Education's in the Air
The very day that Michele commented about Quaker schools on my Independent Study post, and I responded that the nearby Friends Select School would be at the top of our list, cost permitting, I noticed that the cover story in this month's Philadelphia Magazine was a ranking of the area's top public and private schools. (This is probably no coincidence; what better time of year to write stories about education?) Since I'd failed to find any mention of tuition or fees (other than a few words on how to apply for financial aid, and who's likely to get it) on the Friends Select website, I thought I'd pick up a copy of the magazine in case the school and its tuition were mentioned. They were, and I'm afraid Friends Select is no longer at the top of the list.
I'm as encouraged as ever regarding the quality of the education Austen would get at Friends Select, which is number 28 on PhillyMag's list of top 50 private schools, but the tuition for day students is listed as $18,125. That's 10 times what my annual college tuition cost at the University of Georgia (granted, we're talking 15 years ago), and what a year of grad school at Stanford cost Al back in the mid-90s. There's no way we could afford that and still have money left over to send Austen to college. (I haven't actually run the numbers to see what we'd need to do to afford it—how much we'd need to set aside, what we'd have to do without, etc.—and I probably won't. I just object to K-12 education costs that high on principle.) The one upside to the high cost of Friends Select is that the average of the highest teacher salaries is $74,792, according to PhillyMag. I think of this as an upside because I believe teachers in general are underpaid, and private school teachers are usually paid less than public school teachers. At least some of the tuition money seems to be going to the staff.
Regarding Clem's question about what my home-schooling curriculum would look like, I don't have a specific plan yet, aside from the plan to do a lot of reading on the subject over the next three or four years. I do know that I don't believe in pre-school education per se (though the Montessori* approach mentioned in PhillyMag's "The $12,000-a-Year Pre-School" sounds close to my philosophy that play = learning), so aside from watching Sesame Street, singing everything from Aimee Mann to Ella Fitzgerald, reading books out loud, listening to Harry Potter and other audiobooks, and playing on the floor, I don't plan on educating Austen before age 4 or 5. [*Link goes not to the school mentioned in the article, but to the Montessori school that's just around the corner from our house.] This is actually one of many reasons why home schooling is appealing: If Austen doesn't have to compete to get into a public or private elementary school, I'll be less likely to cave to the prevailing societal pressure to start schooling before Austen is technically school age.
One idea that sounds appealing, either on its own or as a supplement to a home school curriculum, is online learning. More and more K-12 schools, both public and private, are offering courses online, which seems to me to be a good way for students to determine their own pace of learning and to be more self-directed while still getting the benefits of a tested curriculum and the guidance of a qualified educator.
Of course, Austen could turn out to be more like his dad, who enjoyed classroom learning far more than I ever did, than like me, and thus he might tell us when he's 5 or 7 or 10 that he *wants* to go to a regular school. There's a brief profile of a student who decided to attend public high school "after feeling he'd hit a wall with homeschooling" in the "Tales Out of School" story in PhillyMag, and I don't doubt that this would be likely with Austen as well—even if he turns out to be more like me—given that I'm probably unqualified to teach most subjects beyond the elementary level. I know I'll be relying on Al to give Austen an introduction to physics, for example, and I'll probably need someone else to handle biology, which I suck at. (For some reason I don't find botany nearly as confounding as biology, so I could probably cover that, if necessary).
I'm probably getting a little ahead of myself here; I know that Austen will need to learn how to add and subtract before he learns algebra and calculus, so I probably shouldn't worry that my math skills are a little rusty. This is where downloading or purchasing some established home schooling curricula will really help, since I'm not exactly sure at this point what kids are expected to be learning at each grade level. To a certain extent, a little ignorance of expectations is a good thing—expectations can as often limit growth as encourage it—but I don't want my first mistake to be to overwhelm my child with too much information.
ANYWAY! As usual, I'm overthinking this, I think. :)
One more thought on education before I conclude this post: I'm still not entirely clear on how the Philadelphia school system works, but I got a little information about it from two cashiers at Whole Foods and the woman behind me in line this morning. Apparently kids are assigned to schools by district, but there's also a certain amount of choice: My cashier said that there are special (magnet?) schools that kids can get into based on good grades, good attendance, or good behavior, and these are in addition to charter schools, which the woman behind me in line clarified are funded with public school money. You apparently apply to them (the charter schools, I mean) like private schools—and some have waiting lists a mile long—but they don't cost extra. I obviously need to find out more if we're going to stay in Philadelphia for more than a few years, but that's a start.