Aside from their health, the most important and influential element in your child’s formative years is their education. Of course, it’s not just the academics that affect students, either. Culture, demographics, activities and clubs, environment, and any particular focus the school may have — for example, an immersive language program or a STEM-centered curriculum — are also part and parcel of what makes a particular educational institution a good choice for your family.
Dr. Freda Deskin, whose decades-long career helping children learn, thrive, and succeed makes her one of the nation’s most notable educators, offers some advice. Here are her top five questions to ask as you begin your search for the perfect school.
Will the School Meet Our Practical Needs?
Before going any further, you will want to find out about practical issues such as school start and end times, transportation options, after-school activities or programs, and whether students receive breakfast and lunch.
If your schedule doesn’t accommodate driving a child 20 minutes to school each morning, or if you can’t pick them up afterward and there’s no after-school program, the remainder of your questions will be moot.
What Is the Student to Teacher Ratio?
This can be an excellent barometer of a school’s quality. When there is a high student to teacher ratio, the teachers are stretched thin — which makes it much more difficult for them to connect with each child.
Dr. Freda Deskin says that while teacher’s aides and parent volunteers can help, most of the time a teacher won’t have full-time assistance.
How Do Teachers Handle Poor Behavior?
Discipline can be a sticky issue, but it is essential that you know how behavioral problems will be addressed. Some schools use a system of demerits, detention, and suspension; others use sticker charts or another method of rewarding good behavior. There is a wide range of behavioral management systems. Find out about the school’s official policy, but also ask how much leeway instructors have to implement their own methods.
Even if your child is a perfect angel, remember that sooner or later they will be impacted by others’ behavior — and you’ll want bullying or other problems to be handled appropriately. So if the school’s approach doesn’t jibe with your parenting style, you will likely be better off elsewhere.
Can You Tell Me About Your Standards and Curriculum?
According to Dr. Freda Deskin, a school’s standards relate to the specific skills taught at each grade level, and what the students are expected to know, understand, or do before moving on to the next grade. Its curriculum, of course, is the materials and methods that teachers use to help students meet those goals. Some parents insist on an atmosphere of academic rigor; others prioritize creative pursuits or the freedom for a child to explore their own interests and steer their own education.
To What Extent Can Parents Be Involved?
Does the school have an active PTA or other parent-involved organization? How do teachers communicate with parents? Is it possible for you to volunteer in your child’s classroom or elsewhere in the school? Do the parents have any say in school policies or procedures? Explains Dr. Freda Deskin, these are all good questions that will give you a sense of how receptive administrators and teachers will be to you playing an active role in your child’s education.
What educational considerations are most important for you and your family? Have you had to choose a school for one or more of your children, and if so, how did you go about making that decision? Connect with us on social media to share your thoughts!
As a parent, you make decisions every day that affect your children’s’ health, happiness, well-being, and even their future. One of the most important decisions you’ll ever make is which school your kids will attend. And while academic excellence is certainly one of the crucial criteria informing your choice of school, there are other elements that must be considered: the number and type of extracurricular activities, how dedicated and compassionate the staff and teachers are, the diversity of the student body, and the overall atmosphere where your child will be spending the majority of their days.
Freda Deskin, CEO of ASTEC Charter Schools in Oklahoma City, wants to make the case for considering a charter school. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where charter schools have been established, they may very well represent the best decision for your children. Read on to learn why!
1. The More Choice, the Better
In rural communities, there may be only one public school available. In inner cities, public schools and their students often struggle with issues such as poverty, violence, high levels of teacher turnover (and burnout), and outdated or inadequate materials and supplies. There may be private schools to provide an alternative, but for families that are middle- to lower-class, a private-school education simply isn’t in the budget.
Enter charter schools. According to Freda Deskin, they provide the same quality education as private schools, but without the private-school price tag.
2. A Diverse Environment
At public schools, eligibility for enrollment usually depends on the student’s address. And that makes sense: bussing children from distant neighborhoods is an expense that most public schools, already strapped for funding, simply can’t justify.
Charter schools, on the other hand, are open to any student, regardless of where they live. This generally results in a much more diverse student body — and that, in turn, will enrich your child’s educational experience by exposing them to different cultures, customs, and viewpoints.
3. Greater Freedom — and Accountability
One of the major reasons parents choose charter schools for their children is the freedom these educational institutions generally have to develop and apply their own curricula, administrative model, and pedagogical approach. They can set policies and standards according to what’s best for the students — not just what’s least expensive, or what state-mandated programs require.
The other side of that coin, increased accountability, is yet another plus, says Freda Deskin. Because charter schools are accountable to the families they serve, they are motivated to meet high standards. If they do not meet their self-directed goals, parents will respond by transferring their students to another school.
4. Specializations Result In Better Education
What subjects make your children excited about learning? Where do their interests lie? Are they already setting their sights on a particular career path? While most public schools provide a basic education that covers the core subjects, charter schools are free to specialize in a particular area of education.
At ASTEC, Freda Deskin and her colleagues help inspire kids who enjoy science and technology. Other charter schools focus on the performing and/or visual arts, business and leadership, career and technical education, dual-language instruction, and so on. That isn’t to say that they ignore core subjects, but by providing specialized, in-depth instruction, charter schools engage their students and encourage them to follow their passion — leading to higher attendance rates and graduation rates, among other benefits.
5. Smaller Class Size
Public schools are often overcrowded, underfunded, and understaffed. This means a much lower teacher-to-student ratio and much less opportunity for teachers to connect with individual students. Sometimes, all it takes to turn around a troubled child or a poor academic performer is a little bit of attention from their instructors. At charter schools, this type of connection is possible because of smaller classes as well as teachers who have the time and energy to build a relationship with each and every child.
Charter school advocates such as Freda Deskin say that there are many more benefits to this type of education. No matter what goals you have set for your children, or where their interests and strengths lie, there is a charter school that can help them achieve academic and social success.
As a long-time educator, whether Dr. Freda Deskin was teaching in common education or higher education or as a school leader, she has tried to live by example and insist that others make excellence a habit in all they do. It is easier to take the time to do a task right the first time than to pay the consequences of more time and effort later.
As a teacher, Freda Deskin stresses to students that she would only accept their best work. If there was not a heading, the work was sloppy or incomplete, she would quietly ask them if the work was their best. Dr. Freda Deskin would ask them to look closely at the paper in her hand. She would ask if they saw anything that was not excellent. If the heading or their name was missing or if there were stains on the paper, they would immediately take the paper back, exclaiming they would redo the paper.
Making excellence a habit takes time. This includes excellence in everything, including behavior. Reminding students regularly from the first day of the year and continuing throughout the year is a must. Before long, the papers get amazingly better once the idea of excellence is brought to a conscious level and reinforced.
“Giving positive reinforcement each time a paper of excellence was turned in motivated students to focus on excellence and to check and recheck their work since reviewing a task multiple times is important in achieving excellence as a habit,” said Freda Deskin.
There are many tasks and projects daily in a school classroom. Students prepare posters for presentations. Dr. Freda Deskin went over with her students how an excellent poster should look. Once they agreed, she created a rubric for them to refer to. Was there a title, was it centered and was there an equal border all around the text and graphics? Freda Deskin taught them how to perfectly center a title done by hand by counting all the letters for each title row and then determining the middle letter or space and then adding letters to the right and then going back and filling in the right side of the lettering.
Whether students were putting their name on a paper, presenting their best work or double-checking completed work, when it is frequently brought to a conscious level, what they turn in improves and carries over to other classes and other parts of their lives. Dr. Freda Deskin has had many former students thank her for teaching them this habit.
“The same is true in business and at home. When we are aware of what we are presenting, either internally or externally, checking our work for excellence and for accuracy is the same. supervisors and administrators who insist on excellence throughout their business or school will see a marked difference in everything, including the building and offices,” explained Dr. Deskin.
Teaching everyone from the maintenance staff, to the secretaries, to the professional staff that excellence is expected and that anything less changes outcomes. Buildings become better kept and tidier. Old signs are removed along with the remains of tape and hand-written signs. Lobbies become free of clutter and offices are clean and attractive. Customer service becomes better, but it does take frequent reminders and follow through until excellence becomes the norm in the organization.
“When excellence becomes a habit, people think about the content and structure of their emails and other communications before they send them out. Spreadsheets and documents have proper headings, subheadings and cell headings. All communication becomes more thoughtful, intentional and user-friendly,” added Dr. Freda Deskin.
Fewer mistakes are made on final products. Everyone learns that for excellence to become a habit, you must measure twice and cut once. With fewer mistakes, less time is taken to redo the work and less likely to require follow-up communication or meetings. When excellence becomes a habit, there is far greater efficiency.
Making excellence a habit is a shift in mindset and awareness. Once it is a habit, it doesn’t even take conscious thought to check and prepare or do a task correctly the first time. It becomes second nature. Dr. Freda Deskin often thinks of how the world would be so much different if we taught and learned the valuable lesson making excellence a habit from an early age.
One of the most important — and difficult — decisions a parent has to make is what school their children should attend. Is private school worth the expense? Can they get a good education from the overworked, underpaid teachers at an overcrowded public school? Do you have the necessary initiative and self-discipline to homeschool your child?
There is another option, and it might be the perfect one for your family: Charter schools. Dr. Freda Deskin, the founder, administrator, and CEO of the 20-year-old, ASTEC Charter Schools in Oklahoma City, has all the answers to your questions.
Q: First Things First: What Is a Charter School?
A: Charter schools are public schools that are independently operated by an organization, university, or government agency. Unlike traditional public schools, they have the autonomy to set their own educational objectives, and their standards often exceed those of school districts or even states.
Q: How Many Charter Schools Are There?
A: The United States is home to 7,000 charter schools. They are frequently located in inner-city areas, but suburban and rural charter schools do exist, says Freda Deskin.
Q: Do Families Have to Pay Tuition?
A: No, charter schools are free for students and their families. Most of them are run as non-profit organizations. They receive public funding based on their enrollment numbers, although in many cases they get less funding than traditional public schools.
Q: What Sets Them Apart from Other Schools?
A: Since charter schools are free from the usual constraints and requirements of public school curricula and criteria, many of them have a particular specialty, goal, or demographic. For example, some charter schools are aligned with Montessori principles; others focus on college preparation. There are charter schools that are geared toward gifted and talented students, while some, like ASTEC Charter School, have a strong STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) component. According to Freda Deskin, bilingual instruction is another fairly common characteristic of charters.
Q: Are There Prerequisites or Entrance Exams?
A: No, charter schools are open to all students, and there are no admission requirements. They are considered “schools of choice,” explains Freda Deskin. This means that a student will not be enrolled in a charter school based on where they live, which is usually the organizing principle behind traditional public schools. Instead, the student and their family must opt in and apply to a charter school. If there are more applicants than there is capacity, a random lottery will decide which students get in.
Q: How Can I Find a Charter School That Will Suit My Child?
A: Dr. Freda Deskin advises that you start by searching on the Center for Education Reform’s website. You can also get in touch with your State Department of education to find out about options in your particular area.