns to be passed on to appropriate staff and that I would like follow-up on why they couldn’t extend his learning sufficiently during school hours. I also asked what was being offered for children that are not already proficient in those areas—when are they told to come in early for a special program to allow them to catch up to what is expected? (Do you think they are?! Of course not. And we learned more about why, as we investigated further. But, I digress.)
His teacher emailed a lovely response that she understood my feelings and would pass on my concerns as well as extend his learning in the classroom. I reiterated to her that I don’t doubt she and most teachers are doing just that—my boys have had exceptional, caring, dedicated teachers—but my issue is with this program being offered outside school hours, as if that’s a privilege.
The next day, the head of curriculum called and said she wanted me to know my feedback was appreciated and they will take my concerns into consideration for the future. She mentioned the school’s longstanding relationship with this well-known program, and that since the program is presented by a teacher online with the school’s teachers in the room as support, the time is not flexible. They adhere to the program schedule.
That raised more questions for me and I emailed her asking how many years the school has offered the program, what grade levels it is offered to, and what is offered to lower achieving students outside school hours. I also commented that based on her phone call, I got the impression I was the only parent she’s heard from dissatisfied with the program. She responded that, yes, I was. The school has been involved with this program for several years and this year, the program is offered to grade 3 from January through May. She didn’t address my last question; I asked it again and it remains unanswered.
My husband and I started researching the program. Upon going to the website, it is clear program is designed to raise the kids’ standardized test scores! Coincidence that it is being offered this year (and last year–that’s as far back as I got) to Grade 3, right up until the date that they take their first national standardized tests? Absolutely not! The website states the program designed to raise kids into the “Upper 2 bands”. It takes kids that are already likely to do well on these tests and aims to make them do even better, thereby improving the school’s data. That’s it. It’s all about their numbers. As my husband said, they won’t bother with the low achieving kids, because there’s really no way to raise them and that won’t make the school look as good. Better to focus on getting the higher achievers even higher.
Well, I was about to go crazy mother bear on the school, but he reasoned with me not to. It’s not just their school, he says. It’s all schools. They’re all focused on their data. They must be. And that makes me sad. But still angry. At a system that makes it that way. And that they dupe parents into thinking their kids are being given some sort of prize, when they have instead tricked us into bringing our kids in on our own time and our kids’ own time, to improve their numbers! Damn, they’re clever! We’re all so proud our kids are being labelled as proficient that we just move heaven and earth to get them this “fantastic opportunity.” It’s taking advantage of parents’ good hearts and commitments and it’s disgusting.
To be fair, I checked into it further and the kids that participate do thoroughly enjoy it and some say it’s the favourite part of their week. That heartens me at least to know that if they are being used as pawns for data, they are at least enjoying it and benefiting from it. But still. Not happy.
Then to make matters worse, a few days ago, the boys brought home letters telling us that Christian religion classes would be starting up again at school next week. These lessons are given during school hours; the school is required by federal law to provide them if a church asks to come in and give them. It makes quite clear that kids don’t have to participate, but if they don’t, they are basically given busy work during that time, so the kids attending the religion class don’t miss out.
Cue Kathleen’s blood boiling! In the span of a week, I have just learned that if my kid wants to take advantage of some renowned, exceptional learning opportunity that the school is paying for, he needs to come in outside of school hours. And an hour of his learning time will be wasted each week, while those that choose to learn how to follow the Christian faith during school hours receive that opportunity.
Hello! Am I the only one that sees the problem here?! Religion has No Business in a state school! Not at all and especially not when kids are only given the choice of learning how to be followers of one religion. Um, xenophobia? Here’s my solution—offer classes on how to be a good Christian at 8:00 in the morning. That way parents that feel they can’t educate their kids in their religion of choice adequately on their own time and through their own church, can ease their consciences. Then teachers will have more time to work with all levels of abilities during school hours. I mean—seriously! Parents should be educating their kids on their religion of choice on their own time—every church on every corner offers classes throughout the week where they can satisfy that concern. Or better yet—send them to a faith-based school. Don’t waste my kids’ school hours because of it. Sigh.
This is an imperfect system. It’s tough to find a perfect one. I feel for teachers who are genuinely concerned with reaching each individual student and inspiring them. Instead of being free to do that, they’re stuck teaching to the test, rated on their students’ test scores, focused on the data, and wasting their own time most likely during these religion classes. Their hands are tied. It sucks. For all of us. Ok. Rant over. Glad that’s off my chest!
I will now move on to focus on the positives–that we live in a country where my kids can go to school in a friendly, safe place, that they have the right to a free education, and that my husband and I are free to educate them however we see fit on our own time, without  repercussion.

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