At our parents meeting on Monday night, we heard from one parent who must have drawn the worst lottery number–both this year and last. His child got nothing for K1 last year after ranking 14 schools, then after ranking 16 elementary schools this year, remains unassigned. They are wait listed at 3 schools, but at least 50 families are ahead. There is no requirement that Boston Public Schools enroll his child until January. And there just are not a lot of options for a child who is too old for preschool. Even if money were no object, the private schools fill up, have early deadlines, and require hefty application fees and deposits.
But there’s always the Trotter. Trotter Elementary is in Roxbury, on the northeast edge of the West Zone. It’s one of the few West Zone schools that still has vacant seats. City Councillor John Connolly led a group of unassigned parents on a tour there last month and is excited about it as an option for his kids now because the historical poor performance and reputation has resulted in more resources being poured into this historic school As a “turnaround school,” they have been able to hire the teachers they want and improve the facility dramatically. A growing number of parents are taking another look and thinking perhaps there is an opportunity to be a part of a school community on the rise.
I do not have firsthand knowledge of the Trotter and I do not know if the parent who failed to get any of his top 16 choices considered it, so I do not want to make any assumptions there. What I can observe is the effect our system of choice and crisis reform has on systemically dooming Boston schools and disadvantaged families to a never-ending cycle of halfway improvement. Because the Trotter has been judged by parents, through their lottery “votes,” to be one of the worst schools in Boston, it became a “dumping ground” for lottery losers and parents who don’t have time to figure out how to play the school assignment game. Test scores there track income and demographics–and every time there’s a crime nearby, it’s added to the list of fears parents think about when they size up the school. When you see the demand report…and you see some schools massively oversubscribed and others with vacancies, it’s only natural to ask, “What’s wrong with this school?”
The Curley in JP used to have a bad rep too. Then the school was marked for improvement, being designated a “superintendent’s school” in the parlance of the day. It became a K-8 school with advanced work and expanded its “specials” (art, science, music, etc.). Now it’s a top choice and JP parents agonize that they can’t get in and might get stuck at the Mendel…but that one is actually improving too! Meanwhile, as the focus of reform efforts shifts to the new “worst schools,” parents at the Curley scramble to raise money to keep programs intact while they absorb kids from schools closed last year before the district knew there would be hundreds of kindergarteners looking for space this year…is your head spinning yet?
I want to back off a bit from my earlier blog post where I argued to just eliminate choice altogether, but the current regime of illusory choice and procedural insanity is not just an annoyance for parents who want neighborhood schools, but a systemic disservice to the majority of kids in the system. Something I hear again and again is how parents just want some predictability. We want relief from knowing we don’t have to do another lottery and rejuggle our lives every year. In my case, I feel fortunate to have achieved that for our kids at the Bates–and to feel that the Bates is definitely on the leading edge of the improvement curve, but I think this process and cycle is destined to repeat until we acknowledge the role the system itself plays in suppressing performance and undermining improvements that are happening.