Don't mortgage yourself to the hilt. Avoid the temptation to stretch and buy a house in an outrageously expensive suburb to get your offspring into one of the "best schools."
That's been my advice - and I'm sticking with it. Still, if nothing else it has stirred up a nice little spat on the comment board of this blog.
Here are two very different takes from a pair of readers - both are teachers and both admittedly know a whole lot more than me about the inner workings of our local schools.
Thirtysomething argues that the schools with the best reps - typically in the most expensive towns - have earned their reputation for a reason. There curriculum is so far ahead of the pack that they don't get stuck in test drilling mode that plague average districts.
But in the end, its school culture that may count the most, he argues.
By contrast, jpmur84 notes that most Massachusetts schools are a step or two above their counterparts across the country. Stop worrying about getting into a town with elite public schools and make decisions on what you can afford to buy.
"l' will take an intellectually curious child with a love of reading any day over some test-taking drone at a big name public or private school."
Scott, I would agree with you. Intellectual curiosity is a key component of real education. However, I don't understand why you believe there is a negative correlation between these two parameters?
In my experience, the "big name" public schools give very little attention to the MCAS with the majority of their students (a small percentage may take a specialized MCAS review class on top of their regular coursework). They don't need to specially prepare for the exam, because their curriculum is years ahead of the state standards. It is the "average" schools that typically incorporate mind-deadening MCAS drill into their daily routine, in the mistaken belief that a focus on standardized testing improves education. (It doesn't. It might not even improve standardized test scores.)
As a teacher, my favorite approach is to toss a problem on the board that the students haven't seen before, and ask, "How would you approach this?" To me, that is the essence of mathematics -- not memorization of stock routines. Of course it doesn't work with all students, only those who have the confidence to try something new and the curiosity to make the effort to think. Plenty of students with those qualities in the top districts (though by no means a majority). Less common (though not entirely absent) in the other districts where I've taught.
I don't blame this on the schools. Confidence and curiosity begin in the home, after all. But you definitely see more of these characteristics in the "top" schools than elsewhere, the reverse of what you suggest.
I wish more people could see what happens in our schools. In most cases, people are generalizing exclusively from their personal experience -- which makes for a very limited perspective.
Jpmur, a public school teacher, offers a somewhat different perspective. An "average" school district here in Massachusetts is pretty darn good compared to lots of other places in this country. It's a sentiment that my wife Karen, who grew up in post-industrial Northeast Ohio, often points out to me.
I understand Myra's LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION mantra and I also see Scott's valid point about school systems in Massachusetts. As a public school teacher, I can tell you this: virtually any school system in Massachusetts is heads and shoulders above similar school systems in other parts of the country (Lawrence, Holyoke, etc. not so much, but you catch my drift). Chances are your child is going to get an excellent education in this state speaking from a national perspective.
Consequently, I firmly believe that a family should buy a house in a town that works for that particular family. When deciding on which town to live in, families should try to look at their needs objectively: is it important to live in the same town or a neighboring town to grandparents? Is it important that dad only has a 20 minute commute vs. a one hour commute? Is mom an avid runner and wants to live close to trails or have large neighborhoods with sidewalks in them? Does your child thrive in an environment where repetition and drilling is not the norm in the school systems? These and many other questions need to be considered before making a large purchase in real estate.
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