Public schools offer parents choices, but there are limits and waiting lists

In an effort to give parents greater choice in their child’s education, public school districts in Georgia have come up with a variety of options from magnets to charters to transfers.

But the zeal for choice has outstripped the options in some districts. AJC education writer Rose French reports DeKalb has seen a steady increase in transfer applicants. For school year 2013-14, the system received approximately 14,750 applications, with 5,500 approved. For the latest school year, 2015-16, French found there were 16,000 applications, with nearly 6,400 approved.

Does Georgia need to expand school choice options for parents and kids? (AJC Photo)

Does Georgia need to expand school choice options for parents and kids? (AJC Photo)

Ditto for Cobb where French learned the district received 999 applications for the 2012-2013 school year and accommodated 672. For the 2015-2016 school year, the district received 2,794 applications and can accommodate 1,768.

Here is an excerpt from French’s MyAJC.com story on the challenges parents face when they want to make a choice outside their zoned school:

By Rose French

In many districts, more students are applying to transfer to high-performing schools than the number of available spaces. “I don’t think it’s (school choice) a reality at all,” said one frustrated Cobb County parent who said her transfer requests for her son and daughter were denied with little explanation.

As demand for choice increases, parents complain they are not told enough about how the schools make the decisions. School leaders in Cobb are reviewing their policies, and DeKalb officials have said changes are coming, after complaints from parents calling for greater transparency.

State legislation in recent years has pushed for more charter schools and alternatives to the traditional public school model, but state educators and others say they have not seen enough high-qualified groups applying for charter schools to fill the demand.

Cobb parents can apply to move their children out of poor-performing schools, but if they don’t get in via the district’s lottery system, they’re put on a waiting list. However, parents say they’re not told where they rank on the list and are rejected without knowing how school officials came to their decision.

In DeKalb, parents are angered by the selection process for the county’s magnet schools and say they want to see the program expand or go away altogether. This year, a new computer-generated lottery system to select students for the magnet program omitted some students by mistakenly classifying them as living outside the district. For other students, the system dropped grades from their profile.

Telling parents where they rank on waiting lists and giving as much information as possible about the school-choice process is “fundamental,” said Claire Smrekar, associate professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University, who has written extensively about school choice. “It gives most parents some degree of assurance that this system is fair, consistent.”

Cobb school board member David Morgan says schools should have uniform criteria or a formula for deciding if they have space for children trying to transfer, and Cobb schools don’t.

Parents sometimes face desperate decisions trying to get their children out of failing schools. Karen Armstrong says she had little choice but to sign over temporary guardianship of her son to her sister, to keep him attending a high-performing school in East Cobb. Armstrong moved from East Cobb to Powder Springs in South Cobb when she married nearly five years ago, and she said her middle school-age son was being bullied and not getting the attention he needed from teachers at the lower-performing South Cobb school. So her son went to live with her sister for a year so he could finish out middle school in East Cobb.

Armstrong said she has also tried to get her 6-year-old daughter into higher-performing schools outside her attendance zone and been denied. Armstrong and other parents argue that if a certain number of students want to get into a school, education officials should accommodate them with space and enough teachers so class sizes do not get too big.

Morgan points out that Cobb doesn’t consider trailers on school property as available “space” but says they should. “As a parent, if I make a choice that a particular school is in my child’s best interest, and there’s a phenomenal teacher that happens to be teaching in a trailer, put my child there.”

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Reader Comments 0

83 comments
4PublicEducation
4PublicEducation

In my county, there are no failing schools, but if parents were given a choice, the three highest performing elementary schools would be overflowing and the three lowest performing schools would not have enough students,  How does this make sense in a "Do Not Dare Raise My Taxes" world?  There would be a need for more classrooms in the three highest performing schools and empty classrooms in the three lowest performing. The highest performing schools also happen to be in higher socio economic areas and the lower performing schools are surprisingly in the lower socio economic areas.  This is not a school problem; it is a socio economic problem.  If we have a lottery for enrollment in popular schools or if we bus students from one area to the other to balance the groups, it will not solve the problem because the higher socio economic folks will bail and go private. I can't tell you what the answer is, but choice or vouchers will not solve school inequity.

4PublicEducation
4PublicEducation

The reason you do not want the higher socio economic folks to bail and go private is because they are what make the school higher performing, not the educators.  I agree that better teachers and administrators want to work in a nicer environment, so they gravitate to the higher performing schools where they don't have to spend as much of their own money on paper and supplies.  They like the nice PTO moms who come in to help and the home support they get from these families.  The kids are usually more disciplined and easier to teach.  But if you radically change the demographics of the school, these families will leave and choose private and the school will no longer be high performing.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Do you know that in Finland only 66% of students graduate from secondary school and 45% of those with a vocational diploma?

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@class80olddog


I'd love to know where you got your figures from. These are the latest I could find and show a high school graduation rate of 93%. The website also shows the reasons why Finland is so successful and they do the opposite of what we do here. They certainly don't suggest that when kids who are failing (you know, the ones who generally live in low SE circumstances) should be handed over to private industry so they can make some money at the taxpayers' expense. 


http://www.edimprovement.org/2013/04/what-makes-finlands-education-system-so-successful/

class80olddog
class80olddog

@sneakpeakintoeducation @class80olddog  I got my numbers from the internet - you know, they can't post anything on the internet if it is not true.  I was talking about 2ndlevel secondary school, but apparently the numbers were old or just wrong - I retract the 66%.  The vocational vs. academic tracks still apply, though.  Why do we not have these tracks in OUR schools?  PC!

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

I agree that there should be a vocational track in school. There should be the opportunity for kids to learn a trade if they don't want to go to college. College isn't for everyone.

jarvis1975
jarvis1975

@class80olddog  Only 5.5% of Finland's population lives below the poverty line. That's your explanation of why their schools are good.

RuthBronstein
RuthBronstein

Not only are there limits and waiting lists, but the school systems have to make sure that "the numbers work".  (At least that's what I was told regarding my daughter, when I asked DeKalb County why they just didn't take the top scores by grades and standardized tests.)  

RuthBronstein
RuthBronstein

@class80olddog No idea, class80...they wouldn't tell me.  But in the past, when I've heard similar statements..."Have to hit the right numbers", etc....it meant that they had to be sure they got the right diversity percentages.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

It sounds to this outsider (my grown child is living in another state) as if this blog-topic is related somehow to yesterday's topic about the state-wide shortage of K-12 public school teachers.


Ya gotta plan for success, and that doesn't seem to have been done here.

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

There is no real "choice" in the public school arena. Dissatisfied parents have no where to turn, no advocate, no service. Until parents have control of their own tax money, and how their children can use that money to go to a school that truly benefits them, will "choice" have any real meaning. 

dg417s
dg417s

@TaxiSmith No one has control of "their own tax money." It isn't theirs anymore. Taxes are used for the good of society. I don't have children. If what you argue is true, then I say that not one red cent of "my" tax money goes to any program other than the public schools established and run by local boards of education, not by the state, not by the charter school commission, no one. It doesn't work that way and it shouldn't work that way.

popacorn
popacorn

Smart kids don't like dumb kids. Dumb kids don't like smart kids. Smart kids don't raise dumb kids up. Dumb kids drag smart kids down. 

Smart people know this. Educators apparently don't. 

dg417s
dg417s

@popacorn Tracking isn't the politically correct thing to do, but I don't see many classroom teachers arguing to mix the classes. It is, however, part of our evaluation system - differentiation.

class80olddog
class80olddog

The "school choice" initiative with traditional public schools is a red herring - designed to lead people away from support of charters.  But as I have said before and has been repeated here - try to get a transfer to the really good E. Cobb schools - you can't - because they are already full and bursting at the seams with people who move to that neighborhood specifically to get their kids into those schools.  So the "choice" turns out to be no choice at all.  But they can use it as an argument against new charters - you already have "choice", so why do you need a charter choice?  Sort of like Cherokee County arguing against charters, saying "we have good schools, you don't need the charter choice".  Well, if parents are dissatisfied with the existing schools, then apparently you do need a choice.

cellophane
cellophane

@class80olddog  According to Georgia law, charter schools are supposed to offer innovation and improved achievement. The law does not allow them (in theory) to be created for the sole purpose of choice.  That was Cherokee's beef with the charter petitions it got from Imagine Schools (now gone from Georgia) and Charter Schools USA (runs a school in Cherokee and one in Coweta-- but they haven't opened a new one here in four years). 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@cellophane @class80olddog Their "innovation" could be to run a school free from the controls of their Hitler-like superintendent.  (did I just use Hitler? OMG - I wasn't supposed to do that)

CharterStarter_Too
CharterStarter_Too

@cellophane @class80olddog


True.  The "legislative intent" is stated clearly in the law: to raise achievement.  One might argue (and one day likely will) that students in an environment where they are unable to reach their potential due to poor discipline, poor instruction, etc. should have a choice so that their achievement can rise.  Many think charters are only for low achieving students.  Sure, that is a critical objective, but certainly, it is not the only group of students that deserve choice.  

Astropig
Astropig

First they ignore you.

Then they mock you.

Then they fight you.

Then you have choice.



Mandella88
Mandella88

@Astropig

Then you go to the Get Schooled blog.

Then you call yourself A. pig.

Then you whine incessantly about everything.

Then you get banned.

class80olddog
class80olddog

It is funny, I haven't heard any of the posters crying about allowing parents who care to "complete an application" and move from a low-performing school to a higher-performing one.  I guess that argument is reserved for charter schools only.  I remember they said that the mere requirement of filling out an application amounted to "selectivity".  (It does - it selects those who CARE).

class80olddog
class80olddog

@booful98 @class80olddog This is indicative of the problem.  Yes, we of better means have the ability to live in better areas (E. Cobb).  But she married someone apparently who lived in S. Cobb.  Did he own a house there that was underwater and he now cannot sell it? Does he work even further south and a one hour commute would turn into a two-hour commute? 

That is what the opponents of charters are doing - trapping those of limited means in failing schools.  The rest of us move or send our kids to privates, but some are TRAPPED.  And a lot of people on this blog want them to remain trapped.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@booful98 @class80olddog You sort of remind me of those charter opponents that say that all parents have choice now - just send your kids to a private school.  Problem solved. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog And, growing up in Dalton/NW Georgia, you are aware that many people, even caring ones, are functionally illiterate.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady @class80olddog I meant care about education.  If they care about education, they will not allow their kids to grow up as functionally illiterate. 

Don't know what that means about Dalton. 

booful98
booful98

@class80olddog @booful98

This woman made a choice to move away from an excellent school system because of HER personal choice (getting married). I cannot imagine a situation where I would choose to move to S. Cobb if I am already living in E. Cobb just because I found a man. That is beyond ridiculous.

booful98
booful98

@class80olddog This sentence in the article struck me: "Armstrong moved from East Cobb to Powder Springs in South Cobb when she married nearly five years ago"

SAY WHAT???? You were living in E Cobb ALREADY and you chose to move to S. Cob??? WHY? Who lives in Cobb Co and doesn't know that E. Cobb has the best schools???? Talk about choice!! You CHOSE to move from a great performing system into a low one, because....???? OF A MAN???

This discussion is OVER. If her kid is in a bad school system she has no one to blame but herself.

booful98
booful98

@Wascatlady @class80olddog My great grandmother immigrated from Italy with a 5th grade education. She and her husband busted their butts and put 2 kids through medical school.


This isn't a story about pulling yourself up from the bootstraps because those were different times, but it is a story to prove that you don't have to go to college to see and understand the importance of education.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Parents who CARE will exercise any choice that they can - mainly by moving into a great school district in order to attend the schools there.  That is why nothing makes a mother madder than when they redistrict her children into a worse school after she moved into a house just to be in a certain school. Every time we moved, our #1 concern was the quality of the schools.  I would commute a hour one-way in order to get my kids into a better school.  As one poster said: you only get one chance to educate your kids; you had better not screw it up.  Send them to the wrong school and they end up knifed in a fight?  Or bullied?  Or trapped in classes with kids who don't care because their PARENT doesn't care? Some families move into a neighborhood with the full realization that the price is that they have to send their kids to a private school.  And the property values reflect the demand by parents for a good school district - look at Decatur.

TheDeal2
TheDeal2

@class80olddog Do you not realize it is possible for someone to not be able to afford to live in the best school area?  I know I can't.

nazanyar
nazanyar

These are all really great comments and ideas. The reality is that public school in its current format no longer is effective at educating all children. All kinds of outside-the-box ideas should be tried. One idea mentioned above is segregating kids by academic ability, but what about different public schools (high schools or maybe 10-12 grades) for completely different focuses, and no "general" schools, such as college prep, information technology, and then some vo-tech-type schools. 10-12 grades could be essentially a life-prep or college-prep, and basic education could be K-9. I'm not sure the merits of this particular idea, but we need to do something radical.


PS (OFF TOPIC) - and by the way I think the public school system today is evidence of what a public healthcare system would look like as well.

popacorn
popacorn

@nazanyar

Separate on basis of academic ability = Separation on basis of race

class80olddog
class80olddog

@popacorn @nazanyar Not necessarily - but unfortunately any "de facto" segregation is not allowed, even if the criteria had nothing to do with race.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Parents want choice so their kids will not have to sit next to "those kids". You know who "those kids" are, right.  NO, not BLACK kids.  They are the troublemakers that are still in the classroom because administration won't deal with them.  They are the kids who are 2 years behind and have been socially promoted, so the teacher has to slow down the rest of the class to deal with them.  They are the kids whose parents don't give a flip about education, so THEY don't give a flip, either. THAT is the situation that parents want to flee from.

redweather
redweather

The logistics of allowing students to move from so-called low-performing to high-performing schools are considerable. As the angry parents quoted in this article attest, the mechanisms set up to accomplish this may not always be as equitable or transparent as everyone would like them to be. My fear, however, is that allowing students to move from low-performing to high-performing schools is a form of choice that could (and probably will) lead to fewer and fewer high-performing schools. That could happen because lotteries, by definition, are indiscriminate; they operate on “the luck of the draw.” If high-performing schools can’t establish academic benchmarks for admission, then “good” as well as “bad” students have an equal chance of being selected. Is that what we want?  If our public school systems really want to address the growing chorus of complaints, it seems to me that academic performance has to be the deciding factor in which schools a student can attend. Help me understand what I'm missing. 

popacorn
popacorn

@redweather

'...academic performance has to be the deciding factor in which schools a student can attend.'

And you see no potential problems with this? Really?

booful98
booful98

@redweather Well...I don't disagree with you. But. Right now, schools can't decide who gets and who doesn't get to attend the school. If you live in the zone, you go to that school.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather  If a student misbehaves in a transfer school, then perhaps they could have their transfer revoked?

booful98
booful98

@class80olddog @redweather I think that happens unofficially anyways.


A family I know placed their kid in a high performing E Cobb elementary school through a transfer. The kid could not be handled. Two years later, there wasn't a spot for him anymore due to "overcrowding"

redweather
redweather

@booful98 @class80olddog @redweather Okay, but as long as things like this are done informally, the problem doesn't go away. It's got to be a written policy for all to see; otherwise it's susceptible to abuse.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather @booful98 Which "reform" - the original set of reforms from 40 years ago - no spanking, no discipline, no enforcement of attendance, social promotion for all, grades adjusted upward, no zeroes?  Or the "new" anti-reform reform, which is trying to get schools to go back to the tried-and-true methods of yesteryear?

4PublicEducation
4PublicEducation

@class80olddog @redweather GA legislature passed a law that took away the right of the principal to remove transfer students for behavior or academic reasons.  If students are allowed to attend out of district, they may stay until they finish that school (elementary, middle or high school).