I Don't Want "Pretty Good" Schools for My Child

A New Orleans mom reflects on her experience trying to get her daughter into selective enrollment schools: "I’m a licensed social worker, so I’m used to dealing with paperwork and complex bureaucracies — but applying to schools was a whole different challenge."

The Times-Picayune recently published a detailed article on the complex admissions processes of New Orleans’ top charter schools—many of which create barriers for families who want to enroll. We talked to one New Orleans mom (who prefers to remain anonymous, because she hopes to get her child into one of the schools) about her experiences and perspective.

“I moved to New Orleans in 2010 to get my Master’s from Tulane. My daughter stayed behind in Birmingham while I got settled. I had no clue about the school system then. I thought it was just like school systems in Alabama, where you pretty much walk in to your neighborhood school, register, and are done. In New Orleans, people kept telling me I had to register almost a year in advance.

I’m a licensed social worker, so I’m used to dealing with paperwork and complex bureaucracies — but applying to schools was a whole different challenge. I knew that Lusher was one of the better schools, and it was close to Tulane. But I didn’t know a lot about the process of applying. I filled out the application, but all the dates and requirements were complicated. My daughter wasn’t even in the state when they did the admissions testing.

She didn’t get in that year, so we ended up at a school that was brand new. I hated that school. Everything was new. They were trying new things and a lot of it didn’t work out. My daughter wasn’t happy and I was worried about her.

One day a co-worker heard me crying about my school woes and suggested a different school. I moved my daughter, but the truth is I don’t love her new school either. She turned 11 this spring. She’ll be in 6th grade next year. She loves school, but she needs to be challenged. When she’s bored, she acts up. When other kids are acting out, she will too. So I want a school that’s less disruptive, and where teachers will push her. I worry about those stories of kids who go off to college and find out they’re actually three or four grade levels behind. I don’t want my daughter to be one of them.

I wish that I could afford to pay for my daughter to go to one of the private schools like Country Day or Ursuline. She’s not happy and not thriving as much as she could. But what do you do? They have scholarships, but not that many, and that process is hard too. I feel a little bit trapped, which makes me withdraw from her school. I’m not as invested anymore because I don’t want her to be there.

That’s why I’m still applying to these other [selective enrollment] schools, even with all of the hoops. I’ve applied to three so far. When I applied to one school, they said, “Why? Your daughter’s current school is pretty good.” The woman really said that: “That school is pretty good.” Well, I don’t want just ‘pretty good’ or ‘okay’ for my child. No parent wants that. You want the best. You want great. I was so mad.

I would feel complete as a parent if my daughter would get into a school like Lusher, because I’d know she’d be getting a good education. I’m trying to find a way. But it’s not fair. It gets harder and harder to get in. If you don’t get in early, every grade level it gets more difficult, because nobody wants to leave.

If you have more money, if you know someone else in the school, you can get inside information and increase your child’s chances of getting in. I found out about one school from a friend with a daughter there, and her friend called another friend in admissions and got my daughter in on a late application to take the test. That’s not really fair. I just knew somebody. If it was fair, you’d put everybody who wanted to enroll in a lottery and let it go. You’d use the test the kids are taking not as part of a scoring process, to say who even gets in the lottery, but to tell you where each kid is starting out and what they’ll need.

It’s frustrating because some schools require you to do all these things, but all they do is check the boxes. One school my daughter applied to asked very specific essay questions, like “why do you think it’s important to go to a school of the arts?” So she and I talked about it, and she spent time writing it carefully. You want to impress them and to get in! She worked hard. But I don’t think they ever even read it. It was just one more thing we had to do.

The same school wouldn’t count my daughter’s grades in art and Spanish towards the GPA requirement, which meant she didn’t get as many GPA points in her application as she should have. That’s frustrating too. I think those classes should count just as much as math or reading.

I understand why these schools do it. There’s always a lot of people who want to get in, and they can’t let in everybody. They want the focus to be on education and nothing else. And they want to know that parents are invested and really want to be there. But I think they also don’t want to have to tutor students or train them if they start off behind. They want everyone to be on the same level. And for a lot of kids coming from New Orleans schools who haven’t been so lucky, that’s just hard.

They always say New Orleans is a free choice school system, but it’s not. You have options but you can’t go wherever you want. My daughter’s spending time in Detroit with family this summer and she’s asking me if she can go to school there instead. For real! Now she’s looking at schools in Texas. That’s how much of a problem it is—we’re looking at schools in another state. I’m trying to do everything I can to push her ahead, but I can’t afford tutoring. I’ve got a nine month-old that I’m thinking about too. Getting a great education is expensive. It’s crazy, the process we parents go through. It’s a lot in New Orleans."

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