Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

27 February 2008

School "Choice" in CPS

Saturday ushers in March and the hope that spring will overcome winter, some televised spring training games, Shamrock shakes, and of course, notification from the Chicago Public School lottery and all those privates & parochial schools on whether or not your child was selected. All of this is because Chicago Public Schools have school choice. It's a nice slogan. It lulls you into the belief that you, the parent, has control over where your beloved offspring will be learning their three R's. In fact it is a madness that pushes parents into an annual emotional marathon.


The Chicago Tribune points out the intense competition to get into not just CPS schools, but religious and private schools:


Statistically, it's more difficult, for example, to get into Drummond Montessori, a public magnet school in Bucktown, than it is to get into Harvard University. About 995 children applied for the 36 openings at Drummond next school year, a 4 percent acceptance rate. Harvard accepted about 9 percent of its applicants last year.


At Sacred Heart, an independent Catholic school in Rogers Park, the competition is so fierce, parents are applying now for "early admission" for 2009-10.


And at the private British School, which just last month opened a $25 million, five-story schoolhouse in Lincoln Park, the preschool and kindergarten classes for next year already are full, with a waiting list. Annual tuition: about $18,000.


Of course, we could chuck it all and head into the suburbs where school choice is much more limited and honestly, people buy in suburbs based on what school they want and can afford. And that right there is what is so wrong with the school system in general.


For the record, my husband & I sent in at least a dozen magnet school applications, had our daughter tested for both gifted programs, and applied to one independent/private school. We are both products of public schools in the suburbs and had vastly different experiences. Heck, my sisters & I had vastly different experiences! But we fled the suburbs for the city and fell in love. We love being surrounded by different people, having the choice to hop on the el to go to a Cubs game, and how different neighborhoods are just a few blocks down. We want her to grow up in an environment that might be a bit more forgiving of difference than the suburbs (sorry suburbanites, I lived it, I know what I went through).


Also for the record, I lived in a working poor suburb. My parents chose a house for us that was barely in district for one of the top high schools in the state. I am not a trust fund baby who lives in Lincoln Park who wants a prep school for my child inside a Chicago Public School. What I do want is for every child to have access to quality education, inspiring teachers, and the ability to make friends of all types - that includes academic. While I was in honors classes most of my school career, I had friends in average classes as well as friends who were far more smart than I was. Diversity of thought is important for everyone.


While touring some of the tuition-based preschools, I saw exactly what John Kass tongue-in-cheek suggests - almost total separation of the neighborhood kids from those whose parents are writing a check:


Now, a so-called gifted academy will be saved, to reopen in a building of non-gifted (or is that regular students?) school on the Northwest Side. Parents of the gifted are worried that the non-gifted parents may try to squeeze new kids into the gifted program. Happily, the school bureaucrats have come up with a plan.


They'll keep the children separate, so they don't mingle, perhaps with fences, as if the non-gifted are diseased with cooties. I suggest a moat filled with ravenous crocodiles, to keep the non-gifted in their place. Just wondering, but surely the gifted parents must consider themselves Democrats, as their gifted children are in "public school," right?


I live in the city FOR the diversity. I'm not going to pay thousands of dollars to keep my Latina daughter away from others like her. I say that because I rarely saw other people of color on these school tours. I suspect because tours are during the day so we can ooh and ahh over the darling children while they learn algebra in 2nd grade. Thankfully magnet schools have to keep a certain racial breakdown. While the one independent we did apply to isn't full of racial diversity, it is one where we feel very comfortable with in every other aspect - outside the tuition bill, of course.


Why don't I just stop complaining and send her to our neighborhood school? If we need to, we will. But again, my main thesis is that we shouldn't have to choose whether or not to send our kids to a school 30 minutes away from home just because they have recess or art or new computers. In magnet schools they can keep a handle on classroom size while neighborhood schools have to take everyone. I firmly believe that classroom size is one of the biggest factors in a student's success. It just makes sense.


School choice lets us believe that every child has a shot at being in a top school. That blind lotteries are fair, no peeking at the parents bank account, no play parties to see if the kids fit in, and no testing. In reality it's not as even of a field as we would hope. Not even the gifted schools are safe. On Super Tuesday the voters around the South Loop school voted in favor of a non-binding referendum to ask CPS to remove the gifted students because their commuting was causing too much traffic. Ah, yes...traffic trumps the education of our children. I have no idea what CPS will do with this request, but I'm happy that we didn't apply to a school where outsiders are clearly not welcome.


In the end, my husband and I have to choose the best school for our daughter. Gifted, private, neighborhood, or magnet, we just want a school where we know that she can learn and be respected. I'm grateful that we had the time to visit open houses and fill out applications. I'll continue to work and agitate so that kids can go to school with their neighbors & not worry that they aren't missing out on fresh air, Beethoven, or science fairs.


This was cross-posted from The Red Thread at Chicago Parent


Technorati tags: CPS, kindergarten, school, Chicago Public Schools, education

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