I just realized I left an unqualified declaration in my latest post over at Humid City...that of being "fairly fortunate" thus far in navigating the current "system of schools" obstacle course that is public education in New Orleans.
To be sure, I've been called a hypocrite for my stance on charterization. My son is attending classes at a charter school. We are fortunate in that we got him into the school and, more importantly, that it is doing right by him socially and educationally. We were also benefactors of damned good timing - we managed to shoe-horn him into his current school back in the spring of 2006, when, even then, the most a parent could do was to fill out the requisite forms, attend the required classroom tour and parent meetings, "and then you pray," one mother responded when a teacher asked about the no-guarantees admissions process. It was probably the last time any parent had to deal with a waitlist for the school due to the city's population still reeling from the effects of 8/29/2005. At that time, we also benefited from the little guy's pre-K3 tuition being paid for by the state, which is no longer happening for parents with 3-year-olds in New Orleans public schools.
But our fortunate position is subject to change. Our financial status could fall away, the next teacher might be unable or unwilling to reach our son or work with us to help him realize his potential, and we might not be able to put the time and effort into all the forms, all the school visits, and all the research it would take to get our son elsewhere without further jeopardizing an already sketchy economic state. Where would we go then? What could be done for him?
This is what I fear the most every day. And unfortunately, my fear is a reality for far too many. It's a reality of fewer jobs out there that will pull you out of economic dire straits and give you at least a prayer of raising a family right. It's a reality that can turn families onto or away from each other and explode in violence or pass away in a whimper of abandonment. And then the rug gets pulled out by the realities of what is ironically called "school choice." It is only choice when you can devote large chunks of your time to making sure said choice does not turn sour - placing your child in a school that isn't even working for the children who are there, forget the ones that are coming in, is one big way all of this goes wrong. Another is when your child's special education needs get shoved aside because the school's performance numbers don't need the stress of accommodating a child that needs that extra attention. Trying to call out the state on what is required in its own laws isn't just a full-time job, it can be an exhausting obsession.
How much time do you have to devote to all of this and still raise a family again?
My family is fortunate yet I am uncomfortable in it. If the only comfort I can give a struggling parent who has been waitlisted for charters all over the place is "wait and see and keep trying," that's extremely cold. The state, with its recent election of a man younger than I to its highest education position (I told my grandmother, a veteran of teaching in Long Island, NY schools about John White's RSD appointment and she was appalled. "He's much too young and inexperienced," she said. ) is going to give too many parents positions on similar waitlists all over Louisiana, all in the name of covering its own ass when things go wrong or a charter doesn't meet expectations. The doors on fair and nearly free-with-your-taxpaying public education will be closing even faster than they already have been.
And this ranting is only from my vantage point as a lowly, imperfect parent. To get some clarification on some much greater implications of Louisiana's move towards charterization, head to G-Bitch.