Working the System to Get the School of Your Choice
Smart parents know they may need to work the system to get the school of their choice.
Tales from the Trenches
Seattle Stories Seattle mom Christal Duyungan successfully navigated the system in her search for a school with good academics and a safe environment for her son who has a peanut allergy.
A San Francisco Mom's Story There seems to be one universal truth that applies to all schools and districts when it comes to getting what you want: communicate. Always communicate.
By Marian Wilde
It used to be that when it was time to find a school for the kids, most Americans looked no further than the neighborhood school.
Now, however, with the expansion of open enrollment policies and the growth of the charter school movement, competition to get into public schools with good reputations has become more wide-spread. A competitive admissions process is not just a private school phenomenon anymore.
"About a quarter of kids go to a school other than the one they're assigned to," says Bryan Hassel, co-author, with Emily Ayscue Hassel, of The Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child's School with Confidence. "Some fraction of the other three-quarters choose where they live because of a school, which is another way of exerting school choice. About 50% of families are exercising school choice."
With the ever increasing assortment of options available to parents, it's become important to not only research the schools themselves, but also the various rules, written and unwritten, of admission.
In many communities, the admissions process can be fairly complicated. In New York City, for example, parents greatly increase their chances of success by learning the system. "New York City has 32 districts, 10 regions and 1400 schools," says Pamela Wheaton, Deputy Director of InsideSchools.org, a Web site devoted to New York City public schools. "In some districts in the city you can apply to schools that aren't in your neighborhood and ask for what is called a variance. There are some programs that are open city wide. High school is pretty open, but there are some schools in certain areas of the city where unless you live in the district you can't apply. What counts for admission to many schools are the scores on the seventh grade test, but there are several systems. One is an Educational Option, which is a way of ensuring a mix of high-, middle- and low-achieving kids. So there's a specific formula of how they accept kids. Fifty percent are selected by computer and fifty percent are selected by the schools."