Friday, November 7, 2014

Whose Idea Was It That Kids Should Get a Choice?

Today our school system’s high school lottery application is due.  After spending hours attending open houses for all the high schools in the pool, discussing with your child about which school is better (in whatever terms you determine), what programs they are interested in, what excited them about which school, they turn in their form to be thrown into a large fishbowl. They are then assigned with some consideration for their preference, then gender, socioeconomic status…. But wait. 

Why did we miss watching The Voice and eating dinner at the table to listen to all those teachers and students tell us about the wonders of their school when none of that necessarily comes into play in the assignment of the school?  And wait.  Why is this process only for select schools in particular neighborhoods, which happen to have a browner and less affluent population than other sections of the county? Why don’t all families have the wonderful opportunity to have no stable plan for where their children will go to high school?  Our family, due to the luck of perfectly spaced out stair-step ages of our children, at least have the option of sending a child to the same as their older sibling, so we could, theoretically, send all of our children to the same high school.  But now our child number two is questioning whether it’s fair for our oldest to have had the choice of all schools (but not really) and she only gets the choice of one.  Come on – doesn’t everyone want to enjoy this fun dinner conversation for three months every other fall?

I recognize that there are many things at play here.  The school system and our family dynamics.

The school system. Can’t really speak for it. I have my own ideas of how and why this lottery device is only used in the schools with the higher minority populations in the county.  I question why gender and socioeconomic status is even in the considerations.  So if, by the time my kid’s name gets pulled, there are enough African-American girls whose family is in the same income bracket as our family in a particular school, she has to go somewhere else?  Doesn’t matter if that school offers the program that she got all fired up about in one of those hours-long open houses.  I don’t clearly understand why if student achievement is truly the goal here, why don’t we use some of that money used to bus kids to all these different schools (note, a bus for each high school has to hit every neighborhood – there are at least 4 buses that roll through my neighborhood every morning) to hire more or better qualified teachers, whether quantity or quality is the issue?  Why don’t we use some of the money required to print all these application forms and the pages and pages of instructions to purchase additional instructional materials to support student learning? I mean, if it is about student achievement.  But let me not speak for the school system.

Let me get to family dynamics.  There’s a few things that literally make me laugh about this process. One that it is supposedly to give kids a choice.  This concept however, is not in our schools alone.  How many parenting articles are there about how to get a picky eater to eat – offer them multiple options of veggies?  Ha! When I grew up, my mom made dinner and we had two options – eat or not eat.  And if we chose to not eat, that came with the added feature of go to bed.  It’s a sign of our times though, isn’t it. Somewhere over the last generation, we decided that children should have more options because surely, their parents don’t know what’s best for them or, are not busy enough without the added activity of coming up with something to put behind Door #2 and #3.

Here’s another laughing matter about this school thing.  The child actually has to sign the paper that’s submitted for the lottery. What? My middle schooler has to sign a document to say what – that they approve of what I wrote on the paper?  That they have knowledge of what I wrote on the paper?  That they are literate and should even be kept in school?  (And, note, I’m skipping the whole conversation that they don’t even learn cursive in school so I’m not sure how they’re supposed to sign, anyway.)  Don’t tell the schools, but I write my kids’ names on stuff all the time; partly because they are usually in bed by the time I get to go through all their paperwork, but partly because I don’t really think I need my kid’s permission to make school decisions.

But this signing things go along with the first point about kids thinking they have options.  My daughter actually was confounded that she didn’t get to select her own preferences because the School told her she could choose. But her Mother told her that she had made the choice for her.  But the School…. yeah, but the parents are the ones who make the rules around here.

Now, before my kid gets put in our last choice school because no other Black girl picked it, let me rush off to the post office and get this paper in on time.

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