I was saddened to get this e-mail: “Goodbye Seattle Public Schools”

Mar 10, 2017

I recently received an e-mail from some Seattle parents who have decided, sadly, to pull their child out of public school.  Here are the problems they experienced.

Indifferent quality of learning.  These parents describe the education their child received in Seattle Public Schools as “mediocre at best, especially relative to children we know attending private school and what we encountered touring those institutions.”

Bullying.  These parents recognize that sometimes there is bullying in private schools too, but they found that when it happened to their daughter and her kindergarten classmates in a public school, the matter took months to resolve because of “layers of bureaucracy and a level of denial by staff.”  The problem only ended when the parents of the bullying child pulled him out of the school.

Surprise mixing of grades-levels.  Without notice, the school started mixing children of different grades.  Families were only tipped off after the change was in the works.  These parents report, “Poor communication with parents is a problem at the school, but until then it had generally been confined to minor things.  While the principal conceded that this change was poorly managed, there’s no certainty about class structure in future years.”

Arbitrary policy changes.  These parents report, “Randomness about things big and small was one of our major concerns.”  Boundaries for school assignments were changed on short notice.  Suddenly, this family found, “our middle school has changed, and district-wide school hours were switched last year.”

Poor service.  These parents report, “Our school even struggled with the basics.”   And, “The [front] office delivers a level of surliness usually reserved for the post office or DMV.”

Even liberal parents opt out.  They noticed that many families, even in well-funded Seattle schools, opt for private schools because they feel their children have specific needs that are not met in public schools.  They even note that friends who “usually support government involvement in all manner of things, didn’t even give their local [public] schools a shot.”

I was saddened to see the disappointments that drove these parents to seek a private school.  They title the summary of their experience “Goodbye Seattle Public Schools.”  These parents note, “Contrast this [poor communication and poor service] with the smiles and eagerness to assist that we’ve enjoyed at our new school and those we toured.”  Their experience helps explain why in Seattle there are more private schools than public ones.

These are exactly the kind of engaged parents that public education needs, yet the Seattle school system had succeeded in driving them away.  If they were offered educational choice within public education they might have stayed.  Instead, they report, “we were sorry we had to opt out of public education” to find a better learning environment for their daughter.

That is why offering family choice in learning – charter schools, vouchers, Education Savings Accounts, online learning, after school tutoring and other choice-based services – are so important to saving public education.

If families didn’t feel trapped in a bureaucratic one-size-fits-all system that assigns children based on zip code, they would be more likely to stick with, and actively support, public education.  That, in turn, would lead to a broader community support and a better-quality public education for all children.

Positive change is possible.  Let’s hope it happens soon in education, before the system loses more families.