Tuesday, September 20, 2011

School Choice: Part 2

Everything I learned about school choice, I learned trying to get into kindergarten.

By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor

Below are the first 3 tips on choosing a school of choice for your child.

1. Visit more schools than you can possibly imagine.
I visited only a few public schools in San Francisco – most of them “great” schools I’d heard about from other parents, that scored well on GreatSchool ratings. I reasoned I was too busy to visit more than about five schools (I have a busy job writing about great schools!) and with some measure of magical thinking, was convinced we’d get our daughter into one by sheer force of will. Yet force of will doesn’t stand a chance when faced with the whims of a dispassionate lottery. If I’d visited more schools – especially ones that aren’t necessarily the most popular (and thus the most difficult to get into) – we might have found a school that’s great but that’s not on everyone’s radar.

2. Don’t judge a school by ratings alone.
In San Francisco, if you don’t win the school lottery and get any of the schools you’ve applied to, the district picks a school for you – usually a low-scoring one that isn’t in high demand. We were assigned an extremely low-performing “struggling” school with a GreatSchools’ rating of 3. We turned it down without even visiting or thinking twice. Later I heard that the school has some great things to offer, including beautiful school garden and an hour of Spanish a day. A representatives from Parents for Public Schools said it was a “sweet” school. It still might not have been the school for our child, but it wasn’t fair to reject it without seeing it and talking with parents whose children attend. (See number 4.)

3. Come up with Plan B, C, and D
I didn’t. I simply had Plan A: We’ll get a school we want. In the back of my mind, I knew there was a possibility that we wouldn’t, but I didn’t make any plans if this would actually happen. When it did and Molly had no school, my husband had to take off a week of work. We also applied to a local Catholic school – and unfortunately Molly didn’t get a spot because they didn’t have any openings in kindergarten, only first grade. Because she just turned six, she would have qualified for first grade, but she didn’t test well enough in math. (Another tip: GreatSchools’ worksheets will get your child school ready!)


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