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Stop “Playing” the Public School Lottery

Stop “Playing” the Public School Lottery

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. 

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  • I live in SF and feel like this article does not tell the full story. We should not be blaming parents but instead, blame the horrible system that has been put into place to make parents this way. I live right next to our AA that is not very well-known, diverse and title 1. The system has thrown me to the other side of the city, making my daily commute 2-hrs a day to drop off and pick up my child. The school I was assigned to also doesn’t work with my work schedule and I’m the breadwinner. I’m anxious about reapplying and I’m dreading the next school year, knowing I have navigate past my neighborhood school that is a block from our house, to go somewhere further which jeopardizes our livelihood and my job. When I rank, it’s based on what is best for my family and child. I rank it based on before care, aftercare, great staff, commute time, and more. This is what I value as what’s best for my child. I don’t know what lotto system you are in but I’ve lived in 2. Nothing about the lotto system makes sense and given that I’ve spent yrs preparing for the process to play the game to specifically go to our AA, my feeling of loss is that I tried my best and I still “lost”. How is community created or equity is made when school officials create equity/diversity but don’t look at things holistically. I’m happy you won but this article is too self-serving and high & mighty.

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