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Frustrated at Lackluster Public School, Need Advice

jumpingolive6jumpingolive6 4 replies1 threads New Member
The high school my family is zoned to is the best school in our area (average ACT 24). However, I've found the school to be incredibly academically lacking. For one, I believe that good writing skills are the foundation for any academic career, and judging from the English classes at the high school, it's safe to say our school district does not believe the same.

DS1, currently a freshman at an Ivy, breezed through the honors and AP English classes the school offered because they're ridiculously easy. Before college, he has never once turned in a written research paper or had to type anything longer than a page on his laptop. All of the assignments were in-class writing assignments, which I think is poor preparation for college. Last year, when DS1 was applying to colleges, he realized that he needed to turn in a written paper or essay from his high school English career for the Princeton app. He approached his junior year AP Lit teacher to ask for advice on what to do since he's never written a typed essay. The teacher told him to request a waiver for this requirement from Princeton since, and I quote, "any respectable high school under the AP English curriculum wouldn't bother wasting time with typed take-home essays since the test is entirely based on timed writing assignments." Needless to say, I was distraught (and he didn't get into Princeton).

Senior year wasn't any better. His AP Lang teacher had never taught any advanced English class; the year before, she taught freshman remedial English, and for 20 years before that, she taught English at the middle school. I have no clue why the school decided to hand over its most advanced senior English class to this person. Not surprisingly, she was incredibly incompetent. DS1 never had to read a single book during his senior year and there were very few graded assignments. He told me the class felt like a middle school English class, both in terms of structure and difficulty. There was even a girl in his class who routinely ditched the class but ended up with an A+ both semesters.

Perhaps not surprisingly, writing in college has been very difficult for DS1. He received a C plus in the freshman writing seminar his school requires all first-years to take. He is in over his head in every single subject he took this past semester (including his math and science courses), but writing is by far his weakest subject. His 9th and 10th grade English curriculum was also lacking, but I'll stop my complaints about his English classes here since I think you get the point.

The teachers also can't understand why I'm upset. Last winter, I sent an email to his senior year AP Lang teacher politely inquiring as to why there was no required reading and so little graded work. Her response was essentially "I'm the teacher here, and I know I'm a damn good teacher, so back off." Her response is very similar to the ones I've received in the past whenever I've expressed my concerns with the poor quality of teacher instruction at the high school.

No one in the area seems to share my complaints. They all drink the kool-aid of "this high school is number one in the area! Why are you complaining?" and can't seem to understand my gripes with it. Granted, very few kids in the area aim for T20 colleges-- DS1 was one of three kids in his class of 700 to head to an Ivy. Most kids (if they go to college at all) end up at the community college, a local directional state school, or our state flagship (below T-50).

My final question to CC here is: what should I do for DS2? He's in 7th grade at the middle school that feeds into the high school. I definitely don't want him to go to the high school, but I'm not sure of any options. DH and I work full-time, so homeschooling isn't an option. Boarding school is financially unrealistic (especially with DS1 at college). There are no reputable private schools in the area, and from what I understand, the other public schools are worse. Someone please give us advice. I just really don't want DS2 to have the same academically lackluster high school experience DS1 had that ultimately led to him struggling every single day in college. Thanks in advance.
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Replies to: Frustrated at Lackluster Public School, Need Advice

  • cinnamon1212cinnamon1212 762 replies8 threads Member
    Are you sure boarding school is out of the question? Most have financial aid; and apparently some are focusing on middle class kids. Some will say they don't have merit aid, but actually they do (they call it financial aid, but give it to families that absolutely don't qualify for aid -- I know this because my son got this aid, though in his case it wasn't all that much). If your student focuses on schools where they are super attractive to the school (that is, where they are at the top of the applicant pool) aid may be more forthcoming.

    Even a weaker/less academic boarding school does a better job preparing the kids for college than your public school, it sounds like.

    High stats kids can thrive at schools with a larger acceptance rate, absolutely. I know one boy who scored in the 99th percentile on the SSAT (with a corresponding grade record etc) who thrived at the Salisbury School, a boys school with an average SSAT around the 50th percentile and with a high admissions rate. This boy attended b/c his parents were divorced and the dad refused to provide any financial info so the kid didn't qualify for financial aid. Salisbury saw he'd be an amazing addition, and even though they don't have a ton of money, and they didn't have full info they gave him a full ride, which he needed. He was a high achiever at the school and has since graduated and gone on to Williams.

    Long winded, I apologize, but the bottom line is that boarding school may not be out of the question.
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  • itsgettingreal21itsgettingreal21 228 replies5 threads Junior Member
    edited December 2019
    Sounds like his college was not a good fit due to lack of academic preparation. This is a common mistake of over-reaching. Parents have to accurately assess whether their student has the foundation to do well if they are lucky enough to get accepted to elite colleges. Struggling every day is not fun. Don’t make the same mistake with your second son.

    It sounds like you’ve evaluated all the options for your next son. What about an online critical reading and writing course? Duke TIP offers some.
    edited December 2019
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 80192 replies720 threads Senior Member
    Do A students in AP courses at this school commonly get 1 or 2 scores on AP exams? If so, that should be clear evidence that should tell the school staff that something is wrong.
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  • Happytimes2001Happytimes2001 1815 replies13 threads Senior Member
    We have been in your shoes. At the "excellent" public schools most teachers spent most of their time fending off parents. Yes, many were pushy because they saw holes in the curriculum. We decided to opt for private. Concerning your second son, here are some of your options:
    1. Have him test for CTY and TIP both programs will allow him to take advanced Summer and online classes if he qualifies. While expensive, they offer FA ( to some) and will boost his writing, math and essentially whatever he takes. 2. Get him involved in extracurricular programs which build skills ( things like math club, or writing programs often at Community colleges or really anything). We did this for years. So when it came time to move to private my kids were fine.
    In terms of your son #1, that's pretty common. I went to an Ivy ( a strong one, LOL) and there were many kids who were light years ahead in some subjects. There was no way for example, that I could have gone into the sciences based on my background. Would have failed out. Kids who went to top BS's and others who had strong foundations had a much easier time. My oldest is at top BS and the AP courses are a main text, 5-10 reading books and writing assignments ( major and minor) per subject. Many of the kids have won writing awards and been published in publications while in high school. The subjects are all taught by people with depth and consideration. They don't give out A's easily. The kids have 4-6 hours of homework per night. That's my kid ( who got a 99% in testing no prep, others stay up until all hours). When they go off to college, they will be ready. Not every kid is a academic superstar but they get the foundation they need. I know each kid has a major paper in English and history at least every Quarter. So schools are not all the same.
    Tell your son #1 to go to the writing center at his school. He can learn the basics and have someone help him learn about how to do research and write a paper. This took me a couple of years to get to the same point as these other kids. ( And I attended a private high school). The level of education in the US is so uneven.
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  • Youdon'tsayYoudon'tsay 19410 replies462 threads Senior Member
    I see this a lot ... schools in high-income areas have great state-test scores so parents assume the education is great, when it's really not rigorous at all. But everyone gets As so everyone is happy.

    Ds2, who went to a top magnet HS, talked about going to a top college, and his classmates bemoaning that they had to write a five-page paper, which he could do in his sleep. The kids are smart, but they hadn't been pushed.

    You're either going to have to find a new school situation or supplement what your ds2 is doing, be that summer camps or CTY classes or something else. I agree that you need to reassure ds1 that asking for help at the writing center or getting math tutoring doesn't mean that he is "dumb." So many kids just haven't been pushed before college and so hit a wall and don't know how to ask for help.
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  • bookreader1bookreader1 15 replies2 threads Junior Member
    I know that you said that homeschooling isn't an option, but I'd encourage you to reconsider. I do know parents who worked full time and also homeschooled their child. You don't have to be his teacher - there are online programs you can look at. By 10th grade, he might be able to attend your local county college for a class or two. Your situation will require creativity.
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  • mathmommathmom 32777 replies160 threads Senior Member
    Our high school has SAT scores that are solidly average, but my kids certainly had experience with long form writing in honors and AP classes. They didn't have quite as many papers as I did at my boarding school, but enough to know how to deal with college type work. I second the suggestion that if your child can test for CTY or TIP the summer essay course or the online courses they offer in high school are an option. And also agree that you should not discount the possibility that boarding school is more affordable that you would think. There are various virtual high schools that may be worth looking into. I know families who have working parents that make homeschooling in high school work, but it takes a motivated kid and ideally a homeschooling community where you can plug into small group classes and/or activities.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 80192 replies720 threads Senior Member
    edited December 2019
    Some home school parents outsource the schooling to online high school courses and local community college courses.

    Obviously, this does require a well motivated student -- but that motivation will be necessary in college anyway.
    edited December 2019
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  • rockymtnhigh2rockymtnhigh2 344 replies5 threads Member
    Both D's went to rural public schools and very top Universities. It can be done. I was not willing to send them to boarding school as I wanted to raise them to 18 at home. I think the key to their grounding and success was supplementing their education with online classes and summer programs across the country. You have to take an active role, do not expect the school counselors to do so. They are overwhelmed with keeping kids in school to graduate. Understandably, your kids are a low priority. Be active in the application to Universities.
    One thing also that may help. Take the SAT test and see where the weaknesses are. Then take the study guides to concentrate on those areas. That helped alot in preparing for the test.
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  • oldfortoldfort 23120 replies294 threads Senior Member
    There are many online tutors you can get for your son. We lived overseas for 2 years while D2 was a junior/senior and she did most of her tutoring via the web. Her current BF works for a major newspaper now, and he did a lot of writing tutoring while he was in college.

    Both of my kids went to a a very rigorous high school when we lived in the States. Writing was a major focus at her school. They had to write a research paper for almost every class, and that included their science/math classes. They thought their high school was harder than college. They didn't have to spend as much time on papers than their classmates, therefore they had more time to do other things.

    I went to a very good public school, but English was my second language and I came to this country when I was quite old. I struggled in college with my writing assignments and it was important to me that my kids could write and present well.
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  • CheddarcheeseMNCheddarcheeseMN 3554 replies12 threads Senior Member
    I know of high school students who attended the 3 week summer writing program at Carleton who felt like they got a lot of individual attention.
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  • yearstogoyearstogo 695 replies30 threads Member
    Many of our friends are very happy with our local schools and we have never understood it as the scores and curriculum are not very good and the teachers have also not been impressive, except for maybe two over the years. It is not uncommon for students to receive an A in an AP class and then a score of 2. Yet the praise for the school continues.

    As others mentioned, we supplemented pretty heavily in most all subjects using a combination of a local math circle, AOPS, online writing tutor, online language lessons, etc. It can be done but it takes quite a bit of effort and some money, although most can be done relatively inexpensively.
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  • Houston1021Houston1021 1202 replies21 threadsForum Champion Rice Forum Champion
    What about a challenging online school. Here is an example. https://onlinehighschool.stanford.edu
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  • HImomHImom 35131 replies396 threads Senior Member
    edited December 2019
    Wow, what are the parents if the other ivy kids doing for their younger kids educations? Around our state boarding school is rather uncommon.

    When we were dismayed that our kids didn’t even learn what a sentence was until 5th grade or later, we did eventually pay for them to attend one of the two excellent private schools in our state. It was expensive with our limited resources but they did learn and fill some of the gaps in their education up to that point. That HS prepared them well for college, so well that S just cruised through his 1st 3 semesters of EE!

    I had really wanted our kids to remain in public school but requested the ability to tour the public HS and sit in on a class. That visit decided me—not an environment nurturing learning. We allowed S (& later D) to apply and transfer to competitive private HS. They did make some long term friendships there.
    edited December 2019
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  • kelsmomkelsmom 15793 replies99 threads Senior Member
    After D spent three completely wasted years in our public middle school, we pulled our kids from our district. I had spent many, many hours doing research so that I could speak intelligently with our district administration about what I felt was missing from the curriculum, with no positive results. When D was in 9th & S was in 7th, we moved them to an excellent regional parochial school about 20-25 minutes away. The education was fabulous, and D credits her ability to excel at a top 20 school to her high school education.

    S excelled in middle school, but he didn’t want to stay for high school. We put him in a neighboring public school district under district of choice. The high school was the same distance from our house as our district’s high school, but the curriculum was so much better ... in my opinion. I guess everyone has different ideas about what education should include. My friends were fine leaving their kids in the district, and that was a choice that worked for them.

    If you have the option of district of choice, you might want to investigate. My neighbors teach in a neighboring district and have decided against both our district & the one where they teach ... in favor of another neighboring district with a curriculum they prefer.
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  • mamaedefamiliamamaedefamilia 3594 replies24 threads Senior Member
    edited December 2019
    @jumpingolive6 If your younger son is a current 7th grader, academically strong, and tests well, he might be eligible to apply for this scholarship that provides full HS tuition for recipients. It's highly competitive but maybe worth a try.


    The Peddie School in NJ also offers some merit-based scholarships.

    edited December 2019
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  • tgl2023tgl2023 266 replies6 threads Junior Member
    You said that your S1 is "in over his head in every single subject...", please note that it is very common for college freshmen to get their first-ever C or lower grade in the first term. Your older son's confidence might have been shaken a little, but please remind him to keep at it with a positive can-do attitude, use the resources at school, and do recognize that he is not the only one who is (feels) "in over his head" at school.
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  • jumpingolive6jumpingolive6 4 replies1 threads New Member
    Hi everyone, thanks for all the advice. I'll look into online classes for DS2 and extra support and DS1's school. I wouldn't want DS2 to take local community college classes. Our local community college is dysfunctional. According to DS1 and a couple other seniors who took CC classes over the summer, the community college classes are easier than their high school classes. It is mainly for remedial students who have a difficult time grasping basic math and English concepts.
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