Originally published Dec. 18, 2016 in the Indianapolis Star:
I am a college professor, so I take education very seriously.
I also send my two school-aged children to a D-rated neighborhood school in Indianapolis.
My school choice reflects our family’s deepest hopes for our own children and for all children.
Am I doing my fourth-grader and my kindergartner a disservice? Am I just a simple-minded idealist trying to make a point by sending the kids to a neighborhood public school?
Some might think so, but I beg to differ.
My choice is based not only on our family’s ethics, but also on calculated self-interest. We act out of our deepest values while also providing our kids with great opportunities by sending them to a multiracial, multireligious, multilanguage, working-class school.
I want to raise kids who do more than identify in theory with different kinds of people, including poor people. I want my kids to have had the experience of knowing and even befriending these kids.
Knowing people from diverse backgrounds — knowing how life really works — is an essential skill in contributing to a democratic society and a vibrant economy.
If my spouse and I thought that the kids were physically unsafe or that we were somehow sacrificing educational achievement and financial success, we might bolt.
But we trust our own judgment more than the state’s deeply flawed A-through-F rating system.
Spending time with our children in their classrooms, helping them with their homework and participating in after-school activities are all the evidence that lead to one logical conclusion: Our kids are getting a great education and they are happy.
Test scores and various measures of achievement are important, but they often tell us more about the class and language background of the parents than they do about a child’s achievement.
I wish you could see the learning that goes on inside the walls of our D-rated school.
You would see my fourth-grader doing the kind of compare-and-contrast writing exercises that we do in college, and doing more math than I did as a middle-schooler.
You would be impressed by an award-winning teacher leading a multidisciplinary mock trial project in a real courtroom.
You would fall in the love with the glitter-coated kindergarteners learning about principles of economics by creating, marketing and selling holiday crafts.
You would meet immigrants and refugees, and their parents, working so hard to learn English.
And if you visit my daughter’s classroom, you would see a girl who has Rett Syndrome. She can’t walk, talk or use her hands.
But because our neighborhood public school is a family that embraces all its children, your soul would be uplifted by the care and friendship of her classmates and her teachers.
Even more, you would be impressed how this D-rated school is educating my daughter by painstakingly using one of the few physical abilities that she has — the gaze of her eyes — to identify letters, numbers and now words.
When we make the choice to send our kids to neighborhood schools, we are choosing to invest in all our children — of different abilities, colors, classes, languages, religions and more. We make our schools and our society stronger by stubbornly ignoring test scores that tell us very little about a kid’s heart and a kid’s head. We choose to believe in ourselves as a human family.
This holiday season, it is time to call these ratings what they really are: a bunch of humbug.