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Parent Says Some Things Can't Be Taught at Home

Dear Extra Credit:

I don't have anything against home schooling -- for other people -- but I could not see myself doing it for my three children. I am quite capable of coordinating and conducting lessons, but I cannot see how I could keep their interest day in and day out in lessons, as well as keeping them busy with extracurricular activities and doing normal household chores and activities.

I can see benefits in concentrated learning time. Since my kindergartner has started public school, however, I no longer feel guilty about my inability to keep the children home. (My older boys are in college and high school.) My youngest is extremely bright, and I have tried to foster and encourage learning whenever I could. He can count to 1,000 in English, count to 40 in French, add numbers using several digits by carrying, multiply simple numbers, knows all the planets, knows all the letters, sounds, and can read simple books.

Many people told me that he would be bored in kindergarten. He isn't! Besides getting constant reinforcement in the basics, which he knows, and refinements such as how to draw a proper lower-case E, he is learning to be part of group, raise his hand to be heard, say the Pledge of Allegiance, wait quietly during a moment of silence and so much more. He sees the "bigger kids" and says he wants to go to first grade someday. He loves all the activity.

I used to think that all those activities during the school day outside actual academic lessons were "fillers," although a necessary evil. No more! My son is becoming a part of the school community and is understanding that he not the center of the universe (anymore). Plus, he gets to do all the academic and fun stuff that we did at home (blocks, math, computer time). He comes home tired but excited about his full day. I like that.
Daneen Smedile

I am waiting for more letters from home-schoolers, but I am sure they won't mind hearing from a satisfied public school parent. And those teachers in Purcellville will be happy to see they are appreciated.

Dear Extra Credit:

I am on the very tiny PTA of the very small Annapolis Elementary School. We are a Title I school strangely situated in a wealthy downtown neighborhood. As we looked at our PTA budget with a new treasurer this year, we realized we have a lot of line items that don't make much sense. Or didn't, until the treasurer met with our principal.
One of the line items was an allowance for school custodians. Why, when we are charged with enriching children's education, are we supplementing a county-funded custodian? Sadly, the answer is that in this county, custodians have to buy garbage bags and bring tools to school. Okay, since we became Title I a few years ago, they have started getting bags. But they are super-thin, and so the custodians buy the good ones themselves and reuse them!
It seems crazy that the school system won't pay for bags or tools for upkeep. Of course, there is no end to the crazy we encounter. But you might be able to shed more light on this.
Mary Grace Gallagher

You have shed light into a corner of school operations that is a mystery to most of us. Do other school districts have these unusual arrangements? Anne Arundel County schools spokesman Bob Mosier gave me a detailed explanation, which I think is worthy of being quoted in full:

"The practice of our Operations Division for many years has been to supply trash bags to schools for the breakfast and lunch programs, and recycling bags for the cafeterias. We also supply bags for health rooms, [Early Childhood Intervention] programs, and our special schools. We do not tell custodians to buy bags out of their own pocket. If, however, custodians prefer to use bags different from the ones provided by Operations, they are free to purchase them or ask the PTA to purchase them. In addition, some schools want to have bags in classrooms or office areas, so they or their PTAs provide the funds to purchase these additional bags. Our school system has, on many occasions, looked into the cost of providing bags for all classrooms. The costs are simply staggering.

"With regard to tools, Operations used to provide tool kits for schools but quickly stopped this practice because the kits and tools would be constantly stolen or lost. In many instances, the facility engineers or chiefs have they own set. In addition, all Maintenance and Operations workers are required, through their negotiated agreement, to come to work with a small toolbox of hand tools. Schools may purchase particular tools for their custodians to suit their specific needs. Operations does provide many of the items that a school needs, but the school may elect, for instance, to buy a leaf blower for custodians to use in place of the rakes provided by Operations."

Dear Extra Credit:

I am glad to see Extra Credit open a conversation about the wisdom of our national obsession with imparting higher-math skills to all students. I'd like to propose a substitute obsession. What the U.S. population desperately needs and sorely lacks is not calculus but basic scientific literacy. How can we address the problems of climate change or energy needs and how can we make rational policy decisions about stem cell research or the privacy of one's genetic code without a basic understanding of environmental science and human biology? I'd like to see us judge our schools not on how many students can do quadratic equations, whatever those are, but on how many can participate in an intelligent discussion of life on this planet.
Linda Greenhouse

Nice idea, but don't get your hopes up.

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or e-mail

By Washington Post Editors  | January 15, 2009; 1:13 PM ET
Categories:  Extra Credit  
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Having put a Gifted daughter through K-5 in our local public school, I can tell you that problems don't necessarily emerge in the lower grades.

My son also attended public school for K-1, but I pulled him out to home school him in 2nd Grade. This is our second year of home schooling, while his older sister attends a private school. Both choices have worked out well for our family.

Frankly, not all schools and not all teachers are created equal. If my children were attending public school in Bethesda, MD, I wouldn't think twice about keeping them in public school.

The resources that are available in Montgomery County, MD are in a totally different league from our working class semi-rural district in Upstate NY.

Posted by: sandrafoyt | February 7, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

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