Friday, January 30, 2015

Kindergarten: Not Too Soon Edition

When the kids are old enough to start kindergarten*, usually the parents are like, "It's WAY TOO SOON for my baby to be starting school already!!" Not us. We'll be prepared.

(* - The word "kindergarten" is long, and hard to type, so for the rest of the post I'm just going to use the letter "K".)

Marla turned 3½ yesterday, and so she's still 19 months away from her first day of K. Too soon to be looking into what we'll need to do this time next year to get her in a good school? Nope. Not at all. Like I said, we're going to be prepared.

I went into this knowing virtually nothing about the logistics of sending our kid to K in Durham, other than that there's an elementary school in our neighborhood, and that there are also these things called "charter schools" and "magnet schools". Here's basically what I think I've learned about how it works in the Durham Public Schools:

- By default, your kid will go to your neighborhood school.
- You can apply to send your kid to a magnet school instead. Entry into magnet schools is 100% lottery based. There is one central lottery encompassing all of Durham Public Schools' magnet schools. Magnet schools are either tailored to a specific subject (e.g. science), or a style of teaching (e.g. Montessori), or are "regular" schools that just happen to be on a year-round calendar, if that's your thing.
- Durham also has free-to-attend charter schools, which might do things a little bit differently than the regular public schools do, I guess. Just like with the magnet schools, admission to charter schools is lottery-based, except that each charter school has its own lottery that you need to apply to separately.

First question: is our neighborhood school any good? Well...I've heard that it's "good enough", but it's not one of the best elementary schools, either, and that some of the magnet schools and charter schools are better options, if we're lucky enough to win their respective lotteries.

Speaking of the lotteries...this year's Durham magnet school lottery (for the 2015-16 school year) closes at the end of January, with results announced in March, and at least one of the charter school lotteries closes at the end of February, with results announced soon thereafter. K registration at neighborhood schools opens in March, so we can wait until after the lottery results before registering at the neighborhood school. (This is the main thing I wanted to look into right away: the deadlines. Don't want to be caught with our pants down this time next year.)

And actually, two of the Durham magnet schools have a pre-K program, which we could send Marla to, for free...if we win the lottery. We applied for those schools this year, although my understanding is that our chances of being selected are next to nothing. May as well apply, though, right? And if even Marla is selected, that doesn't commit us; we can decline the spot for whatever reason.

So, now we already know what we're going to do this time next year when it comes to K registration for Marla. We know which magnet schools, and at least one charter school, we're going to apply to this time next year, and we know when we need to do it. And, we're satisfied "enough" with the local neighborhood school, we won't panic if we don't win any of the lotteries.

And by the way, private schools are too expensive,


If you ask me, this is all kind of silly. But this is what happens with neighborhood-based school systems: schools become segregated, and certain schools end up with a disproportionate number of students from low-income families. Those students typically perform worse on tests, so those schools end up looking bad by all of the various metrics, no matter how "good" the actual school itself is, or the teachers at that school are. The result is a few schools in the district for which the parents are like, "No way I'm sending my kids to that school!" And once a school is stigmatized that way, it is a very, very difficult label to shake, and it only gets worse as time goes on.

The workaround for this problem, so that parents in certain neighborhoods don't get "stuck" sending their kids to "bad" schools? Some districts move kids around in a kind of "hybrid neighborhood" approach, such that each school ends up with similar demographics. Not only does this desegregate the schools, but it also means that there aren't really any "bad" schools in the district. This is what Wake County used to do, to much acclaim...until a few school board members thought that the kids shouldn't be spending so much time on the bus, so they reverted back to neighborhood schools. (That's my understanding, anyway. I don't exactly know what kind of system they use now, or how many magnet / charter schools are in Wake County.)

What most school systems, do, though, is give parents a "choice"...sort of. First, there are magnet schools, often which are located in the poorest areas of town (i.e. the would-be "bad" schools), designed to attract students from all over the county. In cases where that isn't enough, "charter schools" pop up, which are basically the same thing as magnet schools, except that they're independent and not run by the county school system, but are still taxpayer funded and free to attend. But low-income families deserve a "choice", too, so you can't really make attendance at these schools merit-based (i.e. for smart kids only). But since the demand for these alternative schools is, no doubt, overwhelming...lottery it is! So, while it seems like we have options, it really comes down to luck of the draw. As someone who likes to plan ahead - for example, thinking about schools 19 months before either of our children will start attending them - that's a bit disconcerting.


Spartangoogle said...

In FL one of the few things paid for by lottery $$ (all of which was supposed to go to education) is Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) which pays for 1/2 day of free instruction for 4 year olds. Many (if not most) day cares qualify to be a VPK center, so parents get a break: state pays for 1/2 the day, parents pay for the other 50%. Some schools also offer VPK (I think Neptune Beach does). We have spare bedrooms if you want anyone to go there :).

Spartangoogle said...

Not much oversight on charter schools here. They are supposed to have a "focus": science, all boys, remedial, etc. Can be run by non education folks - lot of abuse when the CEO hires all his/her family members at exorbitant salaries. Most west of the river are filled by kids whose parent(s) think, perhaps mistakenly, it will be better than the local, poorly rated school. East of the river, families who are fleeing from "diversity" - the further east, the fewer charter schools you find.

tballen53 said...

Curious to know what the going private school rate is in your neck of the woods. Parents here basically can choose between public and private or have an option of homeschooling/cyber schooling. Magnet schools are non-existent with the exception of high school in the city of Erie. The few charter schools that are available are not stable financially and cater to low income and behavior disordered students. Private is often the only path to take but you have to be willing and able to meet the demands financially and with the level of parental involvement that make them successful.