Challenger School: Myths, Pros and Cons

I was scouting the web for thoughts from other parents about the Challenger school system and I was surprised not to find any posts whatsoever on this topic. Schools are discussed so often in social circles so I was expecting to find at least one parent who would take the time to share their experiences. (Ok, for now, let us blame it on Google’s poor search technology).

I have had the opportunity to get familiar with the Challenger school system for a few years now. So here goes…

First, let me dispel two common myths about Challenger.

Myth #1: Challenger is too academic. The kids have to slog it out starting from pre-school and kindergarten.

This is completely untrue. There is no question that the kids learn a lot. But the slog days are long gone. The kids don’t have to stay up at night learning facts and figures by rote. The academic pressure appears to have eased up dramatically over the years. Kids get a lot more time to pursue extra curricular activities. I had heard the same horror stories before, but they are certainly not reflective of present-day Challenger curriculum.

Myth #2: Admission is next to impossible. You have to queue up overnight to get your child admitted.

Again, completely untrue. There was a time at the height of the dotcom days when this was true. The system has changed. It is now a lottery system. Besides, since the dotcom bust the number of applicants has significantly reduced. It’s a different story that that the school will act like its “full”, would want to conduct tests etc. before they admit your child. But the reality is that admission to Challenger is not as hard as it was a few years back. This does not in anyway imply that they are starved of kids. The general student teacher ratio is about 25 to 1 though it is a lot better in the pre-school and the kindergarten level (more like 1 to15).

Having addressed the two common myths, here are a few pros and cons. First, the pros.

The Teachers: The big question always on parents minds, “How are the teachers?” The reality is that the teachers at Challenger are like those at most other schools (I hear that pay scales are equally poor in both private and public schools) — there are some exceptionally good teachers and some mediocre teachers. Thankfully, the Challenger school curriculum is excellent. So if your child is lucky and lands a good teacher, the combination with the curriculum makes it terrific. On the other hand if the teacher is mediocre, the curriculum is the only saving grace (don’t expect the management to be of any help!). Note that you will also find the occasional teacher (a computer teacher in elementary school, for instance) who chooses to go his/her own way (define their own rules) and surprises parents with their own unpredictable ways.

The Parents and The Kids: This is probably the best part about Challenger. There are plenty of like-minded parents from identical social backgrounds whose kids go to Challenger. They face similar challenges and share the same values, resulting in lasting friendships and camaraderie between families.

Now the cons.

The Administration/Management: This is easily Challenger’s weakest link. The Administration operates a lot like the Bush Administration. In other words, they chose to do as they please. They never bother to look at any issue objectively. When faced with any parent complaints or issues, they simply stone-wall. You can kick and scream all you like, go up the ladder, all the way up to Ms. Barbara B. Baker , but objectivity is a non-existent commodity in the Administrative circles at Challenger. If you ever bring up an issue, it is promptly shot down with generic responses like “Its the teacher’s prerogative”, “It is only because your child is affected”, “hysterical Mom/Dad” etc. One of principals’ favorite responses to any issue (no matter how unrelated) almost always begins with “when my son was in Challenger…” Many parents who have taken their kids out of Challenger have done so because of their frustrations with the Management. (In fact, some good teachers have left the school because of their inability to deal with the management). But the general philosophy of the Management seems to be one of “If you don’t like it, you are welcome to take your child some place else”

Update Nov’ 08: Since posting this article, there have been changes in personnel at the Challenger school that I am familiar with.  I must say that my interaction with the new personnel has been far more positive .

Adoption of Technology: Considering that the Challenger schools in the bay area serves kids whose parents largely work in the high tech community, you would expect a greater degree of technological savvy at school. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Email as a means of communication is hardly ever used by the school. The website is just a bunch of static pages. The school as a whole does not seem to have embraced technology. The parents on the other hand leverage technology to remain in contact, socialize, communicate and share ideas about issues their kids face etc.

The Ethnic Mix: The kids in the Challenger schools in the bay area are predominantly of Asian Indian and Chinese descent. This is true of the teachers and also the Administrative staff. Without a doubt, Indians form the majority. The lack of a strong ethnic mix is a definite minus , but its no different than the student mix at UC Berkeley or for that matter at some of the leading high tech firms in the bay area (Cisco, Intel, Google, Yahoo etc.)

The Big Question: Should you send your kids to Challenger?

I hate to sound like a lawyer. But my answer in this case is “It depends”. The thought of developing a checklist followed by an automated “Challenger Readiness Score” did cross my mind. But I’ll stop here and let you make up your own mind based on the above. I welcome comments and thoughts from others, especially other parents.

Author: Pran Kurup

Pran Kurup is founder and CEO of Vitalect, Inc.

146 thoughts on “Challenger School: Myths, Pros and Cons”

  1. How much is the difference in fees for second grader in a full day chalenger vs. harker? ALo, can some parent share their views about Harker elementary school. Many Thanks,


  2. My son just finished 1st grade at Challenger Salt Lake City. Although we hear some complaints about the Challenger system, we have no complaints. My son needs a creative outlet, and Challenger provides plenty of extracurricular programs, like Chess and art. Many parents pull me aside and ask how my son has done at Challenger–a few are even concerned for his welfare! I just tell them that we have had a great experience so far. High grades and very little homework, but I have nothing to compare to. My son has never attended public school. Has anyone else had a similar experience at Challenger-Salt Lake?


  3. Between Stratford and Challenger Middle Schools in the California Bay Area, which one is better?

    I have a child going to Challenger Middle in San Jose and I have a problem with the management and teachers – they don’t take any action. The teachers are rude, unqualified people who have no passion for their job. Could you please compare this to Stratford School and tell me which school I am better off sending my child to? Thanks. I would appreciate feedback as soon as possible…


  4. Challenger develops uni-dimensional kids. If you are a flag-waving Republican, closet capitalist, all for ARMY recruitment at educational institutions (the principals are ex-Marines and flaunt it), an Asian wanting your child to ‘fit in’, generally against the phrase ‘global citizen’ – then you have hit the Jackpot.

    And yes, BTW, it is a pseudo non-sectarian school that has ties to the Christian Coalition, all the way to the top.

    This is the only school in the YAY area that did not air the President’s address to the nation’s school children in the name of separating politics from education, yet forced parents to buy tickets to a private talk on ‘Small Government’ by Dinesh D’Souza (an Uncle Tom) .. welcome to the Challenger, where they churn out little military worshipping, patriotic zealots, card-carrying Republicans then look no further !

    – a satisfied parent (academically speaking)


  5. A note to Current parents:

    If you are not aware about this, you are not tuned in and just the ripe fodder for Challenger, where they seek to sublimally brain wash your child via a curriculum skewed towards ‘Christian Proselytzation’. Some comments heard in school:

    1) Principal : You understand, we cannot celebrate [INsert ur favorite festival i.e Diwali, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah] in the school…yet they go ballistic over Easter..
    2) Spring Program : 9/10 songs related to u know what God & Guns
    3) History class : Christianity is the only religion with living proof, everything else is myths.
    A lot of time focussed on the evolution of Christianity by Guess what CALVARY PUBLICATONS (yeah go ahead and google CALVARY).
    4) What else.. yes, Almost ritualistic visitations by Men in Uniform at schools.
    5) Banning the President’s address to school
    6) Indirectly slandering ASIAN CULTURE and CIVILIZATIONS….

    –just ask your 8th grader
    And I am sure all 8th Graders


  6. Many people have told me that Challenger has a very conservative-minded stance. I have heard of ‘liberty tests’ being administered to students as early as 3rd grade these days. The purpose of these tests is to promote conservative thinking in students before they have political opinions of their own. Global warming is taught as challengable scientific theory. Schools are purple and may become a lot redder:(

    Challenger used to be good, but now it is highly conservative-minded.


  7. In the past, Challenger was a credible school with a dedicated, loyal staff. In recent years, the political bias has made the curriculum more right wing propaganda than the quality academic program it once was. Hiring is heavily biased towards pro- American radical conservatives, and employees are targeted if they do not comply with actively promoting right wing “Tea Party” politics. Something is terribly wrong.


  8. we are sending our child to Challenger school in Newark Ca. Management changed from last year and they expect a military type discipline with a pre school kid. It’s sad they don’t understand that pre-school is growing age for 3 year and 4 year old and as part of growing they try different things. They expect 3 1/2 year old child to have 8 yr old discipline. The school doesn’t teach any social skills and the school is only academical. We are very unhappy with the management and teachers as they lack professionalism in addressing the issues

    After going thru our experience and reading the above articles and we do agree with those article 100 percent.

    How is stratford? we heard that they are planning to expand in Fremont.


  9. I love Challenger. My little one joined when she was 4 years old. Previously she was in Bright Hotizons. That was terrible …the teachers taught them nothing scolded the children and collected a ton of money in tuition. Now in challenger everything is done through song so my pre-schooler loves it she sings about the planet and vowels. That is what you need a fun environment for learning.


  10. I used to work at Challenger and I saw many problems. Teachers are not certified and many are working there because their kids get reduced tuition. Barbara Baker, the founder, is extremely right wing. She spoke to a group of teachers on right wing views and implied that the end was near due to the current state of American politics. She did not mention Obama by name, but it was pretty clear what she meant. During the last election that campus was plastered with ads for conservative candidates and she was caught giving large sums to right wing candidates under an assumed name and without reporting them. She has a right to her views, but preaching them at a teacher appreciation dinner was totally out of place and placing political ads in a school is just wrong.There are few or no extra curricular activities, art,or music. There is no foreign language, There are no sports programs. Curriculum is set in stone and allows little teacher creativity. Management couldn’t care less about what teachers, staff or parents think. In the Salt Lake campus, the former director gave a great deal of power to young college girls at the expense of older and more experienced employees. She played favorities with staff, refused to listen and didn’t know what was going on in many cases. There was also a very large turnover of staff and most left very disatisfied. Parents, I think you can do better for the money. Challenger has good points, yes, but so do other schools which provide more. By the way, I am a retired teacher who taught in public school for 30 years. I was not impressed.


  11. I a recent graduate from Berkeley who is considering opening a school where we will integrate top-notch Western education with foreign language education (Hindi, Tamil, etc.), Ayurveda, yoga, cooking, and gardening. Does this idea appeal to any parents out there?


  12. Hi Rohit,
    It does appeal to me as a parent of two preschool going girls as well as someone who wants to open such a school myself. Let me know if you need a partner or something, maybe it will click.


  13. Very interesting blog. Just came across this and truly find all comments very valuable. Really like Rohit’s idea, happy to support in any way. We have a child currently in Challenger 1st grade, he is really enjoying it. The crux for us has been “always watch for the messages our child is giving us”/ Keep in a school if the child is enjoying, make a change if the child is not enjoying and you are unable to make strides with teachers and/or administrators. I have 2 older children with private and public school experiences. And my lesson learned is to always watch for what the child is trying to tell us via his / her learning pace, ability to cope up, how much fun the child is having, etc. Strong foundation is a must for children, in whatever form we can give them. Harker, Challenger or Champion, we have chosen to make those investments above and beyond what the “public domain” has made available to us. The “return on investment” is purely what the child is able to get out of it. Formative years in school leave an unerasable memory for the rest of our childrens’ lives – those years really make what he or she grows up to be

    Like this blog a lot. Tks everyone


  14. I suppose the campuses differ but I would not send my child to Challenger for the following reasons.

    1.Teachers are not required to be certified and are not allowed much deviation from curriculum or much creativity. Certification does not guarantee a good teacher, but it does show that the teacher has had training in how to teach and relate to children in the age group they will be teaching.Simply having a college degree in something does not mean you are qualified to teach.

    2. Lack of extra curricular activities, art, music and foreign language.Other private schools in the same price range offer more.These subjects are important if a student is to be well rounded.

    3. Poor management and unqualified people at some of the locations.

    4. Lack of response to concerns of parents and teachers.

    5. Large turnover of staff in at least some locations.

    6. Too much politics. Why do you need to write an essay on your views on America to be an aide in a preschool?We are talking about 2,3, and 4 year olds.You are hardly likely to engage in discussions on governemnt and politics with them, How about an essay that has something to do with working with kids? Why is Ms. Baker plastering the school with ads for her candidates. The lady is very very conservative and pushes her agenda. I find this inappropriate and I would feel the same way if I agreed with her views.

    I know I posted these concerns above, but felt I could do it better if I rewrote it. I am a former employee of Chaleenger and veteran teacher in the public schools.


  15. I am in the Salt Lake City/Davis County Area. This blog is helpful and in some ways alarming. I love what my son is learning at Challenger in terms of grammar, reading, math, science. The price amongst other obvious issues as listed above are causing me to rethink enrolling him for this Fall (1st Grade). I would love other options to explore. What other private school options do we have in the SLC/Davis County areas? And how do they compare? Also, anyone who has transitioned their child from Challenger to Public school at the 1st grade level…please provide insight and your experience. THANK YOU!!!


  16. You might look into St. Mark’s/ Rowland Hall or the Cathedral Choir School. Both offer a lot more programs as well as excellent academics. The choir school is Catholic and I am not sure what their policy is for kids of other religions. Rowland Hall is loosely allied with the Episcopal church but it is pretty secular and any one is welcome. Both have good foreign language programs, extra curricular activities and the choir school has a great music program. The kids just got back from a tour of Italy.


  17. This is my daughter’s fifth year at Challenger. Academically she is more than a year ahead of her public school peers. This year has been a huge jump academically and she was not well prepared by her previous Challenger teacher. We’ll be paying attention to the class she is assigned to next year!

    We really liked the previous director at Salt Lake City and wonder if the new director even knows who we are. He seems very formal and rigid and never seems to smile. We’ve heard that Barbara Baker has brought in former military people in several schools. It is easy to see that Challenger is not well versed in employee relations, I’m surprised they have not been sued for EEOC violations (maybe they have!) and think it’s only a matter of time.

    Disturbingly, my daughter’s grade has lost at least 9 students this year – yikes! Watch for another tuition increase next year to make up for it. We’ve struggled on whether or not to send my her back (she came home one day and said, “Mom, did you know that taxes are bad and everyone hates Obama?” We saw it as an opportunity to have an open discussion about what taxes are and also about what the left and the right believe and why they can’t agree. We are independent and encourage her to think freely – so we really have to pay attention to the rhetoric and ideology. But we know she’ll be exposed to differing opinions no matter where she goes to school.

    Overall, we still think that Challenger is a better choice than public…but really would like to see the administration do an anonymous survey of parents (SURVEY MONKEY is a great tool, in case there is a Challenger person reading this post). Thoughtful consideration of feedback without fear of reprisal could really help the school propel itself forward.


  18. My daughter has been at Challenger in CA since preschool and will be entering middle school in the Fall. I am now looking at Stratford as well as public schools in the Almaden area and am looking for input.

    Like Challenger, Stratford (and I would guess other private schools) does not require credentials. However, it does offer sports and other enrichment activities. (Incidentally, our campus also has after school activities…but as each campus has it’s own middle school…the middle school student population is small).

    I did notice that Stratford seems to be staffed with ex-Challenger teachers…


  19. Hi,
    I am looking for a good school for my daughter. She will go to Kindergarten in Aug 2011. I really like the challenger school here in Las Vegas, Silverado campus. But I am confused now.
    1st problem: Compare to a public school, it will be a very expansive program, is there a very big difference in the Kindergarten program of Challenger and a public school? Should I wait one year and go to Challenger in grade 1 or is this the best time for my child?
    2nd problem: Even people who do not like challenger, accept that there academics are the strongest part. But I have come to this conclusion only by reading through all the reviews on computer. Is there any other way to get information about this school? I mean I don’t have any family or friends here who go to Challenger so my only source is the Internet. reviews on ‘great schools’ and other such sites are the only source of information for me.
    I really need to talk to someone who goes to Challenger here in Vegas.
    Hope I will be able to make a good decision for my daughter.


  20. Visit the school. Ask if you can visit the classroom. See how the teacher interacts with the kids. try to make it a surprise so they don’t have time to plan something special.If they are reluctant, I would be suspicious. Talk to the director and ask him about anything you have read that concerns you and listen to what he says. I would also look at other schools before you make up your mind. I don’t know what is available in Las Vegas, but I think there are better private schools in Salt Lake. I also wouldn’t discount the public schools or charter schools. Many of them are just fine.Private schools have an advantage that public schools don’t. They do not have to accept low performing or disruptive students and are free to kick out those who don’t conform. Naturally their scores are higher, but plenty of public school students also score well.


  21. thank you for your good advice. I visited school yesterday, but that was scheduled I will make one or two more visits and will see what I feel.


  22. I saw ‘Las Vegas day school’ too, I didn’t find difference in cost but found difference in education level not just by asking the office or seeing the reviews. I went Challenger to get admission in Kindergarten, they gave a test to my daughter and then told me that she needs a little more Pre-kindergarten classes before entering Kindergarten. Because they teach 1-100 counting and 1-20 back counting with phonetics and one syllable words.
    Currently my child is not attending any school and I taught her few pre-K words and 1-20 counting at home.
    I haven’t seen any other pre-K program that has the same syllabus as Challenger.
    the front desk was fine. I was quite cauitios after reading so many negative reviews about the administration but I didn’t noticed anything very cold or harsh.
    Now I will be preparing her again for re-test.


  23. I’m not a Challenger parent, however I was toying with the idea of sending my Kinder (at a public school) to the Challenger Summer Camp at the Gish Road campus. Any reviews on the summer camp?

    Also, a note to the contributor named Rohit, my husband and I always lamented the lack of a Indian curriculum/values based school in the Bay Area. It would be great if you could put your thoughts in action; I know for sure there will be a very good response from the Bay Area parents. Pls. let us know when you do have plans to float this school.


  24. Most all children will soak up all the information you teach just as much as they would in a private school with a stranger teaching them at a young age. So why not do it yourself until they get to a grade in which you question your own ability of teaching or until kindergarten. C-mon all of us parents should remember are basics from kindergarten so why pay someone else to teach something you already know and can teach yourself??
    Honestly your child can learn phonics before 4. My daughter learned all her letters and sounds to the alphabet at 2 years old then she started reading at age 3. She will be 4 in one more month and now she knows how to read very well the kindergarten books. She also learned how to count to a hundred and now can count by fives and tens along with tell the time as far as O’clock and :30’s. She knows how to write and spell a lot of words.
    My point to all of this is that you do not have to send your child to Challenger or a private school to get them ahead in learning or buy an expensive phonics system.
    They have more reasonable phonic books with work sheets out their and the web provides endless information along with teacher stores to educate your child and have them excel at a fast pace. If I can do it then I know the majority if not most all parents can do it. I am single mother who works full time.
    Warning: I would not recommend this if you have little patients. 


  25. I agree with that. I was reading before I went to kindergarten and I did not attend a private preschool or any preschool for that matter. My parents read to me instead of sitting me in front of the TV. When I was old enough to go to school, I went to the local public school and got a good education. My parents were interested, helped me with my homework, took an interest and expected me to get good grades. I am not against private schools, but I think parental involvement is more important. There are many good public schools out there and I have already shared my views on Challenger and won’t go into that again.


  26. Jaie, you are definitely doing a good job. I agree we can teach children a lot at home. I am not working full time, I have two kids, one 4 yrs old and the other 1 year old. I am a full time student too.
    BUT in my case English is not my mother tongue. As we don’t speak English at home, it becomes a little difficult for kids to catch-up all the words.
    I am teaching her regularly, and she know letters and there sounds and she can read those words which I taught her (a list of words from web on kindergarten curriculum). And now I am teaching her the numbers upto 100. But still I like my child to go and learn in a learning environment. I really will have to work hard to save money for the school. But I think this is again something coming from my parents, they gave me all the attention and send me to private school, and did all the stuff to help me in education.
    When u told about ur child reading at 3. I remember my mother telling me that I was 3 or 4 when I started reading words but…of my native language.
    I think when kids are listening and watching the same language all the time they pick the words earlier and much more easily. But when they are just in the middle and we, the parents, trying to help them to learn english BUT not forget their own native language. It becomes a little hard. Anyway, this has nothing to do with Challenger.
    I have many friends here in Vegas and their children going to public schools, I have keenly observed that their attitude towards education is ‘don’t care’. their reading capability, thier writing, their mathematics I feel like its below average. I do not want the same for my child. As I have not studied in America myself, I only rely on what I observe. So this made me move to a private school.
    One more reason, and I know nobody will agree, but well for me it was a shocking news when I came to USA that children are not required to have uniforms. I was like ‘What and why’. I still do not understand a logic. In my country, Pakistan, whether its public school or private school, all have uniforms, so may be this made me think in that way. But I really don’t like to make my kids sensitive (so early) about the social differences that become crystal clear in this environment.
    that is all just completely my opinion, and as Rohit said everyone has their own way to see things.


  27. I have my own Challenger Story. My oldest attended Challenger from PreK 3 – K. We loved the preschool program. He learned to read and speak with confidence; I thought the art program was pretty good, since they taught that pictures were made with shapes. They included science topics in day and I was amazed by the things my son learned. He would come home every day and pretty much do his class all over again in play. He would get out his stuffed animals and sing the songs with them. It was so cute.

    Then kindergarten hit. Holy Cow. Talk about homework. We had assigned homework everyday including Fridays. This was not work that my son wasn’t getting done in class. It was homework they assigned to be done at home. Ok, we’re talking about an accelerated education, but is that really necessary to go from absolutely no homework (and learning a ton) in preschool to homework everyday in Kindergarten? What about good old fashioned go home and relax after a good days learning and do homework once a week? We had a math paper, reading paper, spelling words and math facts to work on everyday. We’re talking about 5 year old kids who sat at a desk all day and need to run, jump and engage in imaginative play. (We don’t have a TV, so he really does play with toys at home). They were trying to teach these kids 1st grade math from the getgo, but all they taught in preschool was counting, so I felt we struggled all year long trying to cram kindergarten concepts so that we could do the 1st grade Saxon math program. Maybe my son is just delinquent with numbers, but I felt they were just shoving math down his throat without giving him a chance to fall in love with it like they structured the reading program.

    I still love the reading program and find that it is far better than any other program I’ve seen, but I think they could do a lot better with math. Of course, I also have my suspicions that the particular teacher my son had was mediocre. It was her first year teaching at Challenger. She had taught in public school for a number of years previously and now that some time has passed, I think she was trying to prove that she was private school material. The reason I say that is because one of the parents in my sons class said that her older child did not learn nearly as much in kindergarten as they were trying to teach that year. (Her older child went through the Challenger program too)

    We ended up moving to another state where Challenger doesn’t exist, and the public schools are among the best in the nation, so we went public. In hindsight, I still would choose Challenger for their preschool program. I’ve missed the program for my two succeeding children, although I did buy the materials and have been teaching them myself, but it would be better if their preschool teachers were using the curriculum too. However, I would have to hold my vote for Kindergarten. I loved that the remainder of the reading program was completed in Kindergarten and my son is still reaping the benefits of learning such excellent reading skills, however I am still (3 years later) trying to repair the damage done in Kindergarten regarding math. My son still thinks he is not good at math, and yet if he actually sits down and looks at the math problem he can do it. I fear that his Kindergarten teacher is much to blame since she continually complained to me about his math ability at pick up time with him sitting right there listening. I don’t know what her intent was, but I now know that it was damaging to my budding “scholar”. I also don’t know what she said to him in the classroom to further the damage. I just know that it has taken several years to get him back on track and tolerate math.

    So, my advice is to research your teachers and take and really good look at the kindergarten classroom. From my experience, there is a big gap between preschool and kindergarten in curriculum and expectations of the child. Again, it might have been the misconception/subpar teaching ability of the brand new kindergarten teacher, or maybe there really is a gap. I still think Challenger Preschool is the leader in preschool education and the measuring stick I use when I visit preschools.


  28. The fact that teachers at Challenger may not be certified is part of the problem. IMO. Certification doesn’t guarantee that a teacher will be good, but it does show that they have some training. As a certified teacher, this really bothers me.Having a degree in something unrelated doesn’t mean someone is qualified to teach small kids.


  29. This is a very insightful blog. I too am a former Challenger teacher. I can attest to some very odd practices going on in my classroom, including Liberty surverys that are supposed to be anonymous yet have my student’s ID numbers barcoded on them. As well, my teacher name was on each one. The point of these surverys was to see if I was teaching left-wing political ideas in my classroom, or to see which students came from liberal households. Not kidding. I did not have a teaching degree but won awards for having very high CAT scores. When I was hired they specifically told me that they were looking for teachable individuals that did NOT have teaching degrees. This was because they feel the colleges and universities did not prepare teachers properly. My family, who are mostly educators thinks it is because Barbara Baker’s methods are very antiquated. The majority of my students, ages 8-10 range had to take notes on the board for everything. Pages and pages of notes everyday. We would read our science lesson and takes notes. Read history and take notes. If you could write well, you did fine. If you were slow, then you struggled. Challenger doesn’t like for it to be made known, but every teacher is told to teach to the top 25% of the students in theit classes. All other children have to catch up or go back a grade, or are told that Challenger is not right for them. I had children transfer in from public school and I had to spend my lunch hour catching them up because Challenger will not slow down. So, if your child is in a class of 20 students and 5 of the students get a concept…then you are done and move on, even if the other 75% don’t get it. (I secretly didn’t do this because I felt it was wrong) I worked extremely hard to make sure my students knew everything, and still it was so much to learn for these little ones. These poor kids had easily 2 hours of homework per night. Our English text book is a 7th grade textbook in other schools. We had “used” text books, and it had a middle school name stamped on the side.
    Challenger is very rigid. If your child thrives on “rigid” then they will thrive here. If your student does not learn through direct instruction i.e. teacher lectures, which is the only way we were supposed to teach, then they will hate this school.


  30. I agree that they didn’t want teachers with experience. The Challenger method was the only way. Someone who has actually taught and has a teaching degree might have some ideas of their own that they want to implement. Someone with less experience is more likely to do things the way Ms. Baker prefers.I am not saying that uncertified teachers are bad, but experience should count for something. I taught for 30 years in the public schools before working as a part time aid at Challenger. When I needed more hours, I was passed over by kids still in college and told that they had more experience. Huh? A nineteen year old girl who is majoring in something unrelated to education , who is still going to school and who can’t even get to work on time is more qualified than a career teacher with a good work ethic? Right.


  31. Hello,

    I have a love-hate relationship with Challenger.

    The love comes from the fact that my child has obviously learned tons and is ahead of the game! I have a unique background in that my daughter has been in Challenger since pre-school. She is now in 2nd grade and has a total of 5 years under her belt with them. My other 2 children (my husband’s) go to public school. My daughter is in 2nd grade, his daughter is in 1st grade and his son is in 3rd grade. I can definitely say that my daughter is a grade ahead due to her time with Challenger. We also live in Davis County, where the public schools are better, so she might even be further ahead. I LOVE the fact that my daughter spends a lot of time in school. My children who are in public school are always getting out early or have days off so that teachers can prepare their report cards and such. My question is … Why are Challenger teachers able to get report cards sent out without the kids missing a day of school, yet public school teachers require the day off to get them together?

    It is obvious that Challenger’s curriculum is what makes up Challenger. Without the curriculum … it probably wouldn’t be around! My daughter has had great teachers every year … some more strict than others, but she has definitely been challenged! I feel that if public schools were to have a better curriculum and structure, they might be able to do a better job with the future generations. It is obvious that a teaching certificate and lots of money is not necessary for our children to be educated properly. From what I understand, Challenger teachers are not paid very well – less than public school teachers. And yes, the majority of them are there to get a discount on their childrens education.

    Here are my issues with Challenger –

    I have heard from a trusted source that when Barbara Baker founded Challenger she was only able to get investors from the commercial real estate/development industry. So, when you wonder where in the heck your tuition money goes … it is building strip malls! That is VERY frustrating to me! In my case … my daughters class has 30 students (that in and of itself is another issue of mine) – so that means that every year just her class brings in $222,500. My daughters class and one other is probably enough to pay the entire staffs salary for the year. So what do they do with the rest of the money from the other 19 classrooms from just this one location … STRIP MALLS. It upsets me … they should be giving back to the community and offering scholarships to these children.

    Also, isn’t one of the main reasons parents send their children to private school for the one-on-one attention? My daughter does not get that at Challenger … she is literally 1 of 30 in her 2nd grade classroom. My children at public school have less kids in their class. Also, my daughers class is over 90% male!

    My next issue is the uniform. Challenger students are required to buy their uniforms from ScholarWear. Guess who owns ScholarWear … Barbara Baker’s daughter! Guess how much 1 jumper is … $45! To top it off the quality is CRAP! My daughters seams always come out just 3 months into the school year!

    Heaven forbid your seven year old ever leaves their school lunch at home … It will cost you $6 to have the catering company bring her in a hot lunch! That is highway robbery! This might only apply to the SL campus.

    It also frustrates me when my daugher has run out of dry erase markers and I have to go and buy her new ones. Really Challenger … you can’t afford to supply the children with any type of supplies.

    Also, for those who are not familiar with Challenger, they do not go on field trips … EVER.

    I think I’ve expressed most of my frustrations, however, I’m sure I will think of more once I press submit.

    At this point, I am considering taking my daughter out of Challenger. I have heard (I have no idea how true this is) that once a student goes through the 3rd grade of Challenger, they have the study skills necessary to really succeed at any other school. So I may just wait one more year … but I am frustrated due to the price increase.


  32. Love-Hate,

    You are so right in every area. No field trips ever. No scholarships for hard-working families who just can’t quite afford it, because Barbara does not believe in charity. When I taught at Challenger, I asked my principal at the end of the year if we could have a back-pack drive on the last day and donate the packs to the less fortunate in our area. My husband’s Rotary club was more than happy to fix the rips, clean them up, and fill them with supplies. My principal laughed and said that I didn’t really get the philosophy of Barbara Baker yet, did I. She doesn’t believe in helping those less fortunate. They are supposed to pull themselves up by their boot straps. She has also had these meetings with teachers every year in which she spews her belief that “teachers are the second highest paid profession of all. The only higher paid professionals are doctors.” I was flabberghasted when she told us this! She expected us to buy into that and yet my dear father, who is a 35 year school teaching veteran is still working and can’t retire. Of course, if you disagree with her in public your job is gone. I just sat there and stewed. She has some nerve saying that I make as much as the rich parents of the kids in my class who were making, some of them, $500,000 per year. And I was making $32,000.
    Your comment about students who make it through the 3rd grade is correct. They will be so far ahead and will do very well in public. I had a student leave after 3rd grade and jumped up to 6th grade in public school the next year.
    Choose wisely with this school. The academics are very structured and rigid and your child will learn a lot. But it is very stressful on your child at the same time.
    And to answer your question about how Challenger teachers can possibly get grades done on time and not miss school…I stayed at the school until 11pm many nights before report cards to get them done on time. As well, I would work all weekend and evernings too. Being late is not an option, and teachers only get 1-3 hours of prep time per week.


  33. I agree that there are good things at Challenger, but other private schools have the same good things plus additional programs, extra curriular activities, field trips etc. Add to that, they don’t have the same right wing ideology, the pressure and they do have trained teachers. Just to be clear, there are many good teachers at Challenger, but I dtill think if I am going to pay private school tuition, I expect a teacher with credentials.I also expect more than just the basic curriculum of Challenger. I have subbed at some other private and public schools and there is a world of difference.


  34. I am subbing in public schools and I felt the great difference in curriculum. Childhood, in my opinion, is the time when one can mold the mind and body to work hard. It works and it helps. The things, concepts, ideas, facts, figures, writing built in these days become life long partner. Strong foundation helps strong personalities. In public system, I am feeling that the curriculum is basically for below average student. the average, and above average kids are not feeling that they are doing something according to their level. Its important to note that more students are average. And I think the average student can be mold much easily into hard working student by giving him a challenging course instead of appreciating him for doing the easy stuff. I also felt that lots of extra curricular activities become hindrance in continuing the educational progress.
    Other private schools may be balancing, I cannot say about other private schools.
    Also, in terms of taking notes and doing lots of writing and being ahead of the public curriculum are positive things, in my opinion. Although writing may be obsolete for some people, but I really insist to have a good hand writing and ability to write well and putting your ideas on paper in your own writing. It may be because I am a writer. I feel the relationship between my hand and my brain is much more direct than the keyboard and the brain. I feel much more connected when I am writing my ideas in my own hand writing. I also love to see my old journals, in my own handwriting and I still remember that when I got stuck anywhere while studying, I used to write and draw in my own hand writing to help my mind understand and remember. So I think this habit helps in developing strong, focused study habits. Distractions lead to ADHD etc.
    Apart from the Barbara Policies, politics, etc. education is certainly the positive thing. You are right that challenger’s curriculum is certainly helping the school to stay in focus among the parents who are willing to pay for good education.
    Teacher’s pay…. ahh its bad everywhere. It should not be but it is 🙂
    I like to have uniforms in school, but this was a news to me that from where the uniforms are coming :).. welll these r the things we cannot do anything about. Its Barbara’s daughter or son or uncle or whatever. I have seen such examples before. Private sectors have such problems, I think all over the world, so have to bear it if want to have a basic strong foundation. Take the good and leave the rest. Increasing tuition isa headache 😦 but till now its worth paying. My daughter has started reading the one vowel story books with me. She joined the Pre-K program a month back. I am so happy for her.


  35. I agree that the public schools have their problems. I too sub in public schools and a lot depends on the school. There are some I will not sub in, let alone send a child to, but there are others that are very good. I also agree that children should learn good habits in childhood, but I also believe that children should have time to be children. They need to have free time to play, develop their imaginations and to be children. When a five or six year old spends a full day in school and then has a couple of hours homework when he gets home, he is being cheated, IMO. This is elementary school, not high school or college. Little kids need to learn good work habits but they don’t need excessive pressure to perform. I agree that there are problems in the public schools, but we need to remember that public schools are forced to deal with kids that Challenger wouldn’t accept in the first place.It is easy to criticize.


  36. You are absolutely right. Public schools have to accept all kids. But this should not be made a problem. If public schools can be categorized into zones, magnet schools, behavioral problem classes. They should have a plan to separate classes for below average students and students who can manage to move on a bit fast pace. I agree with the ‘being kids’ theory. But I can see that kids are having a lot of the kid time without any problem. I recently wrote a thesis on ‘Reading habit in adolescents’ and the research findings were astonishing. You may like the book ‘The Dumbest Generation’ by Mark Bauerlein. Lots of facts and figures that show how kids r wasting their time and how we are not properly showing the actual big picture of the system. I did my Bachelors as Electrical engineer, graduated in 2005. So I am not talking about very old age, but university education is all based on how strong your foundation is. Now I am doing my second Bachelor in teaching High school Mathematics, so as to enter the profession of teaching.
    I am sincerely worried at the slow pace of public schools and the behavioral problems that mostly occur because we are not diverting the whole energy of youth to some positive work. Who will not like to save money and utilize the option of public schools, but education standard should be improved.


  37. I agree with a lot of what you say, but I do think that there are good public schools out there. Many have accelerated programms for gifted students. Of course, there are bad ones too, but the same is true of private school. I do think that a lot of what looks like wasting time in children is not. Kids need play time. They learn by playing and they develop imagination by playing. They also need to study and develop good work habits. Kids need home work but I think 2 hours a night for kids in the lower elemetary grades is excessive. They need some time to be kids. The idea is balance.


  38. U r right. The key is to have balance. I am not having any homework problem right now. And in Pre-K my daughter is experiencing a good balance in play time and study time. Let’s see what I find out when my kids go to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades.


  39. Here are the positive and negative qualities that I see at Challenger. First the positive. Challenger has a great curriculum.I taught children as young as 2 yrs. 9 mos. to read one vowel words at Challenger.My whole class could read 2 vowel words and simple books by the end of the school year. The children could draw amazing pictures, write their names, count to 20 and do simple math facts, all while singing fun learning songs and laughing and enjoying it so much that they often didn’t even realize that they were learning. It’s great. It’s not pressure, in fact, it’s part of our job description that the kids be laughing and having fun while we teach! That brings me to the negative parts of Challenger. There are one way mirrored windows for directors and evaluators to watch us. Evaluators/directors also regularly come into the classrooms to check our performance as teachers. There is actually a form that they fill out as they sit and watch for hours at a time. It is very stressful on the teachers. The form goes straight to corporate without any feedback. Then if there is anything negative, we hear about it months later from our director, and this goes into our file. There is a box on the form that they fill out while evaluating that actually asks “Are the children laughing?” I am not kidding when I say that another box asks “Are the baby dolls dressed?” (We are “dinged” if they areen’t!” They also will look in the play kitchen and check if the toy foods are placed in the correct categories such as vegetables, meat, fruit, and bread. “Are there personal items in the room?” is another question.(Teachers can’t bring ANYTHING from home. Any personal items must be cleared away every evening, and should not be in view, and absolutely NOT be used while teaching.) Half day preschool teachers CAN NOT read books to the children (they are for show). Full day teachers may only do so at specified times. At no time should a book be read from during instruction (yes, it may be opened to show a picture, but NOT be read from). One year, we were not allowed to write on the eraser board EVER, all year long. Now, they lifted that ban, but we must erase everything every evening. We are NOT allowed to have a box of mixed crayons anywhere in the room (as per audit). Only multiple boxes of a single color each. (It is an extremely controlling environment.)We are not allowed to use the stage for winter or spring shows. Why not? “Corporate says so.” It is the same response to the many, many, many rediculous rules. We have a beautiful stage, unused. We will stand like statues on risers for our show. No fun actions or motions. Why not? “Because corporate says so.” Oh, about the uniforms, they are designed with room for letting out, that is why the jumpers have a weak spot; go to the Scholarware website for info on getting the jumpers repaired. I don’t have a problem with Scholarwear–they are great. They’ll fix many things for free while you shop. As far as report cards go, yep. I write them at home after work. Preschool teachers have children under their feet for the full 8 hours–zero prep time. Lesson plans are written at home. Preparing materials for craft, art, etc. are mostly done by way of miracle. We prepare snack on our own lunch period. We put up amazing bulleting boards all on our own time. Ok, that’s common for many private schools, but we are unpaid for holidays and long vacations! We have zero class budget. We are REQUIRED to actually PAINT the background of all our bulletin boards (from back in the day when butcher paper didn’t have color–a 45 year old rule). It is time consuming and pretty strange. We must hand-make all of our bulletin board borders and words-nothing store-bought. Our yearly budget for all gifts to the students was $20, and we were required to buy gifts twice a year (winter and spring). The $20 applied if you had a full class of 25 or 50 students or if you had a small class of 12 (a half-day teacher could have 50 students, with 25 in the morning and 25 in the afternoon). She would write her report cards at home, too. No extra time is given to her to do it, and no extra money given to her for the gifts. Directors don’t always have a degree, either, and some of the fear and stress that they pass on to the staff may be due to inexperience.


  40. Does anyone have any experience to share about Harker Schools in San Jose? I’m definitely not going to send my kid to Challenger if they brainwash kids to a political affiliation. I’d prefer an honest 100% pure military school over Challenger where some thugs pose to represent the military ethos(I went to a military boarding school at the age of 10).


  41. I agree with much that has been said. I just wanted to make one comment on the philosophy mentioned about the school founder that we should not help those who are less-fortunate. While it is very important to help our children get a good education, it is equally important that they learn how to use that knowledge to help other people, including (and especially)the less fortunate. The most miserable I know are people are those who think only of themselves. On the other hand, the happiest people I know are those who help and serve others.


  42. My child is currently at Challenger in Vegas. I agree with scared and Betty in so many regards. I love the academics of this school and was thrilled I could send my child here. Alas, I am currently looking for a new private school as my kid is not part of the upper 25 %. I have looked at assignments that were completed together in class and found many wrong answers because my child was learning it wrong. When I questioned this it came back to it being my child’s inability to focus or my child’s behavior. After the second attempt of trying to have a discussion with his teacher, I was so flabbergasted at her lack of insight and overall non-caring attitude that I stopped interaction with her. She is new to the school and most likely not certified. Discussions with headmaster has basically come back to my child being the problem. By all means, my child is not perfect but I guess I expect a lot more than what I am getting for what I pay.


  43. Basically, if child gets it and can learn in the rigid environment, it is an awesome school. You can not beat the academics or the undependence your child develops. Be prepared though for them to be politically indoctrinated as well.

    If you have a child that is easily stressed, needs a little extra or marches to a different beat, consider a different alternative.


  44. Our son is now a 3rd grader. We are moving back to challenger from Cupertino Garden Gate School. Found Public schools (even Faria or Portal) are nowhere comparing to ANY private schools. Public school’s Teachers are underpaid and hence they just do the minimal to save their jobs, PTAs are useless, Staff is rude. Kids just learn how to pass time. We learned this after we moved our son from challenger into 1st and 2nd grade after attending PK and K in Challenger and Stratford, and now he will be back to challenger in 3rd grade. YOU JUST have TWO options:
    1) TEACH kids at Home (FREE, if you can afford)
    2) Private School (PAID, If you can afford)
    Choice is yours: You have to pay the price, nothing is FREE!


  45. Hello everyone,
    Interested in “Learning all about education standards, relationship of education to careers, logical thinking, and problem solving”. Just a request and a suggestion for Pakoracorner owner, if you can make a blog for discussing the effect of K-12 education on all these things and how some countries are achieving these goals. Like China, India, Japan, America. I think it will be an informative, interesting discussion.
    I hope I made myself clear. Thank you


  46. Ramen, I have to respectfully disagree with some of what you have said. I taught in public schools for 30 years and most of the teachers I know were underpaid, but were hardworking, did the best they could, were trained in their fields, took work home and spent their own money on supplies.They were not there for the purpose of getting reduced tuition for their kids. It was their career choice and they were dedicated professionals. Public school teachers have problems that private school teachers don’t have to deal with. They have to take everyone including mentally challenged students, troublemakers,and kids with emotional problems.Their class side is often ridiculous. Naturally the kids don’t score as high. As far as pay, Challenger teachers and other private school teachers are often paid less than their public school counterparts so if we use pay as a motivator, public school teachers should be better.I think many Challenger teachers are good, but at least public school teachers have to be certified in the areas they are teaching. All Challenger teachers have to have is a college degree in something. I just do not see how having a degree in physics, journalism, physical education or whatever qualifies a person to teach kindergarten.I am not against private school, but all public schools are not like you said. There are good and bad, just as there are in private schools.


  47. I agree with raman on the choices. Its free to teach my child myself and give him all the education + etiquette I wish. or choose a private school so that I get 70% help from there. I agree with this too that I see kids in public school are learning to “pass time”. May be that is why, when they reach high school there attitude and interest towards education is miserable. At least this is what I see in Vegas. Personal time and interest in learning of child is very important, but school should be cooperative and leading in the right direction.
    Love2teach has given some good insight about teacher’s perspective and what they have to face.
    Apart from my child learning two vowel words in pre-school program, I am teaching her cursive handwriting at home. Its hard work, but she is learning fast. Parental involvement + school gives solid foundation to kids. I believe so.
    In terms of “personal items of teacher in class…..etc” I can say anonymously that this might be a good rule because I have an experience of going to a class as substitute where there was so much personal property of the teacher + mess that I was shocked. I still don’t know how the class is cleaned, it was miserable. So may be corporate is compelled to make such rule because some people don’t value tidiness.
    just thoughts


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