Sep. 15, 2017

School Choice or lack thereof

This story was originly posted in September 2015 in esponse. To the Philadelphia Magazine school choice article...

I feel the entire choice process is admirable, yet incredibly flawed and ultimately an unfortunate disservice to our children. As a life long Philadelphian I have attended Philly schools where I was pleased with the education and environment (parochial elementary and magnet high school). My parents selected the schools and helped me to apply and gain admission. The process was not nearly as daunting then as it is not. I fully believe that I would have attended a charter school had they been around in the late 80s as my parents were looking for an alternative moreso to the negative influential environment that existed within our neighborhood schools. Fast forward to last year I had two daughters who both would be entering a new grade/school the following year. There was so much choice within the city of Philadelphia and we as a family explored every option. My oldest was entering high school coming from a small charter school which offered tremendous support we were concerned about her getting lost in a bigger school. Likewise she has a strong interest in the sciences and we wanted to immerse her in an environment that she felt comfortable learning. She is lucky enough to have a "3 parent team" and we worked together to make sure she would be in a comfortable educational environment. She applied to 7-10 schools public and charter. After the entire process she was waitlisted for 4, and denied the rest. The processes for public schools were transparent, but the pool of decent learning environments for our child was very small. We advocated for here directly to the schools and submitted additional information at the school's request to no avail. Luckily we have a tremendous support system because at the same time my youngest was going into Kindergarten. Since the age of two I researched every available educational option for her within the city. Public, Private, Parochial, Charter. I had a list of schools picked out to apply to by the time she was three. Once the year started I began reaching out to schools, attending open houses, tours, info sessions and collecting applications. Each school had different processes and we had a filing system to keep track of materials, dates and deadlines. In the end we applied to more than 13 schools in Philadelphia. The public application process was the most straightforward having you complete one application for schools with available spaces, however many of the schools on my original list were not included on the application. When I inquired I was given the blanket answer that those particular schools did not participate in the lottery process. This was disheartening, but we pressed forward. Due to my schooling we applied a parochial school, but applied to a number of charter schools. We considered a number of private schools, but narrowed down to one because the application process for each was so expensive. She initially got into 2 of the 13 schools. One public which was very far from our home and work and one private which did not give us financial aid. After an exhausting yearlong ordeal with both girls we decided as a family which schools they would attend. With very limited options in the spring of 2015 we considered moving out of Philadelphia to an immediate suburb just for the chance at a better, less stressful educational system for both girls. In May 2015 my oldest daughter's charter school excepted a small cohort of students into its new 9th grade academy, she being one. In June we received a call from a notable charter that my youngest daughter was selected to attend from the waiting list. It felt like hitting the lottery. Up until that point we were really at a lost as to what we were going to do. We considered changing/quitting jobs, moving out of Philadelphia and many other lifestyle changes just for the chance at a good education for our girls. The process was stressful and unfair. After years of research, applications, test scores and countless parent visits, calls and appointments nothing ensured that our children got into a good school. It all boiled down to luck. It was exhausting for an involved parent, but what about kids that don't have parental involvement? It just breaks my heart to think about the hundreds of thousands of children in the city that are just going to school without an advocate for better quality education. This process opened my eyes so much wider to the issues plaguing the Philadelphia School system in general and I include all types of schools in that description. It simply is not fair. Good education should be the luck of the draw. Good education should not depend on how connected or wealthy your family is. The process did teach me that we all have to be involved in education for our children's sake. Though enlightening to those that have not had to engage in the school choice process just yet, the article is too lighthearted and does not address the fact that the only guaranteed school for a child in Philadelphia is their catchment area public neighborhood school and all too often that is not a place where children are thriving educationally. On the surface it seems as if we have ample school choice, but in the end the choices aren't always the ones you want.
My two cents.