My ten-year-old tore open the envelope, a slightly unhinged smile of anticipation on his face, and pulled out the sheet of paper inside. I held my breath. The paper rattled slightly in his hands.
I would have snatched it from him, but my own hands were shaking too much. “What’s it say?”
“I don’t…. know?” He handed me the letter, and I understood his confusion instantly, with dismay: the middle school he had been matched with was not on the list of the schools that we had ranked.
“Oh. Well…I guess…” I looked at his deeply baffled face and screwed up my courage to finish the sentence. “You didn’t get into any of the schools on our list, honey, so they….they put you in this one. But we can –”
He didn’t hear the rest, though. He was sobbing too loudly.
The rest of that April afternoon was a bit of a blur. Tears and texts, as all of his friends’ parents texted me with their matched school: “447! You?” “51! First choice!” Except for our closest friends, we chose not to respond. Two of his best friends, though, both stellar students and cheerful, polite kids with the requisite good test scores, had found themselves in the same situation as my son, and came over ashen and crying.
We ended up having a damp dinner at the local burger joint, our children drowning their sorrows in shakes while their friends and their families, a few tables away, celebrated their good news.
We, the parents of these “unlucky” sons, were drowning our sorrows too, with something a bit stronger than milkshakes. Some of us were angry. Emails were sent. Others were grim, despairing. “We’re going to have to move out of the city,” one groaned. Another mentioned homeschooling, followed by hysterical laughter. (Nobody mentioned going to the underperforming school where we had been placed; perhaps we should have sent them there anyway, there’s an argument for that, a very long one, or maybe a simple one: but that’s not what this piece is about.)
This piece is about what happens when the school choice process sloshes you around in its mysterious and complicated maw and then spits you right out. (more…)