Overview of School Choice in Central California
With the expansion of open enrollment policies and the growth of the charter school movement, competition to get into public schools with good reputations has become fierce. This Blog is under development by Central California educators who are leaders and advocates in the School Choice Movement. Our intention is to cover specific issues and events that are of importance to parents that are engaged in the process of choosing a school for their child. While the geographic focus for the blog will be Central California, the themes and topics are likely to be of interest to all parents considering their school choice options. If you still have questions after reading this post, feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/wredford/.
Understanding some of the "School Choice" basics:
No matter of how simple or complicated, competitive or not, your district's system is, there are some basic strategies that can be applied to help your child get into the school that is best for him or her.
Avoid Herd Mentality
In California, it is a good idea for parents to look at a school's API scores as a measure of how well students achieve, but that is only part of the picture of a school. You need to visit the school and sit in on classes. Talk to the staff, ask specific questions such as:
- What are the school’s goals? (this is where you probe beyond API score, yes achievement scores are good but what else does the school aim to achieve... Dual Language, Arts, Technology, Music, etc...)
- Is the school meeting its goals? How do you know it is or isn't meeting its goals?
- What does the school expect from every student?
- Is the school doing better academically that the district school my child would attend?
- How long has the school been open?
- Do you think the school’s charter will be renewed? Why?
- How do parents know if the school is doing well?
- How will the charter school help my child to succeed?
- What role do parents play at the school?
- How long is the school day? The school year?
- How many students are in each class?
Don't Miss Deadlines or "Mess Up"
Don't lose out because of missed deadlines or incomplete paper work. Bryan Hassel, author of The Picky Parent Guide, cautions, "If it truly is a purely mechanical system, such as a lottery, then the most important strategy is to make sure that you get things in on time. Don't mess up. Don't mess up is one of those basic technical requirements." Even after you've gotten your child into the school, complete all the steps.
Public schools often create small academies within larger schools, or new public, charter or private schools are opened, after the regular enrollment process is over. These schools sometimes have seats available for months before word spreads. Check with your district for more information about new public and charter schools. Use caution when selecting new schools, you will have to do more homework.
Information From the Right Source
Make sure you get information from the correct source, which is the often a district office or the administrator of the charter school or private school you wish to attend.
Apply to More Than One Program at a School
"Some larger schools have several programs-such as one in art, or one in government," says Wheaton of Insideschools.org. "So if that's the school you want to go to, apply to all the programs, because once you get in you can transfer to the program you really want."
Connect directly with the School
"One tip, even for the public school system, is to write a cover letter to the school that really zeros in on what we call your child's fit with the school," says Hassel. While many schools have a lottery process, this type of connection with the school ensures that you will be a part of that process and in the event that there is room in the school you have already begun to build a relationship with the school.
Schools That Require Special Admissions Procedures
Some schools require auditions or portfolios of past work for admission. If you feel that your child has a special talent or a strong interest in a particular field, preparing for these schools will create more options for your child.
Review all Preferences that Apply
"Find out what kinds of preferences are built into the system," says Hassel, "and make sure that you're taking advantage of those that apply to you, such as sibling preferences and neighborhood preferences.
In California, you can legally apply for a transfer to a district in which you work, regardless of whether you live in that district. The district must consider your request, although they do not have to admit you if there are no seats available. Knowing the rules of district transfers might allow you to place your child in a school in a better district, however it probably won't help you land a spot in an oversubscribed school.