This month, thousands of Americans who entered public school lotteries will find out who “won” and who “lost.” We’ve been conditioned to treat public school lotteries like the mega-millions lotto. Some schools are considered the “jackpot” and our perceived chances at winning the lotto are low. Playing the lottery is fun, but we can’t apply this mindset to the public school lotteries because statistically, none of us will win.
Public school lotteries vow to diversify the student bodies at each site, but research shows this rarely happens. Meanwhile, hundreds of parents band together to share notes and multi-page spreadsheets about the pros, cons, and even the statistical probability of getting into a school based on how often they clear their waitlists and fulfill spots for area attendees. Imagine if the hours spent touring schools, following Facebook posts, and analyzing data were spent making our schools more successful.
As a parent of a soon-to-be public school attendee, I just went through the lottery process. I followed the posts of stressed-out parents who needed advice on ordering their top 20 schools. I felt laid back through the whole process because I listed my area attendance school–an under-enrolled, Title 1 school–as my number one choice, all but guaranteeing acceptance. Parent after parent asked me why I didn’t “play the game” and one even suggested that I wasn’t prioritizing my child’s well-being over my own ease. To be sure, I was doing plenty of my own research: research that showed prioritizing diversity is better for all students in a school, research that demonstrates how cross-class friendships have positive outcomes, and discussions urging progressive white parents to demonstrate their self-described “value of diversity” by sending their kids to diverse schools.
When I toured schools, I didn’t ask about test scores or cutting-edge STEM curriculum. Instead, I noted when there were teachers and administrators of color, low teacher turnover, and happy kids in classrooms. I thought about how having school friends who live in our neighborhood would enhance my child’s wellbeing. And I reminded myself that as a white cisgender male, my kid will be fine no matter what school he attends.
It’s easy to “play” the game and rank our schools from best to worst. It’s better to spend time investing in our community, living progressive values, and making schools a better place for all students. The lottery process is an exercise in continuously recognizing privilege. If you find yourself being drawn in by the explanation, “but if I have the opportunity to do what’s best for my child, I’m going to do it,” then chances are you’re speaking from a privileged position. Instead, let’s ask ourselves what’s best for all of our city’s children. If a school is not good enough for my kid, then is it really good enough for any kid? When we turn this into a game, nobody wins, including our kids.