Thursday, August 29, 2013

The paradox of school choice

I'm stewing a little bit--okay, a lot--about the downside of school choice.

Ask anyone if parents should be able to select the schooling that is appropriate for their child and nearly everyone will answer yes.

But, what about the schools that have to adjust to swift changes in parental sentiment?  In the beach cities, some neighborhoods are zoned to go to school A, others to school B.  Some areas can select either A or B.

Even though we live closer to school A, we are guaranteed our district's "home" school, B, which is also twice as far. We are given priority for school A even though we are not in their guaranteed zone.  If your kid is not a discipline problem, and gets good standardized test scores, getting them into school A is pretty simple.  (This is called cherry-picking and explains a large amount of test score disparity.)

We didn't bother to visit or register for school A because our daughter's middle school automatically feeds into school B.

Some families register for both schools because they can, and then decide the first week of school.

730 students enrolled for 600 Freshman spots, which might have been OK, except that fashion is fickle and nearly all of them selected school B.

My kid is sitting in classrooms with 40 students when the school was aiming for 30-35.

This is like making restaurant reservations at several restaurants and deciding on the fly which place to dine and which places to blow off.  Only this has more lasting consequences.

Maybe we should have been bad (savvy?) players, registered at both schools and picked the school with the fewest students per classroom?

May I digress a little bit and discuss  intra-district transfers?

In this area, it is acceptable to say you want to attend a different high school because you seek a specific foreign language that your home school doesn't offer.  For instance, our home district school offers Mandarin (both traditional and simplified) in addition to the standard Spanish and French.   School A offers Spanish, French and Latin.  Another nearby district's school offers Spanish, French, Japanese and Korean.   Poorer schools sometimes can offer nothing but Spanish.

Hmm, do you think a school's selection of which foreign language(s) to offer is based on the type of students and families they wish to attract?  How will this play out in the standardized test score game?  This is serious business because foreign language teachers are often paid not by the state/district, but by parental fund-raising and private foundations.

I was livid when I found myself waiting in line at registration with half a soccer team from 15 miles away.  The soccer coach had asked the school to give them intra-district transfers so she could have ringers for the team.

I'm generally fine with the idea of accepting students who live perhaps a mile or two outside the district boundary or started here and moved outside the district.  Accepting 9th graders from so far away, and who have no history in our community, when the classrooms are already crowded, stretched my idea of hospitality.  What about the local girls who won't get to play soccer because the team was packed with out of town ringers?

My response gave me pause.  Why does this bother me so much, when I am so fond of the (mostly) immigrant kids that I tutored last year?  They are still kids, but I am certain most of them are going to be great additions to team USA.  So why can't I muster up some hospitality and give the same welcome to the soccer players fleeing LAUSD?


  1. It's the opposite here. I had to live in a hotel for a month last year in order to qualify for my school because escrow papers weren't enough proof. And we have to re-register every year to stay in our school.

  2. A woman in Connecticut a few years back was sent to prison for mail fraud which is a federal offense for trying to get her daughter into a good school.

  3. I read that mail fraud story, too. If I recall, she was caught for being black. Around here, you don't need to engage in mail fraud if you have a convincing story.
    The strong ones that almost always get you in:
    - you work within the boundaries
    - you use after school daycare within our boundaries
    - your kids started here and then you moved outside the boundaries

    The moderate ones that put you on a waitlist and usually get you in:
    - you live right outside the boundary but your kids do scouts, soccer, etc within our boundaries so they have friends here
    - you have a proven history as an ultra volunteer school parent and the PTSA says they need your help
    - you live nearby and want Mandarin, which your home district doesn't offer (really helps if your kid has a native accent and can help others)

    I didn't realize until last week that sports is considered a valid and strong reason. I don't really like that one b/c I was a HS athlete but not a star. Those ringers would have deprived me of a spot on the teams and the opportunity to play. That really pisses me off.

    When we moved to "felony flats", the most educated group of parents were buppies. It was a working class white/hispanic neighborhood until buppies fleeing the post post Rodney King verdict riots moved here.

    Not surprisingly, black kids are some of the highest achievers in our district and black parents do a lot of volunteer work in the classrooms and in the PTSA. I don't think the CT-style prosecution would happen here. I hope we are a better community than that.

    Still, overcrowding is a real concern.


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