Lottery Day

Rock music has been cranking outside my office for the past hour. Beasties. Metallica. Survivor.

Math teacher Matt Collins challenged all the kids to Guitar Hero. They're playing him one by one. He's dispatching most with ease. But a roar just went up. An upperclassman beat him 201,000 to 194,000. If I understand correctly, Collins now has to donate $10 to the prom fund.

Everyone is having a blast.

Alas. I wish there were a fun way to do a charter school admissions lottery. There isn't.

In Boston, many charter school lotteries were held last night. There are 19 such schools. According to Wicked Local, "more than 10,000 children have been entered in the lotteries; only about 1,000 spots are available."

So: many sad parents.

Over in MATCH world, 612 kids applied

for our middle school, about 70 spots; 509 kids applied for our elementary, for 100 seats.

Lots of terrific work by: Rachel Johnson, Sarah Higgins, and many others on our team, to coordinate the logistics and outreach. Thank you.

The first ten names drawn were:


I look at these names. Think about my ancestors from Hungary, Poland, Russia. What were their first American schools like? What about back in the homeland? I wonder what they'd think of MATCH.

I blogged about our lottery last year.

My story today is about my estimable colleague Orin and his wife Johanna. They live in Dorchester. Their lovely daughter currently attends the district school which was assigned to them. In Boston's unusual system, this school is located in a Southie housing project several miles from their home.

They entered both their kids in the admissions lottery for MATCH Community Day. Didn't get in. Deep on wait list.

Under some charter school laws, like in Washington DC, the children of staff members have admission preference. Not true here in Massachusetts.

Is admission preference for staff a good idea?

Two competing values:

a. It's good for staff to send their kids to a charter school. What a great signal to all the families. "I love the school where I work, it's where I want my own kids to go."

And if you send your own kids to your school, it's a terrific way to understand the "true student experience"...and therefore to improve the school.

b. It's bad for staff to send their kids to a charter school. The staff are middle-class and often highly educated. So a precious spot is taken from a kid from a poor family.

Both arguments valid.

In net, I lean towards "a." I wish Orin's kids had gotten in.


If you're curious what the event looks like, here is a local TV news story from last year. It's about 2 charter lotteries:

Inside the Charter School Lottery Process:


I agree with A too. It sort of brings the public school ethos in through the back door too. Part of what makes inner city schools less appealing is their lack of diversity. Part of what makes our suburban districts unappealing to me as a city resident (not of Boston) is the lack of diversity there. However, our urban schools have been "reformed" to such an extent that my third child may not be in them after next year -- even though his two older brothers went all the way through in "majority minority" schools as upper middle class white boys. There were a lot of things we were willing to give up and they got good educations. As more and more is cut and as "high expectations" comes to mean mediocre standards for all, not sure we can do it anymore. Maybe there will be better charters here sooner rather than later. There is one near by, which honestly is not any great shakes academically -- likely the equivalent of an average public school in the area, and its good reputation among parents is based really on two things -- they control (or get rid of) behavior problems before they consume a class and they continue to teach "fun" things and allow for time in the schedule for something besides reading and math.

I wrote about the 2010 lottery day in my personal statement for grad school. I very clearly remember the overwhelmingly sad feeling that followed all the build-up and excitement. It's tough, and I agree with you as well...I wish Orin's kids had gotten to go.

I think lottery preference should be given to faculty's families for the reasons you've outlined above; also, because schools are not diverse if the students are all poor or of one color. One of the great multicultural experiments of public schooling in our country should be to put people together from different circumstances, economic levels and skin colors in one classroom and figure out ways to learn together (and learn to live together). Giving faculty preference to admissions also has the possibility of increasing the school's awareness of the holistic effects a the workload and discipline system can exact on students. If the faculty's own children have to serve the same detentions and run the same nightly homework gauntlets as everyone else, I imagine you'd be getting some useful data from your teacher-parents about what's working, what isn't, and what it might take to make it better. The first step is building a sustainable no excuses charter school model that allows more teachers to set down roots and have those kids in the first place.

I think Chris K has a great point. However, I'm not totally sold on point A. Midday this week, our 9th graders were discussing school desegregation and the successfulness, or lack thereof, of MLK's "dream" in today's society. They were tasked with coming up with some thought-provoking questions for an upcoming discussion in their Speech and Composition class. However, in the five minutes allotted to the task, they had trouble coming up with any questions at all. And thus, we started our mini-Socratic seminar without any zest or excitement for the project. I started playing devil's advocate in an attempt to wake them up, asking questions like, "If it just creates more problems, why do children of different races have to go to school together?" or "People of your own race and circumstances understand you best, right? Why don't you just go to school with them?" All of a sudden our students got mad and jumped into the conversation defending desegregation with salient points and evidence from their recent readings. A tutors dream. However, a point was raised that MATCH has a mostly African American student population from many of the same neighborhoods, so was it really desegregated at all? The students pondered this for a bit and decided that was why we had tutors and teachers, to help diversify the bunch. Perhaps kid's with backgrounds like Orin's might be able to up the socioeconomic diversity of a school like MATCH. In addition, kids like Orin's have parents who, as staff, are guaranteed to be "bought in" to MATCH's mission and culture. Sometimes I get so frustrated working with kids that I care about so dearly when it is evident that their parents are in full opposition of many of the most important facets of MATCH culture. When parents invalidate the authority at MATCH and push against the culture, they are simultaneously letting their kids off the hook for the choices they make during the school day and cheating them out of getting the best education they can get. If staff children were enrolled, you would anticipate that their parents would be supportive of teachers and staff, which means that their children would be getting all of the benefits of a MATCH education. A spot for these kids would, in essence, be a guaranteed spot well spent. At the same time, middle class kids like Orin's, whose parents are most likely well-educated, are born with a leg up on their future educations simply because their parents went to college. And thus, they probably have a better shot, than most kids, in district schools because their parents will be able to guide them through and supplement any gaps in their educations. In addition, they will probably participate in enrichment activities like sports, music, and art and have the opportunity to engage in exciting summer programs. Simply, these kids have a much higher chance at public school success despite the numbers of their zip code. As staff members of a charter school, their parents are invested in the education of hundreds and thousands of kids that are positively affected by charters like MATCH and the amazing teachers turned out by programs like MTR. One can infer that staff parents care very deeply about the education of their own children and have the tools to ensure that any sort short-changing by district schools is overcome by a deep understanding of the fundamentals necessary for a good education. If charter schools exist to increase the number of kids who are getting a fair education in the United States, then the lottery, although heart-breaking in many ways, is the fairest way to get the job done. However, I certainly wish that Orin's children's numbers had been pulled, fair and square.

Boooooooooooooooooogus. If you allow any preference at all, you can't really call it a lottery. If gas station attendants had preference on the state lottery, who would buy tickets anymore? It ain't bad for faculty to send their kids to a charter school, but it ain't fair, or even just, to give them preference in the school in which they work. It undermines the whole premise of charter schools (at least how I understand it): that by utilizing different methodologies than public schools great changes can be achieved. This mission is premised on random selection to ensure the population is similar to the public schools, holding equal the student bodies and basing all relative academic growth on methodology and pedagogy, not cherry-picked students.

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