Lean 30: 9 – Parents and School Choice

Pamela Chan, BCFamily.ca/Editorial

Lean 30 : 30 days of keeping it lean and old school online. More

This year my family took part in the kindergarten registration process in our local school district.  Individually, as a couple and as a family, my husband, two children and I attended information sessions, met with our neighbourhood school principal and toured a school choice programme site.  By attending the information sessions, we embraced the prospect of school choice and I saw, first hand, how other parents assessed their options.

(I will refer to Montessori and French Immersion programmes, for example, as school choice programmes.)

On a professional level I had the opportunity to consider these options when I completed an M.Ed. programme at UBC and later worked with a team of Canadian researchers who investigated the topic of school choice in Canada.  This time around I am on the other side of the fence.  As a parent I see how other parents are or aren’t exercising their school choice options.  I see how they are asking questions and coming to conclusions.  At times I have been concerned when I hear inaccurate information being shared about, for example, the Montessori programme.  (I hold a Montessori teacher/directress diploma.)  I have also made inquiries about parents’ perceptions and relationships with their neighbourhood schools.

In a recent blog post, a BC elementary school principal and teacher in Langley wrote about the impact of school choice on neighbourhood schools.  The opportunity for dialogue these types of posts present – within the comment section – is significant.  How else can we capture insights from parents and educators? There are methods that school districts, teachers, administrators and researchers use but is the topic of parental attitudes and understandings related to public education being explored enough?

Unless you have spoken with me at length, you won’t understand why my husband and I have made the decision that we did about schooling for the 2014/15 school year.  You won’t know that my commitment to both my neighbourhood school and options provided by school choice programmes left me feeling conflicted after our decision was made.  There are compelling reasons why our family would choose to enroll in our neighbourhood school or a school choice programme.  When we chose one option we had to let go of the benefits of attending the other programmes.

Many parents have sought me out to discuss kindergarten enrollment options.  They know that I am a parent of pre-K children and that I also have a professional background in teaching and educational policy research.  So much of what I hear touches on topics and perspectives that aren’t documented in more formal ways.

Do parents put their children in one type of school choice option in BC to avoid having ESL and special needs children in their classes?  Yes some admit that they do.  This is not news BUT you might be surprised to know that programme information for this specific programme presented to parents supported this expectation.  At least indirectly, parents with children who have special needs, for example, might have been discouraged to enroll their children in this programme after attending the information session.

How are parents considering their neighbourhood schools?  Have they visited the school in their catchment area?  Have they gone on a tour or met with the principal?  Did they attend an information night before kindergarten enrollment took place? Do these parents know other families who have children in that school?  Were these families able to attend a Strong Start programme in their neighbourhood school?  (Assuming that there is one.) In any other way have they stepped into their local school to take part in the community life of the school? Why have parents chosen to have their child attend or not attend their neighbourhood school?  Are there missed opportunities in terms of how neighbourhood schools could reach out to parents of prospective students who don’t have another child already in the school?

Do we really know what parents are thinking about our public schools?  Some will be frank and share their personal observations and concerns with teachers and administrators while many others won’t.  Will the recent immigrant from Europe tell BC educators that her community of friends think students are basically “playing around” in BC schools and that the programmes aren’t rigorous enough?  How should I respond to her friend who has heard that it is better to pay for your child’s education in order to access a higher quality programme? What should I say to the parent who says French Immersion teachers are more passionate and committed teachers?

Many parents won’t  be commenting on blog posts and don’t use Twitter.  Education and politics are two hot topics on social media.  If you know the hashtags #BCEd, #EDChat or even #BCPoli, for example, you will know that conversations held in these digital meeting places are addressed to members of the choir.  How do we move beyond these communities of interested parties?  Do we build relationships with parents well before kindergarten enrollment takes place?  Are we maximizing our opportunities to communicate to the community of families about what is happening in our schools?  It’s easy to say “YES. Of course!  Here’s example X, Y and Z.”   Isn’t it more proactive and progressive to ask “how can we do better?”  We can be inspired by examples of best practice elsewhere but the strongest solutions are developed at a local level within each school district and school.

Recently I got to know an extremely well informed parent who enrolled her child in one of a selection of choice programme.  “Are these choices right for her child”, I wondered – based on what I know about these programmes and my observations of the child. It disturbs me when I hear that the neighbourhood school wasn’t at least considered as an option.  After all, we do make a choice to enroll our children in our neighbourhood schools.

How should communities of educators and administrators document and share information about the unique and vibrant educational programmes and culture in their schools  – including both neighbourhood and school choice programmes?  Of course they are already doing this in a variety of ways and use modern technology tools as aids.  We desperately need to move beyond school websites that don’t seem to have evolved since 1999.  We also need to move beyond simply hanging up class work on hallway walls next to Parent Advisory Council notes.  We need physical spaces that are vibrant (that word again), inviting and readable.  Vibrant doesn’t necessarily mean multi-coloured.  Some of the most inviting educational environments I’ve seen feature natural material and muted colours. As soon as we walk into a school, what do we understand about a space that could be new to us?  We need schools and, to a more controlled degree digital spaces, that display content about dialogue and opportunities for listening, recognition of others and openness.  We need to make visible the experiences and perspective of the connected three-part community of students, teachers and parents.  Most importantly we need to find new ways to help prospective students and their parents to understand what is happening in our schools.


As if we aren’t stressed out enough as parents…here come the Fraser Institute rankings for schools. (TheThirtiesGrind.com)

Related Posts with Thumbnails

42 thoughts on “Lean 30: 9 – Parents and School Choice

  1. I like how you walk through all the ways to “check-out” the school or program before committing. Sometimes it’s necessary, after making a decision, to re-think and maybe even change the plan. No one school plan will work for each family, or even each child in the same family. I’m so thankful we have options and the freedom to choose and make the decisions we feel are best for our children.

  2. We have some friends in Canada who started in a French immersion school and then switched to home educating their child. Another element of the equation to consider!

  3. It’s refreshing to read an article form someone who is passionate about children’s education. I was fortunate to have a wonderful school for my kids when they were that age. These same elements can be applied as they progress into secondary school and college as well!

  4. Although we choose to homeschool our children, my thoughts resonate with yours. I feel that parents should be better educated on their choices from a truly unbiased point of view. I also believe that, sadly, many parents do not take the initiative to make well informed and thought out decisions about their children’s education. I find your article refreshing. I am thankful for educators like you who take seriously every detail of our children’s lives. I thank you for making yourself available in-person to those parents who do take thought and ask questions, as well as those online. Blessings!

  5. I used to teach in a private school in the Philippines. Most parents would gladly pay for the “exclusivity” of the school rather than the education itself. These misinformed parents would later on complain that their children are getting too much or too little education. I wish they had spent more time researching about schools and their respective curriculums. They would have perhaps saved money from tuition fees and saved themselves from headaches.

  6. Very insightful. As an Educator and a Parent who’s chosen to homeschool, I do feel many parents look only on the surface when it comes to choosing a school. Sadly, many feel they do not have a choice because of their own work situations or some other limiting factor.

  7. Thank you for your comments. I’m finding it very interesting to read each person’s response.

    It has been interesting to consider the topics of parental understandings and perceptions of a programme or neighbourhood school, ideas about potential fit (RE learning styles) and other topics. I learned a lot from the parents I’ve had in my Montessori classes. The more we know about their experiences, viewpoints and situations, the better we can meet the needs of children.

  8. Oh this post so hit home for me. I’m on the other side of the border in the PNW from you and work in the US education system doing equity (beyond diversity to actual equity) and parent engagement work. I could write a whole blog post length comment here. I LOVE how you ask not what are we doing to engage parents but instead what ELSE could we do to engage parents better. If we ask the same, surface questions we will do the same basic things like throwing something up on a website that even teachers don’t know how to navigate, let alone parents and students as you get later on in the grades.

    So much to say other than that there are tons of reasons that parents make choices (or are locked out of choices) for their child’s education. When I was expecting my first child, I certainly had my own struggles where people would ask me if I would enroll my child in the district I worked in or in private school or if I would homeschool. The choices were agonizing, but very surface level thoughts because I did not have a child of my own that I was making the decision for. It’s easy enough to theorize about the hypothetical perfect fit. but when I thought for half a second that I might be having an African American boy (who would be the child of a strong willed mother), I seriously NEVER thought of my public schools as an option. Not for the early years at least. And that’s a shame.

  9. Great article! I like your perspective and how you go into detail. Picking a school/schooling program for one’s children is really important and I feel like way too many parents just pick the nearest school to them (in the US, where I am), as opposed to looking at all the choices available to them and selecting the BEST choice for their CHILDREN.

    Education is so important. Thank you for your in-depth information. I’m sure you’ll make parents and non-parents alike think, as you did me.

  10. Choosing which school or even how to school is a very personal choice for each family. I really think that each family needs to do what right for their children. It’s such a hard choice.

  11. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to read your comments and hear your experiences – both Canadian and from the USA. It makes the world of education and families feel so small. I’m also interested to hear about home schooling experiences. I’ve met a number of home schooling families locally and I know many parents share their experiences online. Even if one doesn’t home school, there’s so much that can be learned from the home schooling community.

    If you have written about this topic online, or if you are planning to write a piece, please do come back for a visit and leave a link to your piece in the comment section here. What I will do is pick up the link and put it as a Related Link inside the post instead of publishing it in the comments section below.

  12. This is a wonderful, well researched post. I hope parents take many of these points into consideration when choosing a school for their children.

  13. Choosing a school for your kid is so important but does require a lot of research and consideration. So much of it depends on the individual teachers they get though and not just the school itself. That you can’t plan for as the teachers come and go.

  14. My daughter is only six months old, but even choosing a daycare was hard worn. Finding a suitable school for her is a task we are and willing to take on. Quality is key, no matter what your choice is. We hope to public school her, but situations and circumstances change in life. Thank you so much for this insight!

  15. I was fortunate to attend a Montessori school for Pre-K and amazing private schools while growing up. They provided a foundation that has helped me be successful in business despite not attending college. I respect your commitment to your children’s educational needs so much!

  16. I am personally very interested in Montessori and Waldorf education. I implement some of the concepts at home and would love to find a secular Montessori/Waldorf option by the time my son is ready for school. Homeschool is another option for us, but it is such a huge responsibility! The “best” schools by reputation around here are religiously affiliated and I don’t want my son brainwashed by religion either. It is so hard for us as parents who don’t have a background in eduction to know what standards we should be looking at to compare school to school. The “normal” metrics government agencies look for might not be the ideal measuring sticks in my book. I want a child who is a creative, free thinker- allowed to follow his passions while still having a well-rounded foundation. But to be perfectly honest, I haven’t got a clue how to accomplish that.

  17. You are lucky to have school options and the background to understand the pros and cons of each. So many people struggle with this decision.

  18. I love hearing about how you are truly looking at all your options and being a well- informed parent. We are in the US so our options were slightly different. My oldest went into kindergarten this year. We looked at all our options and went to information sessions and talked to parents of kids in each different program. It was hard to know exactly what choice to make but we feel we made the right one. We are homeschooling and I feel like it’s working out well. It was interesting looking at your perspective where you are located.

  19. I’m fascinated by the number of commenters on this post who are choosing to home educate! I was home schooled K-12 and loved it. The assertion that parents should be educating themselves on their options for the educational decisions they make for their children applies to every area of parenting. So often we accept the status quo and do things just because that’s what we perceive that everyone else is doing. That’s part of the beauty of home education – it forces parents to think outside the box on the issue of education, which then translates to other areas of parenting. Even as a “success” story of home schooling, though, I’ve seen the negative side of the coin, too. Home education is NOT the best choice for all families, and I’m glad that we have educational options.

  20. School choice is definitely tricky but I always believe that parents will make the best choice for their children and I try not question that choice but support the parents…

  21. A great read! As a mom to a kindie kid and a one year old, and being a Montessori trained educator myself, it was a long road to decide the best education path for my oldest as I know it will be for my youngest when that time rolls around. I feel so fortunate to have so many options available to me being in Canada. My brother was an educator in the uk for a long time and was so disheartened by the school system there.

  22. My oldest is in Kindergarten this year. We are in the US and he attends school at the nearest public school. The points you bring up are relevant here and I imagine in many other countries as well. Thank you for writing this thought provoking post!

  23. Wow, lots of info here. I find people sadly misled when it comes to a school in our neighbourhood. If our lo attends public school (we are strongly considering homeschooling) I would gladly have him attend there. I find it to be a wonderful mix of cultures, languages, and differing needs. I don’t understand the desire to keep your children from interacting with people who are different from them. No school is ever going to meet all your child’s learning needs anyways. That’s why we attend other activities with them, have discussions with them and learn with them at home as well.

  24. Love it! Thanks God you are lucky to have school options. I hope many parents think about this before choosing a new school. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Hearing from other parents about our local school was key to our decision to eventually enroll our daughter there. We still want to do a “formal tour” as a couple so we can make sure the school is the right environment for her, and hopefully there will be a preview night as well. We have not set in stone that she will stay there but will try for a year and see how it goes. Thank you for all the great information!

  26. Great information; my girls are not school age yet, but I have already started researching our neighborhood schools. Now, I am armed with more questions that will be important for me to have the answers to.

  27. It is tough finding a good school for our kids. We did our share of moving in the past and there was a time when we did homeschool because we didn’t like the school that we were zoned for. It’s great that we have options to do what’s best for our families.
    Thank you for sharing this!

  28. Some very good points. Unfortunately, I don’t have children yet so have never experienced this as of yet. Thanks for sharing your take.

  29. Choosing the best education for your child is time-consuming. Living in the U.S., our family has chosen a private education for our children. That choice is coming to a close as we will move to a homeschooling option for next year. Each family has to consider their children and what is best for them. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  30. My daughters were in public schools until middle school/high school; and then we switched to homeschooling through high school graduation and into university. I’m a staunch advocate for schooling choice, and I really appreciate your passion for helping the parents making informed choices with sufficient, accurate information to be able to make the best schooling choices for their children!

  31. Wow, I love that you are such a great resource for parents who are struggling with their school options. The bottom line is that every parent wants the best for our children and have to make those choices based on what’s available.

  32. This can be a sensitive subject for many parents. Ultimately, it’s up to each family to decide what they feel is best. However, I understand what you mean about some parents not being fully informed about all the options available to them. There’s a tendency for people to go with the flow.

    I don’t know about public schools in your area but in my area they are not the best choice. However, I can work with the education they provide. I used to be a stay-at-home homeschooling mother until I became a single parent. I chose to homeschool because my experience in the public school system, as a gifted and talented child, was lacking. My children are now in public school and I supplement in ways that I can by fostering a love of learning. They’ve learned there is a science to cooking, we garden, take educational trips, etc.

    Great topic! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  33. I work in an elementary school and like you I’m surprised at the number of parents who don’t exercise their right to examine their choices. Unfortunately, in our school, many parents view school as free child care. I am glad that you lay out some considerations for parents who have a more personal interest in their children’s education.

  34. When it comes to choosing school for our kids, it’s really a tough decision to make. It is because we want the best for our kids. This is such an interesting post!

  35. Education is about so many things and, as you note, there are pros and cons to each. We looked at our public school and ultimately decided on a private Catholic school- for a variety of reasons but aside from academics, the school was consistent with our value system and therefore we knew that our children would benefit from this and receive a consistent message whether they were in school or at home. Selecting an educational system for your child is incredibly important.

  36. Wow, so many questions to consider. One big consideration I think gets overlooked is how involved do you plan on being in your child’s classroom and school. I think there are very different needs if you want to be active there vs. just dropping them off.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.