Thursday, July 7, 2016

Foster Care & Urban Education

Update 7/3/18: The school clearly no longer wants to even begin to meet our son's special needs. In fact, our experience leads us to believe they intentionally don't staff competent special educators for students in the fourth grade and beyond. It also seems the special educator assigned to our son in the fourth grade made it her job to be certain his academic, social, and emotional needs were not met so he would eventually be excluded either by subsequent behaviors (due to frustration) or because our family wouldn't put up with the continual school's negligence and disrespect for our son.

Update (2/25/2018): Our experiences have changed dramatically over the past few months. At this point, we can't be certain if the school is unwilling to support our son because he tested poorly in the third grade, because they made some major mistakes and they would prefer for our family to leave rather than do the repair work that is needed, or if the culture has been slowly changing over the years and the result is to greatly limit parents' insight into their children's education. In any event, below was our experience through the 2016/17 school year and I hope to have great reasons to remove this update after our son's next IEP meeting. (I mentioned the price our son paid for his school's negligence, briefly, here.)

Many of you know I’m currently raising our four boys in the city.

Every time I read that sentence I want to laugh out loud because I grew up in a town that had an ancient sign stating our population was 250.

The population may have been 250 if one were counting the stray cats, dogs, piglets, and the occasional loose hog. (During the latter instances, our neighbors would utilize an informal phone tree to be certain all children were locked indoors. The phone tree was quick since, in 1988, one only had to dial four digits to reach anyone in town. Also, these were the only times I recall anyone in town (other than my mom) locking anything.)

Given my childhood, you might not be surprised at how steep my learning curve has been raising children in the city.

For one, I had no idea about public school lotteries. I learned about these lotteries a couple months before our children came home through adoption. Both of our children were at prime ages to enter the lottery (Prekindergarten and Kindergarten). This seemed fortuitous until I called the district and learned there was nothing I could do to register them unless I had physical custody (something I had no control over despite my best efforts).

The result:  My children missed the opportunity to enter first round of the lottery by a mere two weeks.

This meant my son entering Kindergarten was guaranteed a slot in one of our city’s worst performing schools- something our city still promises for children being displaced due to being in foster care- compounding trauma onto trauma. The students who need the best are reserved the worst. They’re left vulnerable and unprotected because they have nobody influential to fight for them.

We were still somewhat lucky. For one, my child who missed the kindergarten lottery qualified for special education services and I happened to know people who helped us get him into a better performing school. His kindergarten team was incredible! However, things went downhill from there. At one point, knowing our child was on the sibling wait list at a high performing public charter school, a district teacher pulled me aside for a private conversation. As a parent of a black male she disclosed, “THEY (the district) don’t do well with OUR (African American, male) children.”

I had previously mentioned to her that although I was absolutely dissatisfied with the fact that my child was actually regressing in his district placement, I was hesitant to put him in the charter school because I had heard charters don’t serve students with special needs well. Her wisdom gave me the encouragement I needed to pull my son out of his district school without looking back.

Our child has since completed one year homeschooling with me followed by two years in his public charter school.

I thought some of you might be interested in the differences of our experiences:

  • In his charter school our child is given the structure he needs to feel safe and therefore he presents more typical than he ever did in his district school.
  • Because there are far less distractions in his charter school, he is not constantly worried about what is going to happen so he learns and retains more information.
  • Due to the fact the charter school supports each child as they set their own personal goals, he is encouraged for being himself and his peers celebrate his unique milestones with him.
  • Because behavioral standards are clear in his charter school, he doesn’t have any more difficulty following the rules than his typical peers do.
  • Sensory overload is unusual at his charter school so he comes home with more energy to connect with family members.
  • Since the staff at his charter school are able to design and modify their own curriculum and have freedom to modify behavioral and social/emotional interventions for each individual in their classrooms, I do not have to spend all my energy fighting a system for my child to get his needs met. Where I used to spend ninety-five percent of my parenting energy arguing with a district (that was honestly telling me they would have to watch him fail a bit more and I would have to get a good attorney because they did not have what he needed, but they weren’t ready to pay for what he needed yet), I now spend that energy being on a team with his teachers and collectively meeting his needs.
  • While in his district school my child was isolated and teased consistently and the staff dismissed it, in his charter he is valued as a unique team member and is never alone on the playground.
  • In his district school he was regressing socially, academically, and emotionally and he had lost the will to even go to school, but in his charter school he is learning, making friends, and is happier than he’s ever been.

Some people who read this will see it as a political post. It is not. In fact, the politics of education reform leave me with a headache.

I just want to share my experience because I am the white mom of a black child (formerly in foster care) who was failing in our district’s schools and, being a country girl, I really didn’t see any of this coming.

I never would have expected to see a battle of the most privileged parents in our city inadvertently fighting to deny quality education to children like my son because they truly believe the lies their district is selling them that school choice is a right-wing conspiracy to privatize public education. The funny thing is many of these folks place their own children in PRIVATE schools because the district isn't good enough for their own children. Also, the implications of the aforementioned "right-wing conspiracy theory" of charter schools is disrespectful to the parents at my children’s school (98% people of color) because it implies that either we are ignorantly being duped by conservative conspirators or we have some destructive ulterior motive behind our school choice.

So, I guess the point is, I’m just learning as I go and I’m so grateful two of my children are currently in a public school that has high expectations of their students, instructs them individually, and respects them even when they’ve endured foster care. And, while there are positive and negative policies in district schools and positive and negative policies in charter schools, it’s unfortunate to see good parents fight against excelling schools- especially schools educating students that the other schools are not willing to do the hard work to educate. Reducing the education debate to good vs. evil is juvenile and distracts well-meaning people from working their hardest to ensure all of our children have access to quality education.

Fighting against quality schools is essentially fighting against the education of school children- school children who are unlikely to excel in our current district schools.

Children like my precious child.

Education Encouragement

NPR Highlights of Schools doing Incredible Work with Students in Foster Care and/or Experiencing Homelessness:

Disclaimer:  I am not a general advocate for charter schools. In fact, I doubt they make sense in any area where the district excels without cultural bias. Also, I don’t think any schools that use shaming tactics should exist. I am just a mother who was once hopeless that my specific child would be respected and learn in a classroom, and I want the best for all of our children.


  1. I am a fan of charter schools to go alongside public schools for the reasons you state. It gives choice to people who need it. I'm so glad your advocacy for your children, your devotion in homeschooling them, and your guidance toward an good-fitting charter school has resulted in flourishing.

    1. Thanks, Lori. You know, when it comes to our children who are adopted or in foster care, there is much more to be said. It is nice to have options (even though those options are greatly limited and determined by lottery). Our kids school is an unbelievable gift! It could be even better if our underperforming schools were willing to learn easily implemented best practices. Of course that's where I live- where there's a huge achievement gap. If it hadn't been for adoption through foster care, I'd be so unaware of the challenges many of my neighbors are facing. Certainly, I'm still unaware of many challenges, but I'm thankful to be learning.

  2. I too love options! We are lucky enough we dont have a lottery! great post

    1. Thanks, Shea! It is nice to not have a lottery. Even the word "lottery" implies there are winners and losers. Although I'm sure the solution is not overly simple, I do believe there are ways we could improve our urban schools so all students are winners and have the chance to learn in a classroom.

      Thanks again for connecting!

  3. I'm so torn on charter schools. I see the need for them but (around here) they are a drain on resources meant for all public schools. More money doesn't magically appear in the district when a new school opens it's doors. I just hate to see schools that service a greater number of children. Around here the "sending district" pays around $12,000 per student per year to the Charter. Multiply that by 25-30 students or really does take it's toll.

    1. Thanks for connecting, Catie. Yes. I get that. That's why, I agree, in areas where students in the district are being prepared for college, without distinction, charters shouldn't be utilized.

      Sadly, where we live, most students are black and brown and some of the charter schools are the only schools preparing black and brown students for college (with a handful of exceptions, of course).

      Yet, we have elite public high schools that are full of white kids who tested in because they either went to private elementary school, one of the few quality district elementary schools (mostly in white, affluent neighborhoods), had parents who tutored them, or even had extensive private tutoring unavailable to the vast majority of the students in our district.

      The charters should not be necessary. But, if they're the only ones willing to have high expectations of the actual students in our district and actually equip them to excel in college, I'd rather give them the money and have the district downsize.

      Thank you again for connecting, Catie! Best to you.

  4. I appreciated this post SO VERY MUCH. You and I are in very similar situations I believe. We were literally getting nothing out of our public school and pulled out for private school since we didn't get a charter spot. (thankfully the private school was very generous with us financially). We eventually got into a charter school and its been AWESOME. The public school has come a long way in the 6 years since we left it, I'll consider it again for my youngest when she is ready to start school.

    1. It sounds like we are in very similar situations, Erin! Only our local schools haven't really made any progress. I'm so happy you'll have that additional option! We did a private school for one child for a year (we sold our minivan to afford it...long story). We cried tears at the lottery when our younger son got into the charter school. I do hope our local schools make major improvements. Our children deserve much better than they're currently promised.


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