Brookline's reputation for excellent schools draws lots of parents to
our pleasant but over-priced town, often at significant financial sacrifice.
Fortunately, that reputation is deserved in many ways. Yet now that I've
dropped off my beaming daughter for her first day in fourth grade, I'm
wondering about a host of issues that get too little attention in the
normal course of education-as-usual. Do you also wonder?
Based on discussions with parents and teachers over the past four years,
it's clear that school administrators and School Committee members sometimes
overlook chinks in the system. There's a bit of touchiness when a parent
points out that everyday routines and general assumptions inevitably work
better for some than for others. The reputation for excellence sometimes
blinds decision makers to the experiences of those for whom even a good
school doesn't always work as advertised.
For possible future columns, I'd like your answers to any of the following
questions that apply to your own situation. The questions are addressed
to parents, but I'd also like to hear from students, teachers, and administrators,
as well as from parents who have removed their children from public school.
1. First, homework: There's a national
movement against excessive homework, and a lot of grumbling about
it here in Brookline. Does your child get too much? Should schools give
homework over the summer? Should schools reward children for completing
homework (e.g., prizes) and penalize them for not doing it (e.g., missing
recess)? How often do you end up doing your child's homework? What's
the school's reaction when you say your child needs more time for other
2. Striving for excellence often implies competition. Is school too
competitive? Should the Honor Roll be ended? Must "doing well"
always mean doing better than others?
3. Is there too much emphasis on the MCAS
test? Does your school explain how MCAS affects your child's education?
Or how to excuse your child from the test?
4. Does your school have enough reading and math specialists, available
when your child needs them?
5. Do widespread complaints about Brookline's special education program
mean that your child is not getting the individualized help he or she
6. Given limited resources even in Brookline, how would you adjust
school priorities? Should more money go to early-childhood foreign language
instruction, or music or art, or more technology education, or ....?
Instead of what?
7. Does your school adequately take into account your child's interests,
strengths, and weaknesses?
8. Should the cafeteria offer only healthful food even if doing so
brings in less money? Does your child bring lunch only because you don't
like the cafeteria options? Would you like to see the sugared vending
machines removed? Do the kids get too much junk food in class or from
9. Does your school take aggression and nastiness seriously enough?
10. Does your school adequately take into account financial, ethnic,
religious, and other differences?
11. Given national data showing the DARE program does
not decrease drug and alcohol use and complaints that its approach
is simplistic and puritanical, should we get rid of the program in Brookline?
12. Is your Parent-Teacher Organization effective? Are teachers involved?
Does it do too much fund-raising? Is there any alternative to fund-raising?
What else does the PTO do?
13. Does your School Council play a significant role in setting school
education policy, as required
by law? Are meetings publicly announced and conveniently scheduled?
Are new members elected annually, or does the principal simply ask for
volunteers? Would you feel comfortable bringing your concerns to the
Council or sending it a copy of your responses to these questions? Is
the Council an effective voice for parents or merely a tool of the administration?
14. What else concerns you: school architecture and open classrooms,
cleanliness, schedules, curriculum, personnel, etc? How could our schools
become even better?
15. If you could afford it, would you send your child to private school
Please send your answers to P.O. Box 470783, Brookline, MA 02447-0783. Remember to indicate your
child's grade. Unless you tell me I can use your name, I'll keep your