The good news is that the appetite for Charleston County’s charter and magnet schools is only increasing. This year’s record number of applicants — 6,331 students submitted a total of 14,289 applications — shows that a large number of parents are actively involved in their children’s education, and that we continue to have an attractive lineup of public choice options.
The bad news is that there are only 3,278 slots available for those 6,331 kids. The far worse news, as The Post and Courier’s Paul Bowers notes, is that “students and parents have described the school choice application process as stressful, causing anxiety for children as early as elementary schools.”
It’s tempting to blame the school district for this stress, and it does point to a need not only for more public schools of choice but also for the district to do a better job of replicating the success of those schools in our regular schools. After all, the primary promise of charter schools is that they will act as laboratories of innovation, developing creative new ways to enhance learning, which can then be used in regular schools. To the extent that the district is able to do that, it should; to the extent that it needs changes in state regulations or state law to accomplish that, it should make those needs known, and enlist the support of legislators to get changes made.
But let’s be clear: If elementary school students are suffering from anxiety over a school-application process, that’s not the fault of the schools. The fault lies with their parents. Just as parents have an obligation to protect children from physical harm, we have an obligation to protect them from unnecessary stress. Which worrying about getting into the “right” elementary school most definitely is.
Yes, we need to teach our children the value of education and encourage them to do well. But there’s a line between pushing children to do well and pushing them toward anxiety, depression and other harmful effects.
The fact is that children whose parents obsess over which elementary school they attend are going to do just fine — assuming those parents don’t create psychological damage — because they already have the most important component of educational success: parents who take an active interest in their learning.
It’s worth noting that a similar problem surrounds the whole over-testing drama that parents and teachers complain about: Students are not inherently stressed out about taking standardized tests. Rather, students suffer from anxiety because the grown-ups have made them worry about their performance.
We can at least understand what’s driving the teacher frenzy. Teachers believe — understandably, though with no evidence — that they’ll lose their jobs if their students don’t do well on tests. But parents? Well, the hyper-competition that leads parents to make their kids obsess over how they’ll do on standardized tests, or whether they’ll ace an elementary-school acceptance interview, is the sort of competition that led to the college admissions scam that could send celebrity parents to federal prison.
As we near that Thursday reveal date, when Charleston County schools inform families whether their children made it into the schools of their choice, we urge parents to dial back the anxiety, and assure their children that everything will be just fine — even if they don’t make it into their first-choice schools.