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. 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 in Ohio. 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 as a parent of a 4-year old son, too. My husband and I have to decide in the next year where our child will go to school and it is a daunting decision.
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 – many of whom are also parents – and I have been doing and saying for the last decade here in the Buckeye State.
This piece originally ran on Fordham’s blog, Flypaper.
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