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'Waiting for Superman' Hits Close to Home

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Liesl Bradner:It's not often that I shed a tear during a movie trailer -- a documentary trailer at that. But halfway through the trailer for "Waiting for Superman," Oscar-winning director Davis Guggenheim's film aboutthe U.S. public education system, I was filled with emotion. I watched a little boy holding his slip of paper with the number three printed on it, hoping his number would be called. Would he be part of the handful of lucky students selected to attend a new charter school in Washington, D.C., that would likely change his life for the better? As a mom, I found this lottery concept to be beyond upsetting and disturbing.

Waiting for Superman

Although my experience was not as dire as these students', I was part of a lottery a few years ago to get my daughter into a good kindergarten. I realized, too late, that we were living in an undesirable neighborhood with a below-standard elementary school. (We obviously didn't vet the area when purchasing the home as newlyweds, nor did the realtor mention this little fact.)

After several open houses and intense Internet research, I put my daughter's name in the lottery for two of the best-performing schools in our area. She was 120th on the waiting list at one school, and 9th at the other. In a panic, I slapped down a $450 nonrefundable deposit on a private school. Two weeks later, the school where she was 9th called and announced that a space had opened up. I was $450 lighter, but my daughter was enrolled in a public school in Los Angeles. It was a great school, and her younger brother was automatically enrolled the following year. I was actively involved and was very happy.

Looking ahead, the middle school situation was bleak. The magnet/charter programs were so confusing with the point system, and most of the better ones were far away.As the housing market took a dive, we thought it would be a good time to buy a house in an area that had excellent schools through to high school. We didn't want to leave our current school, but figured this was our only chance.

We found a beautiful home in an excellent school district. Classes started before we closed on the house, which was fine. Much to my surprise, though, when I went to register a month later, I was told that my kids would have to be diverted to a school down the road (with lower test scores but more available spaces). Apparently this awesome area and subdivision had not planned for the influx of young families moving into this community and had an overcrowding problem.

Once again, our realtors had said nothing about this diversion program, and I never even fathomed that my kids would not be able to attend their neighborhood school. At their old district (not too far away), they had to let you in if you lived in the area.

We decided to make the hourlong drive and keep them in their old school until there were openings, as they had better scores than the diverted school. It was only a few months before two slots opened and we made the switch.

We were fortunate that we had the means to move to a better district; not all families do (as is highlighted in "Waiting for Superman"). What has happened to our educational system, in that families now have to play the lottery to get their kids a decent education?!

Moms, have you experienced similar horror stories -- or found quality education in an unconventional place? Comment below.

next: The Bitch Stole My Babysitter!
10 comments so far | Post a comment now
fibithinks August 12, 2010, 6:15 PM

I will be facing a school situation in the future. I can let our daughter attend a sub-par school in our small town neighborhood, drive 13 miles each way to a better school, or pay to have her go out of state. There are no private school options here, except for the catholic school, which I won’t consider as an option and can’t afford any way. I have two years to figure it out. She is starting preschool in another state at the end of the month, mainly because there are very few preschools in our area that are not in someone’s home.

deaddrift August 13, 2010, 9:21 AM

I faced a similar situation with my son, and also was lucky to get him transferred to an excellent nearby public school. The differences between neighborhood schools within one district is huge. Several factors contribute to this, including neighborhood socio-economic status, state and local tax revenue problems, and overly strong teacher’s unions. But we have decided, consciously or not, that in America if those who have money will have much better opportunities than those who don’t. Until we get serious about social justice and equality of opportunity we will continue to see widening gaps between the haves and the have nots.

Janet Parker August 13, 2010, 9:55 PM

I am a public school teacher whose own children attend charter schools. When the kids were younger we were fortunate to have our kids attend an excellent public K-4 school. Unfortunately, the local intermediate 5-6 school has been in “school improvement” for a decade. So we found a great charter school that met our needs. Unfortunately, in America, in 2010, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the educated make sure their children get educated.

Pamala August 15, 2010, 6:40 PM

Private school. This is why I’m doing private school. And if we can’t afford private school I’m homeschooling (don’t worry I have a degree in Early Childhood Education and Development).

Andrea Jones August 15, 2010, 7:28 PM

While watching this documentary..Im also a parent thay doesnt cry while watching movies, but this film had me balling in tears during the film and after it was over. Just seeing how the four families go through so much just have a better education for their children is clearly heart breaking. To see the little girl not attend her year end ceremony with her class just because her mom couldnt afford her tuition anymore just hurts my heart. Im one of those parents that had to be entered in a lottery cause I wanted my daughter to get a better education that what she was getting in public school and thank God she was picked to enter KIPP college prepatory. But I give kudos for the film makers of this movies..its definately a film worth watching.

Deina August 19, 2010, 2:18 PM

The fact that any parent has to divert or move a child around for any educational purpose is ridiculous to me. No matter where a child lives the funding and money should always be made available for educating children, its there when Nasa wants to build a sattilite,trips into space exploring the universe, here’s a tip fix the educational school systems in our nation instead of a sattilite shared by many nations. Every child deserves to learn equally, not based status of a neighborhood,parents wallets, or a lottery. No one wins on a gamble.

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Ashley Wilson March 22, 2011, 6:23 AM

Watched the full movie, and was baffled why the schools are doing a lottery! I’m an Indian, and here we solve the ‘too many applicants’ problem with a test. For admission to an academic institution, why would there be any other choice but an academic test of skills? Pure Merit is the only way to go. I feel sorry for the millions of kids who are denied a future based on a process which has nothing to do with anything logical.

P.S: Just in case you didn’t notice, the three posts above this are spam, and you need to delete them. Paid Commenters.

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