Monday, May 04, 2009

What Makes a School Good?

Disney II's first academic year is only 6 weeks away from its conclusion. Acceptance letters have gone out for next year's class of kindergarteners, and I find myself fielding questions about what the school is like by their parents, when I happen to meet them at neighborhood events or via Facebook connections. Is it a good school? What makes a school good? What makes a school bad, or just adequate? These are hard questions for me to answer. I don't yet have the perspective of time and experience to make a good judge. In addition, Disney II is my first real experience as a parent with a CPS school, so I have nothing to which I can compare. And, I've already invested a significant amount of time into Disney II, with plans to do more, so I am biased in terms of its virtues.

What I really want out of any school The Boy attends, and what, in my Philistinistic opinion, makes a school good is its ability to foster its students' love of learning. I don't know that Disney II has done that yet, but The Boy told me about 2 weeks ago that he loves school. I'll take what I can get out of a child who cried every morning at drop-off for the first month of kindergarten.

From talking to friends with children at other up-and-coming CPS schools (Skinner, Nettlehorst, Ravenswood, to name a few), it would seem that the universal standard that CPS seeks to attain in kindergarteners is to get them reading-ready, if not actually reading by the end of that first year of elementary school. As this author points out, the kindergarten of my youth, which involved learning learning not to eat the paste* and introduced the idea of children-in-groups to my only-child (at the time) personality, disappeared somewhere in the 1990s. Although some relics of Kindergarten Past remain (shoe-tying is a progress-report item on The Boy's list; my mother-in-law remembers that she received low marks in skipping in kindergarten), the emphasis of kindergarten at most northside CPS elementary schools, including Disney II, is on literacy.

As an avid reader and formerly "gifted" child myself, I struggle with the early-reading component. I did not learn to read well, by which I mean I was in the high/advanced reading groups, until I was in 3rd grade -- and even then, I had problems with reading comprehension in some areas (my strong aversion to Greek myths persists 20+ years after Miss Commandella's unit on the subject) in 5th grade. And yet, I am living proof that early reading can mean very little in terms of future success: by trade, I am a reader and a writer. These activities are my passion in life; I would and, indeed do, practice them even in the absence of payment.

At the end of the day, I can say with confidence that The Boy likes Disney II and is doing well there. His progress is on-par with those of his peers, and despite the pressure I feel for him to be reading already, I'm confident that he will read (and tie his shoes!) on his own, internal development barometer. He likes the school, he likes his classmates, he likes his teacher. He is exposed to music, art, and technology. He gets to run around every day, and I reserve time for him at the end of the school day for more open/free play. In today's society, with our economic means, that is the best that we can achieve for/with him.

* For the record, I've never tried it.

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