From talking the talk to walking the walk of urban school choice

Fordham has been involved in the arena of school choice in Ohio at
virtually every level for the past decade, except that of a parent. We authorize charter schools,
we have created charter school support organizations and helped birth
other choice-support entities, we’ve fought for choice policies in the
legislature, and Terry and Checker literally wrote the book
on what we think are the lessons from all this work. Issues of school
choice and the quality (or not) of urban schools have been a big part of
my professional life the last five years. Now, they are front and
center in my personal life, too.

I live in the Columbus City School district (CCS). My husband and I bought our home years before we had decided whether
we wanted to have children, let alone where we’d want to raise them and
send them to school. Fast forward about a decade: our son will be a
kindergartner next year and we find ourselves navigating urban school
choice firsthand.

We look forward to continuing to live in the city of Columbus and
sending our son to a district school next year. We love the diversity
and energy of our neighborhood, and we greatly value the close proximity
of our home to downtown and the excellent community programming at
nearby Ohio State University, among the many other reasons we live where
we do. And, most importantly, we are satisfied with our public
elementary- and middle-school options (high school is too far down the
road to judge now).

Like most large urban districts, CCS’s schools vary dramatically.
Some schools rival the quality of excellent nearby suburban schools and,
unfortunately, at the other end of the spectrum, are schools with such perennial academic failure
that it seems almost criminal that their doors remain open. And, like
most urban districts, CCS offers an array of magnet school options (in
addition to the city’s many independent charter schools).

In the months to come, we’ll face one of the biggest decisions of our
lives about where to send our son to school. And because of limited
seating in magnet programs and rules that limit our ability to return
our son to his “home” neighborhood school if a choice option turns out
not to be a good fit, the decision won’t entirely be ours. Don’t get me
wrong, when CCS’s lottery results for the 2012-13 school year are
revealed, my family’s experience won’t be reminiscent of The Lottery. Our
neighborhood elementary school looks to be a fine option for our son, a
place we’d be comfortable sending him for the primary grades certainly.

But  just a short time into this journey (we started researching
schools in earnest last summer and observed the kindergarten classrooms
at our neighborhood elementary school for the first time this morning)
and with my kid’s future at stake, I’m seeing schools,
teachers, and enrollment policies (for starters) in a whole new, and
much brighter, light. For example, I used to observe local rules about
where and how students can pick a school from thirty-thousand feet
through policy-wonk lenses. Now the potential impact of those policies
on my family tugs at my heartstrings and wakes me in the middle of the
night with worries about my son and his future and what path to choose.

I hope more than anything that the decision we ultimately make for
our child is the right one. I look forward to putting this experience to
use in my work and believe I’ll have a better informed, more thoughtful
perspective on urban education and school choice policies as a result.
And on a related note, I’m curious to see how my family’s experience
will confirm or collide with what my colleagues and I have been doing
and saying for the last decade here in the Buckeye State.

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