Amazingly, a lot of people who read this blog are sending their kids to public school. At first I thought those parents were crazy, since I'm constantly telling them their school sucks. But then I realized that these parents are incredibly open-minded and genuinely trying to get information to help make good decisions. This post is especially for those parents.
Here are some things I've uncovered about how to hack the school system:
1. Hold your kid back so he or she is the oldest. There's a plethora of research to show that in elementary school the kids in the younger half of the class are at a huge disadvantage. This research concludes that not only do kids score worse on tests, perform worse in sports and have more behavioral problems, but the disadvantages of being in the younger half of the class have lasting impact throughout a kid's schooling.
The logical thing to do is to hold your kid back, especially if he is a boy with a late birthday. In New York City, among the rich and educated parents, it's so common to hold kids back that you can't even get an advantage by doing it. But in regular, public school your kid will be better off being in the oldest half of his or her class, so hold your child back a year if you need to.
2. Give a lot of money to the school. Look, it's $40K to go to a private school that approaches the benefits of homeschool. So if you gave $3K to your public school every year, and actually got better schooling for it, that would be a bargain, right? Your first instinct is probably to give the money to the classroom teacher. But that would get spread around the class and have very little impact on your kid. However, if you give the money directly to the principal, she can use it to solve whatever is her biggest problem. And the principal determines who your kids' teachers are, which is a huge factor in the quality of a kids public school education.
3. Classify your kid as having some sort of learning difference. Get your kid an Individualize Education Plan (IEP) early on so that they get unlimited time taking the SAT. The classification is not reported to colleges, so it's just seen simply as a really high score.
You might think this is extreme, but in New York City parents get their kid classified as special needs in order to get a leg up getting into elite preschools. So doing this to get into an elite college seems fine. And look, it's hard to get an IEP when your kid is two years from taking the SAT. Everyone wants an IEP then. It's easy when you have a first-grader. Most first graders look like they need an IEP when they are in school because school is so uncomfortable for young kids.
4. Take your kid out for special lessons. Most public schools will negotiate on attendance if the kid is doing something special. You might not feel you can take your kid out 100% of the time, but you can find one thing that your kid is very interested in, and take your kid out of school to do that thing.
Don't worry too much about what the kid is doing. Allow for trial and error. And it doesn't have to be something typical of overachiever types. My son did pottery with a group of teens in the summer and then they disappeared in the fall. Why don't parents take the kids out of school to create time to continue practicing at the wheel? The payoff will be huge because the kid will have a hook when he applies to college. And that hook is more important than grades or SAT scores.
5. Give your kid an easy course load. Colleges admissions officers do not reward kids for studying nonstop and having no extracurriculars. Because at this point, studying nonstop is a commodity. So have your kid take easy courses and then work hard at extracurriculars. Easy courses will leave more time for what differentiates your kid. Also, the easier the course load, the less time the kid has to do homework, which means more time to practice self-directed learning, which is indisputably the best way for kids to learn.