In Defense of “Bad” Schools

I don’t care what your friend’s neighbor’s sister-in-law told you about my child’s school. I don’t care that everyone who’s anyone is moving out of the district because of, obviously, the schools. I don’t care about the sensational headlines decrying the failing school system. 

To be entirely honest, I don’t really care where you choose to send your own kids to school.

I do care, though, that the public schools have become a last resort, immediately undesirable, and not even considered by many families. The truth is there’s a lot of awesome stuff happening in these “bad” schools. These schools could potentially be great if more families who were passionate about ensuring a quality education chose the public school over an already advantaged school.

But their test scores are bad. I hear this one a lot. I looked up test scores when looking at schools. The first site I visited said that our neighborhood school had a dismal, 3/10 rating. Umm, ouch. The next site I visited said that it was the third best elementary school in the Wichita area, sharing the top ten with highly regarded suburban schools. Yay! Then, straight from the Kansas State Department of Education I looked at the full numbers for myself. The truth lies somewhere in the middle – somewhere in-between an embarrassing failing grade and the best of the best. I value test scores in their limited role as just one measure for evaluating an aggregate group year over year for administrative appraisal and adjustment. At the end of the day I’m not going to judge my child’s success or worth off of just one test, nor will I judge the school. There’s so much more to consider.

But their class sizes are huge. I got this excuse directly from a neighborhood mom who picked a private school over our public school. She was floored to find out that her son’s kindergarten class was 30% larger than my son’s. Tour the schools, ask your questions. A lot of the “facts” out there for parents that scare them away from the public schools are misinformation or, at best, incomplete. 

But the teachers aren’t as good. Baloney. There are exceptional and less desirable teachers in any school. I personally think all teachers are heroes and those that have truly been called to teach are angels on earth. I’d hate to see a great teacher leave our district because they weren’t supported or valued, and I believe preventing that is a worthy endeavor. Truly, I feel for you if you’re having a rough year with a not-so-great teacher, and I hope that you’re empowered to make appropriate modifications – but I don’t think this is strictly a public school phenomenon.

So, what do I care about?

I care about an environment that is challenging and positive for my child to thrive. I care about a campus that welcomes parent involvement. I care about a school culture that promotes and practices inclusion, diversity, and acceptance. I care about an administration at all levels that values constructive feedback and is willing to innovate for the advantage of students. I care about opportunities beyond the ‘three R’s’, exposure to art, music, physical education, technology and language. I care about teachers and staff who are passionate about fundamentals and make learning and intelligence cool for my kid.

As parents we all want what’s best for our children. There’s likely not a parenting choice more fraught than picking schools. It feels as though decisions made for your five year old carry enormous weight. And, every family has the right to pick the school that’s best for them. Your list of priorities might look different than mine. Maybe for you, private, parochial, rural, or homeschooling is a better fit. But, if you’re willing to take a second look and challenge your perceptions, I hope you’ll consider a “bad school.” You might just find what you’re looking for.

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Ginny Ellis is a hometown girl who happily resides in East Wichita with her husband, two young sons, two rowdy dogs, and one spoiled tortoise. Together they enjoy taking part in all our city has to offer, especially if it involves being outdoors, supporting the arts, or is particularly delicious. She is a WAHM who serves as WMB's Events Director as well as holding volunteer positions in Junior League of Wichita, on her neighborhood elementary school's PTO Board, and for United Way of the Plains. Ginny is a podcast enthusiast, laundry folding procrastinator, and insatiable reader who loves the Shockers, theme parties, and her margaritas on the rocks.


  1. Good for you. I work in a school with dozens of caring human beings who are doing their best to educate hundreds of very young human beings from many different cultures and backgrounds. If the entire world attempted to emulate our staff and students things would be so much better. Test scores are just that, test scores. Living alongside others like yourself and unlike yourself is the best real world education you will ever receive. Life is not about how well you can show what you know. Life is about how well you can show how you love.

  2. All of this!! Yes yes yes!!

    I value public schools beyond all else in our country, it’s where we grow the next generation of informed and active citizens. One of the best ways I can support public schools is by sending my kids to public schools! That and demanding that my tax dollars go back into our schools and even other kids’ schools so that we can all get educational equity.

    Many friends who started their children out at private schools and then switched to public expressed amazement that the experience was so much more positive for their children. I think it has to do something with school communities that know a thing or two about diversity and inclusion.

    Thank you for this great shout out to our Wichita and Wichita-area public schools!

    • Kristina – Your words and thoughts are so perfect.

      High-quality public schools are critical to the success of our democracy!

      Thanks to Wichita Moms Blog for this perspective.


  3. Yes! Thank you! I am a former WPS teacher who now teaches at a private school in New Mexico. I particularly appreciated your point about teachers at public schools being as good as at private ones. There are many great teachers at my current school, but the same is true about teaching at East High.

  4. Yess!!! I love that you took the time to see the heart of your neighborhood school. Numbers are numbers, but it’s culture, character and heart that matter. ??

  5. We are moving out of our upper middle class suburban school district today because despite all the people who rave about it, it sucks. In eight years I have met the most unfriendly people, had the worst time getting services for me special needs son that I had to get legal help to get him placed out of district, and had so many people retaliate against my kids that we have just had enough. I went through those rankings you mentioned, and it turns out they don’t even show up on them anymore! So yes, don’t judge a book by its cover for sure. I’m so glad I saw this on the day we moved. I take it as a sign we are making the right decision.

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