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Kindergarten roundups: The big giant fat decision

Kindergarden
An urbanPapa friend and I engaged in a lively philosophical debate via chat yesterday evening while I should have been cooking dinner. At issue, the looming opening of school choice transfer applications for kindergarteners -- this Friday, January 29, at 8 a.m. schools throughout the district will begin accepting them, as well as registration forms for neighborhood kindergarteners. Should he apply for transfer, or just accept the fate his home purchase a decade or more ago had set for him?

I told him I thought Atkinson, his neighborhood choice, was a good one; he wondered about the test scores there, which were not what you'd call a "home run." Atkinson got a grade of "satisfactory" in the District's report cards [pdf link] (you can find other Oregon district report cards, with data on individual schools, here.) He asked what was partly a rhetorical question: "do test scores matter?" 

My perspective was this: test scores are a snapshot that tells you how well third, fourth and fifth graders in your district take tests. It has much to do with demographics; students who are minorities typically do worse, as do those for whom English is a second language. Yes, we know this, he said, but white students in Atkinson weren't doing great, either. This, I said, was again a snapshot of demographics; poorer students do worse, on average. This tells you nothing more than "the majority students in my school are not, on average, students with the high level of parent involvement that guarantees better results on standardized tests." It is not a reflection, I said, on teacher competence or whether or not your child will thrive there. It's just a demographic snapshot. Unless your neighborhood school is a war zone (I'm not saying we don't have any of those in Portland, just unless), your risk of a bad educational experience is equally great at a great neighborhood school, a poor neighborhood school, a charter school, or a private school.

Roundup_kindergarten Sidebar: Kindergarten roundups [pdf link] actually started last week: you've missed the dates for Arleta and Ainsworth -- sorry! Atkinson was this morning at 9:30 a.m., but has another at 6 p.m. Feb 4. Astor is tonight at 6:30 p.m. Forest Park and Rieke are tomorrow at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively. The rest start next week. If you decide you love a school other than your neighborhood school, you must list it as first choice to have a chance in the lottery. Also: if there is choice between half-day and full-day kindergarten in your school, you will want to turn your application in right at 8 a.m. if you want the full-day option; they fill up fast. We have a growing resource in our schools forum, which provides at least a little information and a chance to connect with parents for each school in the PPS, many private schools, and those from some surrounding suburbs and towns. Last year, we talked about kindergarten roundups and school choice, although most of the comments there do pertain strictly to 2009.

He countered, saying, "there is no question that educational reputation affects people's lives. I can't say it affects whether they are happy, but it does affect what kind of jobs they get. For example, top competitive positions at corps and in government are filled predominantly by people from about 5 or 10 universities. Ivy League plus a few others. Shouldn't I give him that opportunity if it's there for me?" He acknowledged that stating this was a departure for him; he'd just as soon give a screed on how owning land should be illegal.

Yes, I said, but there are so many unknowns for a kindergartener, and the test results of kids who are now in fourth grade -- who won't interact with your son at all -- are hardly likely to influence this much.

Look at Everett, who was out of his neighborhood school kindergarten by mid-October and has spent the past two years at Pioneer School, a haven for kids whose IEPs say the infrastructure in all the rest of the district's schools just can't accommodate them. He'll transition to a neighborhood school that I don't pick, soon, and as I've completely lost control of my choice over his educational environment, I've worked instead to give him all those "educational" opportunities over which I do have power: namely, books and a rich immersion in the outdoors. Science by actual experience. Reading because books are all around him.  (I'm not saying I get this right all the time; he still resists my attempts to get him holed up with a book to while away the afternoon. But I'm working on it.)

Absolutely, I said, if you go to the "best" preparatory kindergarten in Manhattan you have a far better chance at getting a job as head of a hedge fund one day...if we still have hedge funds then... but I'm not at all sure that's what I want for my kids. What I know is that I want them to have an uncomplicated elementary education that doesn't create extraneous anxiety in me. I don't want to send my kids to a charter school, because I don't want to spend much of my time feeling pressure to help raise money for the school, to perhaps become involved in a parent group with standards of behavior and wealth and attire (or whatever) that I, we, either can't or don't care to meet. At Everett's school? I once was one of only three parents who showed up to an open house. Those are standards to which I can quite comfortably live up.

I related the tale of another parent of a kindergartener I know, who had a tough time with the  administration at a really lovely school, reacting to a child's sensitivities in a way I felt was, well, insensitive. The school has great test scores; an involved parent base; an admirable set of programs. But it was (at least for a while there) a bad fit.

Here's the thing: the school lottery is a game of enormous chance, and the cards are stacked so that the kids who are in the wealthier neighborhoods end up far better off than the rest of them. There are very few transfer slots, and very many applicants. It is an inequitable system. The kids at charter schools have the decided benefit of parents whose participation is almost guaranteed to be better than those at neighborhood schools; you're committing a lot to be a charter school parent. Private schools are kind of a given: yes, you'll give your kid a better chance at getting into an Ivy League school. I don't think, however, this necessarily the priority of all possible goals for a parent.

Friends have asked about kindergarten choice in the backdrop of a child with special needs. I have had, up until last week when Truman officially "graduated" from his special ed eligibility (go Truman!), three little boys with IEPs or IFSP (the preschool version of an IEP). If you don't already have an IFSP for your preschooler, and suspect he or she will need one, you'll want to immediately call MESD (or the appropriate county's Educational Service District) and get your child's assessment begun; a transition team will help you negotiate the kindergarten upheaval. I highly suggest that you request the opportunity to select a kindergarten teacher. I don't even know your rights, here (I suspect you have a lot more than they'll say on a web site) but I do know that the relationship you and your child have with the kindergarten teacher can have a huge impact on your child's success. Go with your gut here. You can't get it if you don't ask for it, right?

I've decided to go with my neighborhood school, Grout, for Truman, despite my many reservations (namely, I'm not entirely comfortable with the way the administration handled Everett and his difficulties). I'd hoped that all three of my children could become immersed in the same neighborhood school. It's not going to work out quite like that -- clearly -- but I'm hoping that each neighborhood parent like me who gets involved and engages deeply in the diversity of this place where they live, whatever sort of diversity it is, will make a positive impact on the school's future. Every place can only start where it is and, if we work hard (or even if we work AT ALL), improve.

Comments

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I don't much care about test results. We really had to search to find a good fit for our quirky oldest child and a good fit is what matters to me.

What has me upset is the fee-for-service kindergarten at certain schools. Our oldest child is at such a school (and didn't go to kindergarten there), and if we want our youngest to attend K at that school (which would be great!) we'd have to pay more than $300 dollars a MONTH! We can't do that and we don't qualify for the waiver although we really struggle financially all the time.

I think that is BS. Public school should be free, or you should have the option for free half-day. We have no option for that. I know the rules and reasons etc and I still think it is crap.

Homeschooling looks better all the time. If I had over $300 a month to spend freely we could do some pretty cool things on our own.

However, teachers will teach to their students-- if the majority is struggling to learn basic material (for whatever demographic, etc. reasons), then that is the "typical" level at which lessons are pitched. If your child is not in that majority, they may be bored, underchallenged, daydreaming, etc. I think that's a serious cost to consider-- and I don't mean just in terms of hurting one's chances to get into an Ivy League school. I observe PPS classrooms as part of my job, and this is my impression based on many schools, teachers, and grades. The community of learners in which you place your child (roughly indicated by test scores which, yes, are influenced by many factors) WILL influence your child's education. I realize I may be stating an unpopular perspective for many urban Portland homeowners on this site, where the argument for supporting one's neighborhood school often seems to trump many other considerations.

Deep breath. This topic does have a tendency to bring out the diversity of thought here.

I guess my response to LI is this. I know ALOT of children in my neighborhood and not a one is going to their neighborhood school. If they did, the socioeconimic culture of that school would be drasticly different than it is now. And, yep, the program there would probably change. But it seems to me that folks aren't willing to take a chance on it. In all honesty, I wouldn't mind seeing an end to the whole choice issue.

Sarah, I can't say I thank you for bringing the topic to the table! But, I do thank you for putting it out there in a way that is very thoughtful and respectful. You definitely point out the nuances and values people have to come to grips with as they make their choices.

and grrrr, you are so right. If the district can only afford 1/2 day, then half day it ought to be.

Parents need to actually set foot in the schools that they are considering. Don't just look at test scores/state report cards. I am always so surprised by the number of parents who will complain about their neighborhood school and have never.set.foot.in.the.building.
Start going to the p.t.a. meetings this spring even if your child isn't attending. Show up and walk down the hallway with your child in the morning, or in the afternoon when the bell rings when kids are in transition. Take advantage of whatever opportunites you have to get familiar with the school and see how it FEELS. In my mind, this is equally important, if not more, than dry data and other people's opinions.

I strongly disagree that all of this jockeying for schools gives kids any real advantage when it comes to college admissions. On the contrary - universities value diversity, and want to accept students from a range of education backgrounds and experiences.

Kim, I agree that one can't change the local school by opting out, and individual decisions have a cumulative impact. But if the original topic is 'what factors are relevant for deciding where to send my specific child?' (vs. trying to change the school system, or another issue), then I'm objecting to the original post's position that test scores say nothing about whether your child will thrive there. Do they say everything? Of course not. But they speak, in some rough way, to the community of learners your child will be in and I believe information about that community IS relevant, partly because it shapes how teachers will teach. Is it the only/best/most important piece of information for any specific child? Probably not. But it's relevant, as are other sources of information.

I just want my kid to belong somewhere. I do not begrudge parents who transfer for good fit if they have as a previous poster mentioned bothered to get to know the school in their neighborhood first. I used the transfer system because my child has an IEP. We transferred out of Chief Joseph after visiting and because they have a reputation of pushing out kids with IEP's but stayed in the neighborhood to attend Ockley Green. My daughter is fully included in general education with amazing collaboration and support from both general and special education staff. It makes me so upset to hear about children being shuttled around the district because they have an IEP. Often these kids are pushed out of schools like Chief Joseph BECAUSE they want more "desirable" children to transfer in. It is ridiculous that kids who have a hard enough time making friends are not allowed to grow roots at a school and feel like they belong somewhere.
My situation is different than others and I don't believe in state testing anyway so I would not agree personally that the tests tell you anything about the community of learners. That has only been my limited experience so far as a parent and past recipient of public school education.

Grrr: I'm with you. I'm lucky (??) in that my school offers free full-day kindergarten for all comers given the large percentage of lower-income families. But the way PPS does this is really both unfair and sets up a compromising choice for parents like you (I, too, used to be above the income cutoffs but not able to find $300 extra a month. At all. now I'm below income cutoffs -- thanks freelancing!) Portland is making it really tough for middle-class parents of kindergarten students.

Ll: I have no doubt that you're right. I just don't have room in my concerns about my kids to worry about whether they're being challenged academically -- I know there are plenty of challenges for them (let's start with "social") and, if their schoolwork is boring, I hope they'll come home and ask me questions about why it is that "eigh" makes the long "a" sound or why the sky is blue, or start an extraordinarily complex feudal society with their legos and little brothers. it seems to have worked out that way.

kim, parent in pps: I agree, it's important that the parents in the neighborhood *at the very least* walk into their neighborhood school, at best try out PTA meetings or getting together with other parents and kids before kindergarten starts. I met a mom in my neighborhood recently who lived two blocks from Creston -- she told me she had no intention of sending her son there next year. I asked her about why, and her reasons were, basically, 'it's not that good, right?' I've heard that parents are really involved there, and it seems a lovely place; I feel the poor nabe school is getting an unfair shake based largely on the shinier reputation of other schools.

and no, AnIvyLeagueEducation, I don't think you're put at much of an advantage if your kid makes it into a slightly better public school. I think your real chance at the Ivies probably has a lot more to do with your parents (whether they went, whether they are encouraging you to go, whether they're providing you with a home life conducive to eventual collegiality and love of learning) than your k-5 experience. that said: I think even the most cursory glance at the data will show that Lincoln, Grant, OES, St. Mary's, Jesuit and the like send a much higher percentage of graduates to top universities than Jefferson, Madison, Benson, and that your opportunities for further education *are* positively correlated with the quality of your K-12 experience.

We live closer to one of our neighborhood schools than the other in which we are assigned to... if you choose a different school and your child is accepted are they able to stay there through 5th grade or do you have to re-apply each year?

Molly,
if you are accepted as a transfer student (ie. lottery), then you are in until your child graduates to middle school (or high school, if the school is K-8). The downside is that if your child's classmates are zoned for a different middle school than your child, they may have to part ways after 6 or 9 years together.

Full day kindergarten is free to all Title 1 Schools. It's not based on individual families incomes.

. -- full-day kindergarten is free ONLY at Title 1 schools, not at the rest of the neighborhood schools, where it IS based on individual income.

Just to throw this in the mix, with regards to the half-day issue, you can choose to not pay for the half day. The schools call it a half-day option, but the way I've seen it play out is that you pick your child up at lunch time and the rest of the class goes on. Be wary of the schools that say they offer both, because they probably don't really have a dedicated half-day classroom. And, I thought the state ruled on this that 2009-10 would be the last year it was allowed, to make some families pay and not others. Does anyone know the current status?

I'd be curious to hear too kim! We've been told our school does NOT give the option to go half day. If you attend kindergarten there you must pay and it is full day, end of story. I wanted to do exactly what you are saying to do but was told it wasn't an option. It just doesn't seem right and we can't afford it.

Grrr, from the PPS website:

"Half-day kindergarten

Only 2 schools, Glencoe and Maplewood, offered half-day kindergarten programs in the 2009-10 school year. Half-day kindergarten is a free option for families whose neighborhood school offers only full-day, fee-for-service kindergarten. In schools that don't have half-day classrooms, parents can choose to pick up their student at the half-day dismissal bell. This may not be an option for families who have transferred their student out of the neighborhood school.

For questions about full-day and half-day kindergarten, please contact Nancy Hauth at 503-916-3230 or nhauth@pps.k12.or.us"
----------------------

So it sounds like if it's your neighborhood school, you have the option of picking them up mid-day, but probably not if you've transferred/lotteried in.

As for the current status of Senate Bill 1068, the only thing I can find is this from the Stand for Children website (http://www.stand.org/Page.aspx?pid=701):

"June 2009 UPDATE - SB 44-A - Full Day Kindergarten

SB 44-A has been passed by both the House and Senate and is awaiting the signature of the Governor. The bill does two things: First, it creates a Full Day Kindergarten Implementation Committee. The charge of the committee is to provide resources to school districts to help them begin to implement full-day kindergarten, and to bring a recommendation to the legislature by October 2010 for how to move forward to implement full-day kindergarten. Second, this bill also allows districts to charge tuition for full-day kindergarten until June 30, 2012. Stand for Children met with committee members early on to support the development of a plan for full day kindergarten now."

Looks like we'll be paying for kindergarten for our current preschooler who has one year left before he starts Kindergarten. Drat!

Another thing to be aware of is that some PPS schools actually let the kindergartners have a decent amount of recess! Other schools like the one my daughter goes to sometimes (when it's not raining) let the kids have 7 minutes (supposed to be 15 but they spend at least half of it lining them up and taking them to the cafeteria) before lunch to run from one door through the playground to the cafeteria door. Most parents I talked to don't realize this. Ask about recess! Take back childhood for your Children! School should be about more than training kids to work in Nike cubicles - no matter how much money Nike donates to schools.

Mamas, This just in from Nancy Hauth with PPS: "Check out the district's new and improved kindergarten website: http://www.pps.k12.or.us/departments/kindergarten You'll find information about Kindergarten Round-up and upcoming kindergarten and school choice fairs. Our guest editor is Gretchen Rowland, kindergarten teacher at Vestal K-8, who shares her ideas about kindergarten readiness. So, let us know what you think. If you have questions we haven't answered, I'll post them on the Parent Page."

Hey there - Question time please>>>

what about pre-K - I know some PPS offer it - do you tour schools for PRE-K at the same time?

Also applications go live this Friday @9am - does that mean you have to be one of the firsts to complete & submit an application online?


So confusing....
Does

liz,

Yes and no. When we applied for pre-k, we did all of the same stuff on the same schedule as the Kindergarden applicants, including the tours, mandatory information meetings, paperwork and application process. And the lottery is not a first come first serve process. I think we did ours right away because I was terrified that I'd space the deadline and miss it, but it doesn't make a difference.

I feel stupid for asking this question. Why is full day kindergarten important? Is it only important if you work outside the home? I ask this as the mother of a preschooler who is so adorable and fun to spend time with, and I hate to see her slipping through my fingers. Maybe my feelings will change by the time she's five?

While you're considering schools you might want to look at this. http://www.pps.k12.or.us/schools-c/docs/e_ESMS_Slots_0910.pdf
It's the list of transfer spots for PPS elementary and middle schools PPS for 2009-10.
As you can see, many schools last year had no or very few spots for transfers (Forest Park, for example, had none) and as siblings of existing students get first priority, you'll want to find out whether the schools you are interested in actually have open spaces before wasting your time going to round-ups.
They're supposed to post the available transfer spots for next year by Friday here
http://www.pps.k12.or.us/schools-c/make_a_choice.php#choice
but, as someone who went through this, I'd recommend calling the school secretary and/or principal to ask how many open (non-sibling) spots they'll have before bothering to go to the meetings. They can be a frustrating waste of time.

thanks to jj and Nancy Hauth for the info!

anon: no, you'll still love her all the time when she's five :) I often miss my seven-year-old when he's gone at school all day, too. it IS mostly working parents who appreciate the full-day programs; and there are other factors, such as the greatly-increased academic nature (academicization?) of kindergarten. most kids are already reading when they get to first grade... I distinctly remember my very first reading lesson occurring in my first grade class. also, there's the awkward fact that having a child in school for two-and-a-half hours is a hassle. my son Truman is in preschool for about that time now (I think he's actually on the half-day kindergarten timetable, though Grout is now full-day only) and I often think it takes as much time to get him ready, take him, and go pick him up again, than the time I get "alone" (with my two-year-old) at home. I think many parents decide that, if they're going to go to all the trouble of getting a kid dressed and out the door, it might as well be for five hours.

but other than that, I don't think there's any reason to have your child in full-day if you're enjoying having her at home (and, I assume, engaging with her in the meantime). I believe any benefit she'd miss from full-day kindergarten will be more than made up for by her interactions with you.

Full day is only five hours? That's a full day?

no, anon, I'm sorry -- it's six hours. evidently I can't do first grade math this late :)

Preaching to the choir, I guess, but I too am frustrated that our nabe school (where we will be sending our son in the fall) only offers full day and charges us $300/month for the privilege. That's twice what I pay for his preschool! I had naively hoped that entering the public school system meant the end of tuition payments.

And it's good to know that in theory I'd have the option of picking him up early, but not sure how much an "option" that really is. If I were the five year old whose friends and teachers were all doing interesting things in the second half of the day that I didn't get to do, I'd feel pretty sad and left out.

We moved here from San Francisco a couple of years ago. It is a lottery system and you can put up to seven school choices down. When I was looking I was given a couple of great tips. 1) Test scores should be viewed more as a map as to how the school is progressing/regressing. 2) Visit any school you are considering sending your child/children to. A great school to your best friend might be a lousy fit for you and your child. Ask to speak with parents of students who attend the school - try and attend a PTA meeting or other school event. 3) Get input from your preschool as to which kind of school would be a better fit for your child (small vs. large school for example). 4) Get involved as best you can. Remember not every parent has the time/energy to do much.

Also, Portland's chapter of Parents for Public Schools is another great resource.

The "fit" idea is a very interesting one to me in this discussion. When I was looking for kindergarten last year, I had a whole notion in my head of what I thought my son needed for a school to fit, or for him to fit in a school. It's really only now that we're there that I have a much better picture of what that means, and how the school we're in fits or doesn't. And how much of the "non-fit" would exist at any school versus how well his school is able to respond to the needs he demonstrates as we go along. I totally second (third?) the notion that you really have to visit any school, spend time there, etc, before you really know what it's like. Looking back to last year, I realize the distress the whole notion of "finding the right school" caused really wasn't worth it. It's kindergarten, and I have years ahead of me to make changes if I need to.

For the record, we opted out of our neighborhood school. When I went there, the principal didn't seem to be bothered by the fact that there was one recess time for kindergartners, and had no plans to change this. That was my red flag that the school really wasn't going to respond to needs that I felt important, so my being there wasn't going to help make the school any better than it already was. That said, we opted into a great school that is actually closer to our home and, therefore, in my head, my real neighborhood school. We love the people, the kids, the program, the fact that it's an easy walk or bikeride to it. It is not without it's downsides, but I believe those are things that would exist anywhere. The goods outweigh the bads at this point. And, if I had let test scores be my guide, I would have missed out on this place.

Sarah, I love your phrase "uncomplicated elementary education." That is so what I want. It's not that I don't want my child to have the best in life, and to be poised in a great position to grab the ring when it comes by. But I don't think jockeying for the best academic kindergarten is what is going to do that for us. They are only this young once and I am so much more invested in letting him unfold as he's going to and move from there.

The most determinant factor of what college you get into is your family's socioeconomic status. While there are exceptions, that is the general rule. whther that's 1/10, 3/10, 1/50 is up for debate. So yes, the well-heeled parents of students at the "desirable" schools are better equipped to navigate the system, whether it be school choice, the PTA, fundraising for extras. They take those skills to wherever little Schuyler or Emmeline land. If there is a critical mass of such parents, they DO change the school (see also: Beach Immersion vs. Regular Beach)

When my kid was in kindergarten in another state it was half day. Which was developmentally appropriate as well as a killer for a single WOHM earning less than the median income (read: broke-ass). The school was going to full-day much to the protestation of my kid's teacher, the best in that school district, mainly to support families need to their kids to be someplace while they worked outside the home all day.

My kid had an outstanding kindergarten teacher who was hand-picked by her mom, who was able to navigate systems in California better than she has in Portland Public. Her educational experience in Portland Public School save for two years at Ockley Green was dismal. And I skipped over Ockley for sixth grade based on test scores and reputation for a highly desirable magnet. The magnet was abysmal and I found out about how administrators at such schools ease up on discipline to keep the school report card stats pristine.

I think the only way you'll know is to walk the halls and the other things listed in the post up there.

I went to the meeting at Atkinson yesterday, and it seemed like the vast majority of us were there as potential transfers for the immersion program, though from what I saw I'd be happy to send my kid to the neighborhood school there, too. (If your urbanPapa friend wants to transfer out, I think there would be a great many happy people there to vie for the spot!)

I do admissions interviews for an elite university, and yes, every kid I've interviewed has been from private schools and Lincoln HS, so if that matters to you when your kid is 5, you might need to move to the west side.

ouch! IvyLeagueSoWhat.

Maybe I'm a little bit too laid back, maybe just naive but I'm amazed at all the fuss. We are currently renting in Forest Heights and the neighborhood school ranks quite high (Forest Park) but we have no desire to send our kids there. Our oldest is only 3.5 so we have some time to think about this. Though I do not want to get into bashing many of the people I have met while living here the past 3 years I will say that there is more to learning experiences than test scores. I want my kids exposed to diversity: social, economic, academic, etc. I want my kiddos to have real life experiences, I do not want them to live in a sterilized environment.

We are anxious to move and yes, we too, are eye-ing Atkinson for the immersion program, Richmond, and Glencoe.

I didn't go to any Ivy League/elite/top school and I consider myself quite successful and very happy in life:O)

And one more thing besides wishing for an 'edit' button, my siblings and I qualified for the free lunch program and my folks weren't very active participants in our learning. Successful and happy kiddos do come out of mediocre schools.

So I guess I'm thinking that there are too many factors and that test scores are just a small part of the big picture.

We've been at Richmond for two years and don't go a single day without being happy with our choice and in absolute love with the school. Just thought I'd put that out there.

As long as we use testing and test scores to grade schools, we will be stuck in an inept and frustrating system. Some things to consider about testing and test scores:
1.The STS tests were engineered by eugenicist who also worked for the Nazi regime to purify the races ( a true fact )
2.Thus, these tests are horribly racist and classist. Recently some education professors at PSU took some of the basic middle school tests and failed.
3.As long as the curriculum is swayed by testing, which mostly utilizes rote memory/facts/dates not analytical, emotional, creative, or social aspects our children will be deprived of a curriculum that is emotional, creative, or social.
4. Perhaps some of the schools who 'fail' tests have a rich curriculum, and/or perhaps the teachers are refusing to 'teach to the test' or perhaps, more likely, standardized testing is a corrupt and futile way to measure intelligence, ability, and thus, school performance.
Why do we want to grade our children like beef? Why, based on these test scores do we want schools to receive differentiated funding? What do these tests truly reflect? Does your child have abilities and intelligences that can not be tested?
I agree with other posters, visit the school, look at the schedule of the day, look at some work samples of the children. Take your child/ren with you to see and feel the schools. Think of some pedagogical questions you would like to ask the administrators and teachers, and ask. Ask other families who have student/s in that school. But, testing fails.
For more on this stuff, check out Rethinking Our Classrooms, which has a local chapter and billions of online resources.

This is obviously a topic about which we are all very emotional and concerned. I have one more year to make this decision, as my daughter turns 4 next month. However, I feel like I need to become an informed mama now, so I'm not feeling like I'm trying to understand the PPS system so close to when these decisions have to be made.

This may be a less popular choice, but I'm debating between our public school option and a private school option. Not because I'm concerned about my children going to an ivy league school, since that is the least of my concerns. My main concern is about allowing my children to have a love of learning for as long as possible. Kindergarten is not like when we were young, where socialization and play were the key elements.

I have several friends, and a sister, who work in the school system, and they all say that if you can afford it, private school would certainly allow for a child to be a child for longer.

I'm not sure we'll be able to afford it, but I definitely am considering it. Based on my experience, once you lose that love of learning, it is very hard to get it back. Plus, kids imaginations are magical, and I just wouldn't want to see my daughter's imagination stifled.

All I can say is what others have said: Go visit the school.

My child's particular PPS kindergarten classroom strongly resembled the Waldorf kindergarten I attended back in the day. (And this wasn't the charter Waldorf school). Wooden toys, canopies of silk to play under, objects from nature. The kids wrote letters to the garden fairies. No imagination-stifling going on there.

ProtestMama,
Just curious about your reference of Beach School in your post.

A critical mass of parents did change many things but they were school wide issues like getting rid TV in the classroom etc. Many things have also changed for the positive with our new Principal. The PTA is very focused on making the school equitable. The PTA has paid for violins for the free Suzuki program the community side receives and any other money spent at the school impacts ALL the kids. True, the PTA has a large percentage immersion/younger grade parents but this is changing too.

I also encourage folks to visit the school in your neighborhood and the other "better" schools before you apply. Go to a PTA meeting and see what the support is like at the school. You may be surprised what you find.

The Beach PTA meets on the second Thursday of the month at 6:30 and childcare is always provided.

BTW-Looking over the kindergarten Fee For Service site I realized that our family would easily qualify for a tuition scholarship if we end up with our neighborhood school. It looks like the cut-off for eligibility is about $50K/year for a family of 4 to get a tuition reduction of 25% to 50%. It still sucks to have to pay for kindergarten, but I suppose that helps a bit. http://www.pps.k12.or.us/departments/kindergarten/1720.htm

Go to your neighborhood school! If you choose the neighborhood, then you choose the school. The "I like my neighborhood, but don't want to send my kid to *that* school..." doesn't seem logical or substantial.

what is so wrong about liking your neighborhood, but not choosing your neighborhood school as their education option? My neighborhood school is a highly sought after K-8. I have visited the school, been to PTA meetings, etc. (and my child does not even attend there...) I don't think the traditional education they offer is what I want for my child. The community is strong, but emphasis on testing is high. Personally, I want a different philosophy of educating my child. Does that mean I should move to a neighborhood I DON"T like, just so it does not look "bad" if I opt out of our neighborhood option???

I think it's great that Portland is so community-minded, but I don't understand why there has to be such a divide between the "school choice" people and the "neighborhood school" people. Can't we all just be "pro-education" - however we see fit for our children? Some people might take a more "community" approach & that's great. Others may feel a specific educational style/focus is better for their kids & that's just as great. Shouldn't we all be working toward better schools period -- and stop spending so much energy trying to get others into a specific "camp"??

Seriously? Okay, I *choose* to live near Beverly Cleary or Alameda or Dunaway or Ainsworth.... Oh, wait, I can't! Because we can't afford a house in those neighborhoods. Not everyone "chooses" their neighborhood, some of us don't even like our neighborhoods, some of us just make do with what we can afford.

pdxmama, I think one of the reasons you find folks pushing neighborhood schools comes down to dollars. Schools recieve funding, in part, based on number of students attending. When students do not attend their neighborhood school, that school suffers financially and the folks who are sending their children there don't get the benefit of a fully funded school. It's cyclical. If the school doesn't have enough money, the educational opportunity lessens, and more people opt out. Not allowing this to happen would bring more financial resources to struggling schools.

When you say that to a middle income family with the means to invest the time and support to their school to make it a better one, that means "don't gentrify the neighborhood and then abandon the community", but if you say it to a lower income family that relies on their school to be the primary source of education, social modeling and guidance for the 30 hours a week of school plus after school while both parents work, it means, "stay in your place". It's a situation that varies greatly from family to family in terms of what "choosing" their school or to transfer really means. Something to keep in mind while we take sides and back bite. I hear a lot of parents on this site talking about finding the right "fit", but for a lot of parents, it's not about fit, it's about opportunity.

Kim,
Good point.
I wanted to add that for some of us though it is not about the $s. We actually get enough transfers in to fill all the slots at our school.

I think it is important for my kids to attend our neighborhood school because of the sense of community it creates. We are fortunate to be able to walk or ride the 6 blocks and my kids love meeting up with friends on the way. Most my daughter's friends live very close by which really simplifies our lives.

pdxmama--you don't understand why there has to be such a divide between the 'school choice' people and the 'neighborhood school' people???
This is because PPS has created an envirnoment in Portland that pits these two groups against each other. Allowing transfers out of neighborhood schools creates divisions and ultimately a case of the have and have nots, because $$ follows students.
Good families transfer out because they want better for their kids..if the kids at X school have these good things, I want them for my kid too!" When you pull out of your neighborhood community, your school suffers.
My kids attend a Title 1, lower performing school, yet if the kids who actually live in this neighborhood were to attend our school, I can guarantee you that it would be a completely.different.place.
The bottom line is the inequity that school choice causes.

Kim, what you say is true. There's no denying that. But our culture is founded on a free market - the desire for choice is not going to go away. And there are plenty of parents who are also correct that certain types of education/focus *would* be better for their kids. Should they be shunted to a more generic type of school where their kid might not thrive so well? I totally see both sides to the problem. Let's say the options disappear. While that might force people to stay in their neighborhood, I'm sure it would send just as many more to make the sacrifice of going "private." More kids in private schools means the school tax dollars go to the state. At least by choosing an option/focus school, but staying "public" the tax dollars stay in the district & some portion of them benefit all the district schools. I just think there is a fundamental problem with the system that goes beyond choice/option vs. neighborhood - and that the more energy we spend arguing about that issue means the less energy we're putting into a deeper solving of the problem. Maybe there's a better question to be asking (and don't ask me what it is (I haven't figure that one out yet!)...

Last year I went to several kindergarten roundups both in and out of the neighborhood. Initially wasn't planning on sending my daughter to my neighborhood school,Creston, because of what I had heard about the school. I was pleasantly surprised to find they offered many of the programs, art, PE, garden club,computer lab,that I was told by others weren't offered. I feel like my child gets individual attention from the teacher, class sizes are small(22 kids seems like alot but some have 28-30). When I specifically asked about teaching to the masses last year? One of the kindergarten teachers indicated you just can't do that. My child loves to go to school every day. For us choosing kindergarten was like choosing a preschool, as a parent you know what feels right for you and your family.

PPSparent:

What are "good families"? Does that make the others "bad"?

pretty sure it means the others are "not white"

I think it means families with higher socio-economic status that can afford to leave, not necessarily delinated by race. But Portland being Portland, it often plays out by race.

I have known some middle and upper middle income families of color who have chosen ethnically diverse Title I schools over "better" less diverse schools. I hated that PPS makes it so that's the choice.

I would think of 'good' famlilies as those families that are actively involved in their children's education, supporting the school, making their community better. If your school has a bunch of dead-beat parents, chances are the school will suffer and lack in progress because that play out across all aspects of the school. And yes, dead-beat parents can be of all makes and colors...it's not a race issue,anon.

An involved parent is one that gets their kid to school on time in a reasonably presentable manner and that helps them at home as best they can with keeping up in school...no more, no less. Many "good families" do not have time or money to support the school or contribute much more to the community other than following the law and showing respect and I would never consider them a deadbeat.
We have to be careful in our definitions and I agree it should not be a race issue but we have to take our blinders off to policies and practices that are a form of institutional racism. Does that make people who use school choice racist? Of course not...recent data out of PPS shows that more kids on free and reduced lunch transfer than non so even the low SES argument has to be rethought. As a community we need to understand the policies and work to change them to be more equitable. That might not even mean ending school choice per se but the funding for schools is unfair and currently contributes to flight and stark inequities in PPS schools. How can anyone sleep at night knowing that Jefferson high school only has one foreign language and only 3 years of it when other high schools have multiple languages including Latin and sign language up to 4 years? How is it fair that any student in the district (and out of district) can be in the Jefferson Dance program but not have to attend the school itself? Let's not demonize other parents and work together to make the district fund schools equitably and look beyond our own children to fight for all children. Yes, some parents have checked out but that is not an excuse to write off a school or their children. Thank goodness nobody decided to write me off based on my parents lack of involvement both at home and at school. Disclaimer: I am not saying anyone in this thread writes kids off or made that assertion and just responding to some general themes I read elsewhere.
Just heard a Lincoln parent speak passionately about not wanting to lose what they have worked hard to acquire at their school. I can't fault her that and only ask that parents start to at least learn the issues beyond their campuses and stand together as a community to make the district serve all kids well. It is not enough to say, "Well PPS should just do the right thing but don't take things away from successful schools." The money follows the student so if the kids go away so does the money. If you do not attend your neighborhood school then perhaps volunteer there once a month if you can and watch a schoolboard meeting or two, write a letter. I know some Urbanmamas do that already as I have read in the past. OK, stepping down of soapbox to do laundry now :)

Interesting statistic, Stephanie, about lower SES families transfering more than non. I would not have guessed that, and I appreciate you putting it out there. It is so much easier to have a conversation based on facts than on emotion.

I also want to comment on the idea of not faulting the Lincoln parent for not wanting to lose out because I get that from a more empathetic place, but, really, when what that school has outpaces others by SO MUCH, I do fault that thinking. There is only so much in terms of resources to go around. Some schools will have to see cuts in order to equalize, foreign languages being only one example. I want the Lincoln parents (and all the others that have so much) to step back and realize it isn't right to allow such inequity. It just isn't right.

I would think of 'good' famlilies as those families that are actively involved in their children's education, supporting the school, making their community better.

Unless you live on the west side in which case these very qualities are perceived as wrong as per the last post?

Sorry the first part was to be a quote...

"I would think of 'good' famlilies as those families that are actively involved in their children's education, supporting the school, making their community better."

Kim - I was really surprised as well by the data and in fact so was the enrollment and transfer department and committee that looked at it. We also noticed that a number of students that transfer at choice time transfer back to their neighborhood school as a hardship transfer off season. TAG students were really low during choice time but then made up one of the majorities of hardship transfers.
I think the recession and subsequent changes have impacted this issue, people can't up and move or take their kids to private school like they used to threaten to do. People are hunkering down to ready for whatever it is we are feeling in the air and communities are coming together more. I have met a lot of parents that see the challenges in our high poverty school that did not meet AYP this year that shrug their shoulders and say we will just have to work harder then and roll with it. Of course a lot of new K parents have already proclaimed they are leaving but I also did not see one of these families that are leaving at any PTO meetings nor did they return my contacts for volunteering. I am not faulting them because maybe they can't volunteer but it is also disappointing to hear them complain about lack of parent involvement when we are practically jamming the opportunities down their throat.
With the current economy we may trend back to a more "it takes a village" mentality with people returning to their neighborhood despite policy changes.
I hear you about wishing that some folks that have gained the most from the broken system would open their eyes to the inequities but I am thinking the real revolution is educating parents just getting started in public education and trying to work for an upward trend of staying in your neighborhood. After talking with a few friends and other parents I find that they just don't know the issue well. Really progressive folks have repeated the "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" meme and I remind them what Colin Powell said...."but what if they don't have bootstraps?" I am still formulating exactly how I feel about it all but again, think most of the conversation here (compared to last year) shows how much more informed families are on the issue.

Doesn't "No Child Left Behind" require schools to allow transfers out of poor performing schools, even pay for transportation is budgets allow (ha, yeah, right!). Not sure if all the blame can be placed on PPS.

Oh no! I was already a bit anxious about navigating the PPS system BEFORE finding this post (LOL)! From an outside perspective, the energy this post generated shows me that there are many caring, dedicated, passionate parents out there wanting the best for their child given their unique circumstances (although we all may disagree about the specifics).

I hate to change course, but I have a questions which I don't think was covered. What are the options for children whose birthdays don't "meet" the age cut-off for kindergarten?

My daughter's birthday is in mid. Feb. and I strongly feel that she will be more than ready for kindergarten at "4 1/2". We are two full-time working parents and she has been in full-time school for 50 hours/week since she was 12 weeks old. I've been told that the "cut-off" is set in stone and if we wish to enroll her in PPS kindegarten she will have to wait until she's 5 1/2 (despite being academically and socialy ready)?

We've also heard that if we keep her in her current private school through kindegarten, then she can transfer into the PPS 1st grade? Does it have to be a full year of kindegarten or just a semester?

She's transfering schools in the fall and I'm wondering if we should get her into the preschool class early this fall, in order for her to enter "kindegarten" at 4 at the private school and then transfer at 5 1/2 into 1st grade?

I also just want to point out that all the "perceptions" of schools goes both ways (in terms of which are "good" and which are "bad" - in response to some of the "west side" comments). We moved this year into the Ainsworth District and I was very shocked to hear from the parents at a nieghborhood gathering how diappointed they were with the school and how they wish their children went elsewhere (I had no idea they had combined grades!). We also keep hearing that all the zoning is "up in the air" and could change by the time our children are ready for high school (Lincoln). So in the end, we probably have even less control over their options than we thought!

Arlington Heights Mom,

PPS is VERY strict about birthday deadlines. A February Birthday is not even close to the Oct 1st. I am sure your child is ready for K.... but think about the later years... do you really want to send your kid off to college at 17? Will she be bummed to be the only kid without a drivers license? Why rush your child? Your only 4 1/2 once :)
Keep in mind, many parents are delaying K entry, so your 4 1/2 year could be in class lots of 6 years olds. Academically they may be at different levels, socially and most importantly, emotionally!
PPS also, will not allow kids into 1st grade until they are 6. At least that has been the literature I have read.
Good luck.

Just saw this post thread and wanted to put in a word on the half day kindergarten issue. My son attended full day kindergarten in Illinois, prior to our recent move to Portland. Back in Illinois he could have been in half day, but we did not consider it as a real option since there was no cost difference, we did not know of any other children doing it, seemed like he would be left out, miss out on the "fun" stuff, etc. Once here, finding that full day would have cost $335/month and not being able to even come close to affording the tuition, we decided to go half days. The only half day option at his school was for him to attend a full day class but leave his classmates prior to lunch. He is an older kindergartener that loves school, loves learning, loves his teachers and friends. I definitely thought he would want to stay for lunch and recess with his buddies if nothing else. However, he is very happy with half day, much prefers it over the full day program. The full day program was just long, and for him, it was very difficult to get enough food in him to last through the afternoon, as he is not generally hungry for breakfast, and too distracted by friends to eat lunch (I learned through observation) so by the afternoon, he was hungry and unhappy and in trouble frequently. Since we went to half day we have had zero problems. New school and new teacher so could be something else, but I and he, credit the half days. So I guess my point is, half day is a viable option for those who chose it, and depending on the child may work out better.

Frankly I'm glad that this year's (2010-11) available lottery choice spots for kindergarden are down on last year. My local school is Grout and my husband and I are commited to attending, as we want to support our local neighbourhood school. Many other area parents seem frustrated that Llewellyn/Duniway/Winterhaven spots are extremely limited or non-existent this year. My comment to them is 'maybe if your child went to the local school it would get better'. I'm tired of the mad scramble to get into the 'best' elementary. My child will end up as Hosford middle and Cleveland high just as yours will. I wish more Portland parents felt this way, and can't wait until PPS starts restricting elementary choice options in the same way as the current High school redesign proposes.

I'm curious if people can recommend schools that they truly love. I've heard Richmond mentioned, but wondering where this Waldorf inspired Kindergarten is?

I have visited many many school in the last two years and frankly I am just so disappointed with PPS. I think the real question here is how can we improve all the schools in Portland.

Can someone educate me on how the school system works in regard to academics and electives? AFter looking at many schools, I noticed that schools in "better" neighborhoods, such as Alameda, have access to programs such as drama, music, etc. My neighborhood school is a title one school and at the information meeting, they seemed to mainly focus on academic standards and achieving IB status. If I want my child in a school where there is more focus on arts-integration, would I have to look toward Buckman or Alameda? Is this something that a PTA could push /work toward? Or is the school program/structure driven completely by the staff?

Unfortunately at PPS Schools the Principals have apparently total discretion over staffing and scheduling.

What that means is that based on the number of students attending a school (and a few other factors, like title I funding) a Principal is given a certain number of FTE (full-time-equivalents) That is how many teachers they can have on staff. The Principal then decides how many classroom teachers, at what grades and how many specialists (art, music, PE, Science, Foreign Language) the school will have for the year. The Principal can choose to have smaller class sizes and fewer specialists, or they can decide to have reading specialists and non-classroom teachers who do pull out tutoring instead of music and art teachers. A principal could also for example choose to have a half time music teacher and a half time art teacher instead of only one or the other full-time.

Principals also set the schedules and determine what grade levels have what specials and for how many minutes per week. The Principal also decides if the students will have recess at all and if so how much, and how long the lunch period will be.

At the school my daughter attends, I have found that our Principal is not interested in the kind of parent involvement that questions her decisions about staffing and schedules.

I used to be in the "go to your neighborhood schools and work to make it the place you want it to be camp" However after two years at our neighborhood school, attending countless parent meetings and volunteering in the classroom and the library, I have found that it just isn't true. So far my experience with PPS has been very disillusioning.

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