Dumb luck - FamilyEducation

Dumb luck

March 22,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Look what I discovered when we got home on Sunday:

Look closer:

A gray hair. My third one ever. It could have sprouted as a result of the excruciating conditions present during the van ride from Maryland to North Carolina--6 1/2 hours that were not L.'s finest travel moments and which left us utterly drained. By the time we'd pulled into the driveway L. had spiraled into a place of no return, and bedtime seemed the only salvation. I was so spent. Scott was spent. T. was spent. And L. was, too.

I think, though, that its appearance can also be blamed on all this school lottery business.

I absolutely hate school lotteries.

Before our kids reached school age I knew nothing (blissfully) about school lotteries. I never imagined that schools could admit students that way; that parents would send their applications off on a proverbial wing and a prayer and that anything related to a child's education could involve something as blind as the chance drawing of a name or number. It seems so counter-intuitive, really, to want the very best for your child, to spend weeks (months? years?) as a parent researching good school choices, educational philosophies and then have it all boil down to pure, dumb luck. The process of applying to magnet school lotteries here in our county seems to make some sense: your chances dwindle or increase based on the capacity of your base school, that school's free and reduced lunch program numbers, whether your child's academically gifted or not, or whether he or she is currently attending a school with magnet status. If you visit the website for our county's magnet school program you can click through baffling flow charts detailing the magnet selection process, in a method reminiscent of those choose-your-own-adventure books I loved as a kid, except that at least with those books you could feel some measure of control over the outcome and, if you didn't LIKE the ending, you could go pick another one.

It's an absurd process, really, this lottery business. One charter school allowed prospective parents to attend the lottery drawing. Space will be limited! the website warned. I wondered about attending. What would it be like? Would they read out the winning numbers? Would parents act like game show contestants and squeal and jump up and down if their child's number was picked? I couldn't bear the thought of going and having to feel--illogically, I know--less worthy than the parents who got lucky. It would be much better, I thought, to handle rejection from the comfort of my living room.

Instead, I became obsessed with checking the schools' websites, maniacally, hitting the refresh key several times in a row, in the hopes that the results would magically appear. I had lottery result dreams, several nights in a row. One school held their lottery on the scheduled day but then retracted the results due to a calculation error (mercifully I was not in attendance to hear the first results. Can you imagine getting lucky once, then being told it would all be done over again?).

There has to be a better way. There has to be a way for parents to feel they have options when it comes to their child's (or children's) education. There has to be a way for parents to have access to more choices without having to fork out the big money for private school tuition, or without having to live with the guilt over not being able to afford a private education.There have to be better choices out there for kids like L., who just can't thrive or survive even in the typical public school setting.

By the end of this week all the lotteries will be over and done with, and the hard part will begin: trying to navigate through the choices--if we're lucky and we get choices--or moving ahead without them.

Until then, fIngers crossed...