Academic journal article Education Next

Vague Answers to Pointed Questions: A Teacher-Parent-Wonk Shops for a School

Academic journal article Education Next

Vague Answers to Pointed Questions: A Teacher-Parent-Wonk Shops for a School

Article excerpt

BY THE TIME MY DAUGHTER WAS NEARING kindergarten age, I had already spent nearly 50 years in schools: 20 as a student; 8 as a teacher; and 20 as an education policymaker and adviser to schools and school systems, especially in the area of standards and curriculum. So when it came to looking at schools for my baby, I surely knew my stuff. Now I wish I didn't.

The teachers and administrators at my daughter's schools probably do, too. Imagine a parent expecting answers to questions like, "What is your approach to teaching reading and math?" or "Which early-reading program do you use?" and "May I look at the curriculum?"

The following are actual statements made in response by admissions directors, administrators, and even those in charge of academics at the schools I visited during our search:

"We don't have a reading program per se ... It's hard to explain, but
the kids just get it."

"Of course your children are going to learn math and reading, but what
we care most about is building their curiosity and their love of
"We don't really have a curriculum; we meet each child where he or she

"We decided we don't need to teach grammar anymore because of spell

"You can come in and look at the curriculum, but we don't let parents
make copies or take it home."


All of these responses were uttered in private schools. I am an ardent proponent of public and private school choice, by the way; and, as Catholics, my husband and I wanted a Catholic education for our daughter if possible. But there was no Catholic school in our community, so we tried a year of Montessori and two years of Episcopalian schooling before finding a spot this year in a Catholic school about 45 minutes from home. Each school has had its own cultural and academic pluses and minuses, but they have all shared a devotion to warmed-over progressivism, a focus on process and skills over content knowledge, and a tendency to teach to the lowest common denominator. Nimble differentiation? Not so much. The most fascinating phenomenon? The omnipresence of former public-school teachers who say they came to teach in a private school so they didn't have to "deal with" state standards and tests.

Whenever I have asked for a syllabus, a scope and sequence, or anything at all resembling a codification of what my daughter should know and be able to do by the end of the school year, I have gotten vague statements resembling the worst state standards I ever reviewed or rewrote. …

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