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Education

The State of Education: What Parents Should Be Asking About Schools Today

By Janine Boldrin

With school funding cuts dominating the headlines this summer, many families are wondering what the upcoming school year holds for their child. While the fallout leaves some parents considering trying to move their child to a new school, others may feel their child is "trapped" in a poorly funded school.

Education choices, or the lack thereof, may seem harder than ever. If you're choosing a new school for your child or need suggestions on how to face the upcoming year, there is definitely a lot to consider in today's education environment.

Economics of Education

"Parents need to ask hard questions to find out whether budget cuts will adversely affect their schools," says Bryan C. Hassel, Co-Director of Public Impact, a national education policy and management consulting firm based in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Hassel says to find out if the schools are laying off teachers and, if they are, to ask if they are letting go the most junior teachers, who may be excellent, or less effective teachers. Additionally, if the schools are increasing class sizes, parents should ask if the schools are making an effort to give more students to mostly their best teachers or increasing across the board. Hassel also suggests asking if districts are aggressively cutting central office costs to preserve dollars for the classroom.

Once the tough questions are asked, parents need to decide whether they should keep their child in their local public school or switch to a private alternative. And, if they are unable to switch schools, what they can be doing to make up for the shortfall, if there is one.

Choosing for Your Child

Judy Molland, award winning teacher and author of Straight Talk About Schools Today: Understand the System and Help Your Child Succeed, has several suggestions for parents who are in the process of deciding what school to send their child to next year.

"Spend time researching the right school for your child," says Molland. "After all, you probably spend hours checking out cars when you're ready to purchase one, so you should definitely spend many more hours on finding the right school for your child."

Molland suggests that the first place to start is to see how you and your child feel about the school by visiting while it is in session. Parents should meet with the principal since she sets the tone for the school. Molland also says to observe how the teachers and students interact, determine whether the classroom atmosphere is lively and if the teachers seem excited about what they are teaching, even look at the artwork on the walls.

"Talk to other parents (of enrolled students)," says Molland. "That may be your best bet for finding out what's really going on in a school. "Ask them all (of) the nitty gritty questions about how well the school is run."

Stay Strong While Staying Put

While some families may be in a position to chose another school option they feel is better for their child, others may feel trapped in a poorly funded school. If budget decisions will adversely impact the quality of education your child is receiving, Hassel and Molland have recommendations for parents.

Hassel suggests that parents may need to make up for a school's shortcomings if a school is unable to give a child what she needs. Parents must first identify what their child is missing, like more challenging assignments, more personal help, motivation, etc.

"With the growth of online learning, parents have more and more options for supplemental school, from free sites to help with specific challenges to fee-based online courses and tutoring," said Hassel.

Molland suggests that parents talk to their child's teacher and try to figure out how they can assist.

"Teachers are also discouraged by the huge budget cuts, but they will definitely take heart if they know that they have some parents on their side willing to help out," says Molland. "There are many ways in which parents can help, from the big fundraisers to the much smaller assistance like filing papers, providing some school supplies, or helping out with crossing guard duties."

Molland says that, most importantly, there is "power in numbers, so get together with other parents to see how you can create parent power."

Janine Boldrin is a freelance writer and mother of three.

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