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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