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 about the 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.
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.