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Would You Send Your Child To A ‘Bad’ School?

Do I have hidden prejudices?

I listen to my husband as he talks about not wanting to go to a high school where SAT scores are 200 points lower then neighboring high schools. He has a point when he raises concern about the geographic location of the school being where the majority of the crime happens in our community. The statistisics are glaring when you look at the poor PTA (parent teacher association) involvement in our high school. He wants to optimize our kids’ potential for making good choices, staying out of trouble and avoiding dangerous situations. He wants to give our children the best education, the highest potential and a running start for their futures. I agree completely. But who is to say the other schools are any better? These recent conversations are challenging my values and belief systems. Is our school “bad” because we have a high percentage of poor, black students? Am I really as accepting and open to diversity as I thought I was?

My experiences with diversity

I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and the suburbs of Pittsburgh were (and still are) very white. I had two children of color in my graduation class of 700 students. I went to college in rural PA, again very white. The first experience I ever had with diversity was when I dated a guy on the football team — his roommate and most of his friends were black. I went to grad school in the city of Pittsburgh — a bit more diverse. I now live in a suburb smack dab in the middle of Washington DC and Baltimore. This area is known for diversity in terms of race, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation and socio-economic status.  I tell people that I love this area’s diversity, but do I? I like to think that I am an advocate of being in the middle of all of this flavor. But do I “like to think it” — or do I really think it?

Looking at schools internally

I am a counselor for a school system located just outside DC. I have worked in schools with high test scores and low drop out rates, and schools with gang problems and high poverty. I have seen “good” schools and “bad” ones too. Although there are issues of drugs, sex, and violence in every school, do I send my kids to a “good” one because I can? I have worked in schools where the students were afraid to go the bathroom for fear of getting jumped. In these schools it was hard to be the smart one — as refusing to do your work and cussing at the teacher was more the norm. Do I want to send my kids to a school like this if we don’t have to?

Yet, I want to teach my children about all people, not just the “well-off” educated ones. I don’t want them to live in a world of white middle to upper middle class folk. A friend of mine who went to our slotted high school had nothing but great experiences to share. She remembers going to a friend’s apartment in a section of low income housing, and thinking how cool it was that her friend had her own bathroom. Money was never an issue because her parents didn’t make it one.  At our high school there is room to “stand out,” to be great at something, to be recognized. But perhaps most importantly, the ability to experience diversity and to get a realistic glimpse of the world. While our school may have a host of issues, other more well-to-do schools have undesirables as well. In these “good” schools there is enormous academic pressure and stress to be someone other then a number. These students are self-medicating and seeing therapists because they are having meltdowns from all the internal and external unrealistic expectations. Is one school really better then the other?

So now what?

I swing back and forth with my thoughts. Do we stay? Can I practice what I preach in terms of tolerance and acceptance? Do I have enough confidence in teaching my children well enough to make good decisions no matter what their environment may be? Do I scum to my hidden prejudices — that somehow schools with low test scores and high poverty are “bad” and that I am not providing every opportunity that I can to my kids if we don’t move to a “better” school system?

I am really looking for someone to challenge my thoughts. What are your values around education and school demographics? Do you have any personal stories to share? What would you do?

*      *      *

Heather is a blogger for and a life coach for moms, school counselor and mama who is committed to rocking her mojo! She has two extremely “spirited”, independent, and strong-willed children who test her, teach her and exhaust her…several times a day. Visit Heather’s site My Mama Mojo for more information on life coaching for moms.

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5:08AM PST on Feb 10, 2011

You have a very difficult choice, I don't envy you. I can tell you that if I had the chance to change my daughter's middle school this time I'd take it. I fought then and still do to raise the standards in schools. But there were things that shouldn't have happened to her and I'll regret not following a teacher's advice to keep her out of that school for the rest of my life.

7:49PM PST on Feb 7, 2011


11:54AM PST on Feb 5, 2011

I would go to the school and meet the administration and teachers...then if they had their heads on fairly straight, i would be ok sending my children there at least to try it out. I have to say that I learned a LOT about the world very young by going to crappy public schools. It taught me a level of patience, compassion, and self control that I would never have gotten out of a pristine school.

7:22AM PST on Feb 4, 2011

NO.....that is why the George Bush school vouchers to take our children to 'good' schools with good teachers is so GREAT.

6:38PM PST on Feb 3, 2011


7:22AM PST on Feb 3, 2011

You DO NOT have to let your kids attend crappy schools to learn "hardships and hardwork". I would think ALL parents want the best environment for their kids. If the school is torn up from the floor up, hell with the school. I want my kids safe while going to the rest room or going from class to class. Is that to much TO ASK?

9:04PM PST on Jan 29, 2011


11:08PM PST on Jan 12, 2011

Why not stay where you are and just send your children to a private high school? Since your husband is so worried about test scores (and rightly so), he'll be happy to know that studies have shown private school students outperform public school students on the SAT. This is not always do to socioeconomic status but that private schools provide a better environment for the development of "students' critical-thinking abilities—not just the rote memorization required to do well on achievement tests". Additionally, "private school students are more likely than public school students to complete a bachelor’s or advanced degree by their mid-20s."

If you really want what's best for your kids, most (not all) private high schools are worth the money. If the cost bothers you, think of how much money you'd save in moving costs and purchasing a new house if you simply stayed where you are. Also, this isn't a 'purchase' of a few years of education but an 'investment' in your children and their future.

As for the diversity, there's still tons of community activities, local clubs/organizations, youth groups, etc, for your children to participate in. As for having a realistic perception of the world and understanding how the less fortunate live, there's tons of volunteer organizations that would love for your entire family to come out and help.

Selected Cites:,8599,1670063,00.htm

10:15AM PST on Jan 12, 2011


10:15AM PST on Jan 12, 2011


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