A Broken School System: Choosing Between Academics and Social Diversity

In our current neighborhood where we reside, I’ve been wrestling with a situation concerning my daughter’s school she will be attending for kindergarten in 2-3 years (more on wrestling thoughts of starting kinder at different ages coming later). Here is my dilemma. The school we are zoned for and supposed to attend (let’s call this School A) is in a lower-income neighborhood, and statistics show that lower-income neighborhoods are a product of lower college attendance, lower test scores, and lower graduation rates. 

There is a school a half-mile (still walking distance!) from our home (let’s call this School B) that is in a higher-income area. Higher-income school= higher graduation rates, test scores, and college attendance. While each experience differs for each child, these are still the facts when it comes to placing your child in a school in low vs high-income neighborhoods. 

HOWEVER, I feel it is important to point out that low-income schools are still a product of good education when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and tolerance. Given the diversity of these neighborhoods, the children are provided a good education of being a socially aware and contributing member of society, something higher-income schools can lack. 

So that leaves me with a decision of sending my child to our neighborhood elementary school in a low-income area, two blocks from our home. Or driving or walking her a half-mile to the school across the highway in a higher-income area. I feel like I am choosing between: 

Academics and Social Diversity

And looking at the small picture, my worries seem so insignificant. I am anxious about a small decision with my one child going into kindergarten. If it doesn’t seem like a good fit at the end of the year, switch schools. Even mid-year! Switch schools! (all of these decisions are supported by our local school district by the way, which may not be the case everywhere.) So why am I so concerned? 

Because this isn’t just about my daughter going to kindergarten. It’s about the school system as a whole. Why are parents forced to choose between teaching their children academics or teaching them social justice? Why aren’t the academics in a low-income school the same as a high-income school? Why is the diversity in a high-income school non-existent while it’s inevitable in a low-income school? 

The purpose of school is to learn academics, become educated, and use this knowledge in the real world as a professional in your field of choice someday, correct? If that’s the case, School B should be my choice. 

But does getting this far in life have any impact if you don’t have the empathy, tolerance, and inclusion of everyone you come in contact with? In a perfect world, it shouldn’t get you far at all. School A should be my choice. 

If I send my kids to School B, am I just enabling the broken school system that already exists by not giving my time and resources to School A when they need it more? 

If I send my kids to School A, am I compromising their academic career because I want them to know, love, and understand social justice? 

There is absolutely no right answer because our school system is broken. It should be “equal education for all” but it’s not. It has decades and decades of work before it can even get to this point, my children will not even witness the day equal education exists. 

I love this quote from Lincoln Quillian on his academic research on poor neighborhoods and the impact they have on overall life. The whole study is a great read if you want more insight into this subject. 

“Improvements in school quality, including no excuses charter schools, can close achievement gaps for academic outcomes. However, outcomes that are more determined by peer interactions are harder to solve with policy changes. We need to decide what we are trying to accomplish with schools. If the primary job of schools is academics, that it may be acceptable to focus on improving academic outcomes and closing achievement gaps, to the exclusion of improving other outcomes. However, if schools are framed as social institutions that build civic participation, tolerance, diversity, and teach students how to be contributing members of society as adults, then it is necessary to think more broadly about the implications of segregation.”

I just want to finish with these two last YouTube videos: 

Educational Redlining- Sonja Santelises
How America’s Public School System Keeps Kids In Poverty- Kandice Sumner

And when it comes to my children’s education, what choice am I going to make on where they will attend school? We can chat again in 2-3 years when I’m forced to make a decision and I may have an answer for you. But until then, I will forever wrestle with the educational inequality of our nation. 

Reading Before Kindergarten- Is It Really Necessary?

Reading before Kindergarten- is it necessary? Is it beneficial? Is it something parents and educators should be spending their precious minutes with the children on? As time goes on, more and more pressure is put on parents to have high academically achieving children and preschools across the nation are meeting this “need” by giving kids an academic-based preschool in exchange for a play-based preschool.  

I’ve been hearing an ad for a local preschool in my area that boasts “We will have your kids reading before kindergarten!” and every time I hear the ad it makes me angry that they are adding to the social pressure put on parents for having a reading four or five year old! No parent should ever have to feel inadequate because their child isn’t an early reader. It goes without saying that this is not a preschool I can support.

Reading to her horses, even though she can’t read! What great pretend play that will eventually lead to reading.

Did you know that if your kid is reading before kindergarten, studies have shown that by 2nd grade they don’t have much advantage over kids who learned to read in kindergarten? Did you know that teaching your child to read before they are ready can actually drive them away from reading and make them a worse reader in the long run? It may be exciting at your mom group to brag about how academically advanced your child is, it’s exciting to celebrate your kid’s accomplishments! But that shouldn’t be shadowing out what they truly need. 

I have even felt the pressure myself and my daughter is not even 3 years old yet. I see friends with kids similar ages who can name letters and sounds so easy, yet my daughter is just barely showing a small interest in letters and not even close to knowing what they are or what they say. This is discouraging because I have read to her every day and she has been exposed to letter for years now!! But she will pick it up in her own time. Until then, she is establishing her love of reading, and that is more important than letter names right now.

Reading before kindergarten is not bad by any means! If your child is genuinely showing an interest in letters and words and stringing them together to read sentences, by all means, let them fly!! When it comes to teaching kids to read, let them lead. 

There are so many other things we can and should be doing with our kids instead of pushing reading on them. First, back to the basics that create lifelong readers, and some of my favorite things to do!

Talk 

Sing 

Read 

Write 

Play 

These fundamental skills build the learning basics of reading. Talking and singing with them will do more in the long run than pushing letter learning on them. Giving them genuine time to play, build, and make-believe will do wonders. Play is a child’s work! It’s how they learn and grow. 

Choosing an academic-based preschool and even kindergarten robs them of their most needed resource- PLAY! Let the kids play, really play! Mary also wrote out 5 lessons her kids taught her about play that is also helpful in this situation! I also loved her perspective of Kindergarten readiness from a teacher AND a parent standpoint when her daughter was almost kinder age! She has amazing resources and tips for us. 

Other things you can focus on with your child that promote kindergarten readiness instead of reading: 

Sensory activities

Writing, drawing, coloring, and painting 

Puzzles and problem solving 

How to maintain and hold a conversation 

Establishing a love for books and being read to 

Build positive relationships with books- from the beginning!

Let’s take the pressure of reading off kids! Let’s play and sing and let the kids lead! Choose a play-based preschool, give them books, point out letters in your daily life, and when they are interested, let them read! 

What are your thoughts on reading before kindergarten? Do you as a parent feel the social pressure of early reading?