There is a lot of potential in this picture, isn’t there? These are three bright, amazing, happy little girls off to their very first day in the public school system.

I once read that “having children is like letting your heart walk around outside of your body.” It’s true, and sending your child off to kindergarten is a tough day for most hearts. It requires a huge leap of faith.

And having faith in your local public school is a tricky thing. On the one hand, it’s your community school. You and your friends and neighbors participate as families there, so there is often a feeling of local ownership (Go Cougars!).

Schools are staffed with good people, many of them parents too, who are there because they love working with kids. As a former teacher, I have no doubt that the faculty at public schools is putting in a tremendous effort to do the absolute best for the children in their charge.

On the other hand, there are the down sides to public school. I worry that the amount of testing required by No Child Left Behind puts an unhealthy focus on test prep and test taking. I worry that the purpose of these tests, to judge individual teachers and schools against one another, takes the responsibility for success away from the students and families and puts it in the hands of the teachers and schools.

I worry that our nation’s desire to fight to the top of the international list of the best educated by pushing academics over play in the early grades, and academics over vocational training in the later grades, creates an atmosphere of frustration and anxiety in classrooms.

I worry that all of this together diminishes the love of learning that so many kids start out with. Teachers and schools have such a tremendous responsibility, can they really accomplish all that we expect of them?

Such is the lot of the average American family. What can we do to make it better?

We can take some of the responsibility back. We can give our teachers and schools our support and appreciation. We can lobby for the practices we think make the best schools. We can try to send our kids prepared and encourage them to take responsibility for themselves and their own education. And we can support organizations, like CLiF, that aim to supplement what local school districts provide.

If we all do a little to help our kids and our schools match the potential they start out with, when all is said and done, we will have done a great thing.

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CLiF has served over 350,000 children since 1998.

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