Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dazed And Confused (about School Choice).

Last night I went to a neighborhood meeting regarding school choice. Not School Choice (as in "It's National School Choice Week! Hooah!), but school choice (as in "Inara is entering kindergarten next year and we have to make a decision about this NOW). I suspect the two are related...but as of this writing I am too befuddled to figure out the connection.

I am lucky to live in a school district that offers competitive choices for my daughter. I recognize that. But at the same time, I can't help but feel as though I'm being treated as a consumer in the Great School Choice Expo of 2011. Speaking of School Expos...we went to one a couple of weeks ago. It reminded me of a carnival, with booths set up housing administrators, principals, teachers, even dressed-up mascots. As we walked past each of them (with Inara covering her ears to drown out the din), we were showered with promises of small classes, second language instruction, out-of-state field trips, and pencils. Yes, pencils. We came home with a lot of free pencils. The girls liked that.

The hawking isn't the only thing that confuses me. School Choice (and by extension, our own school choice) is supposed to be freeing. It's supposed to give me the opportunity to "vote with my feet" (I learned that at the meeting last night. I took notes! Do I get a gold star?) and take the public money allotted to my child to any number of bright and shiny schools (Now with iPads for every student! And 100% fruit juice not from concentrate! Gah.). But instead of feeling enthralled, I just feel...nervous.

I know this is going to sound crazy, but guess what? My child is a person. Not a consumer. She has real live feelings and aspirations and hopes and wishes and fears. Oh boy, does she ever have fears. And when I hear about all the public and private, parochial and home schools, not to mention the charters upon charters, all packaged up in pretty bows with extra fancy gift wrap presented on silver platters that would cause any middle-income family to drool (Partnerships with colleges! Trips to Ellis Island! Pick me! We'll turn your child into the next Bill Gates...who by the way, is funding our curriculum this year! Hooah!) - I can't help but wonder. Can the system of School Choice actually sustain itself?

It's all fine and dandy for our family to make our school choice today. But what happens when the money runs out? When Bill and Melinda decide not to offer that grant to my child's school next year? Or when all the other parents in my neighborhood "vote with their feet" and take their kids to another shiny new school? What will happen to all the promises that were made? What will happen to my baby? Competition in school choice is great in theory...but I'm just not comfortable with gambling away my child's education (and future) to the highest bidder.

That's not to say that I'm a die-hard fan of public schools either. See, that's where the issue becomes cloudy. At the meeting last night I got to meet some amazing people. Dedicated professionals from both the public, private, and alternative systems who took the time out of their busy work day to come and speak to us, a neighborhood group of interested parents. That in and of itself spoke volumes to me. But I learned last night that it's not all cut and dry. What's good for your goose may not be what's good for my gander, and that some of the non-public school options look mighty fine from where I'm sitting.

I feel like a bit of hypocrite advocating for the public school system while secretly eyeing up the charters. Like a spouse on the verge of having a torrid affair...I'm tempted. Do I look but don't touch? Touch but say it didn't mean anything? I'm so confused. What's the end goal here again? College? Better career opportunities? iPaaaaadddssss......ack!

School Choice isn't just driving our district's schools into a feeding frenzy over admissions. It's a two-way street, with parents having to compete for a small number of openings in high-performing schools through a lottery system. And then there are the waiting lists, which we no doubt will have to navigate once we don't get our first choice of school. I think the lottery is more than fair...but I also think that the crazy socialist Canadian in me wishes we could grant the same opportunities to all our students. Instead of shoveling money towards opening more bright and shiny new schools, can't we try to find a way to make the ones we have even better?

Don't get me wrong. I'm grateful for the ability to choose from a plethora of wonderful schools. If there is one thing I've learned with Inara's first year of school, it's that one size definitely doesn't fit all. Inara has had a monumental year, it's been incredibly difficult for all of us and more than anything we want her to have a fantastic, nurturing experience next year. But I'm finding that it's becoming increasingly difficult to sort out what that perfect fit is going to be for my daughter.

School Choice is preventing me from making my own school choice.

What about you? Do you have to make the same tough school choices where you live? What are your thoughts on School Choice?

More Information (aka The extraneous information that makes my poor mommy brain spin):

School Choice at Wikipedia
National School Choice Week
Waiting for "Superman" at Wikipedia
Rallying for choice. How about a rally for quality? at the blog Get Schooled
Grading School Choice - NY Times Op-Ed Columnist (the comments after this piece form one of the best discussions about School Choice I've ever read)
blog comments powered by Disqus
Related Posts with Thumbnails