Ali bought into 200 Chambers St., which houses an annex for P.S. 234, so her daughter could go to school there, saving the family money on private school. She and her daughter walk past the school every day, and her daughter “constantly tells me, ‘This is the big school. This is where I go next year,’” Ali said.
Being placed in a different school, Ali added, “was never anything I thought would happen.”
But it did happen, to Ali and perhaps 50 to 100 other parents who put P.S. 234 or P.S. 89 as their first choice but were placed in either P.S. 276 or the Spruce Street School, which also opens this fall in Tweed Courthouse. The D.O.E. would not disclose the number of children who did not get their first choice, but several parents provided Downtown Express with estimates based on initial numbers released by the department.
Every time my two-year old daughter and I walk past the lovely new public elementary/middle school two blocks from my house and the kids playing in its new playground, and I have to bite my tongue from saying either "This is where you'll go to school," or bitterly, "This is where you'll go to school if we win the lottery," my enthusiasm for "school choice" dies a little. It isn't that I'm afraid that she won't find a seat in an adequate public school, but knowing there is a good alternative a five minute walk away will gnaw on me every time I have to get in the car to drive to school or walk to the bus stop, if we don't win the lottery.
Having some chance of getting into a good public school is better than having no good public schools, but that's not saying much. People don't like randomness, uncertainty and complexity, and it seems that NYC's choice system is bumping up against a tipping point in those areas.
The problem is still a problem of scarcity. We can't seem to build enough really wonderful schools for all the kids who deserve them.
I agree that it seems in NYC, especially with the economic downturn bringing so many parents back from the private schools, the problem is exacerbated right now. But it's fascinating in that 15 years ago, those parents weren't sending the kids to the public schools so this wasn't an issue. In fact, one of the invisible problems going on is that, as this problem increases, the families who are really losing are the families up in Harlem who have long sent their kids downtown to better schools who now cannot because the schools are filled up with kids from the catchment area.
At SLA, we see this in a different way in that we had 800 kids interview for 125 spots, and the vast majority of the kids would be lovely there, and we're such a different kind of school in Philly that a kid who comes to SLA will have a radically different experience than had they gone somewhere else -- which makes figuring out who we accept such a challenge. At Beacon, we always knew that if we didn't take a kid, they had a good chance at Bard or Eleanor Roosevelt or any of the dozens of other really wonderful progressive schools.
In the end, yeah, this sucks. We should figure out how to make more schools wonderful options for families. Period.
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