February 25, 2013

Gentrification update: Hiring a consultant to get your kid into the right public or charter school

Emma Brown, Washington Post - When Capitol Hill mom E.V. Downey went into business as an education consultant, she thought she’d cater to parents angling for advice on admission to private schools.

Instead, almost all of her clients are clamoring for help getting their children into a good D.C. public school.

...The District takes pride in offering its residents one of the widest varieties of school choice in the country. Only about one-quarter of students attend their assigned neighborhood school; the rest choose out-of-boundary schools, magnets or charters.

...In Washington, choice also means gambling. The most sought-after schools don’t have enough space to meet demand, and winning a seat in one often comes down to winning the lottery. Literally.

One lottery, for admission to out-of-boundary traditional schools, closes Monday night. Then there are separate lotteries for each of the dozens of charter schools that attract more applicants — often thousands more applicants — than they can accommodate.

...More than 40 percent of the District’s 80,000 students attend charter schools, but students in the traditional system also make deliberate choices, as more than half do not attend their assigned neighborhood school.

.... Most D.C. families don’t have the wherewithal to pay for school advice, raising questions about whether school choice highlights a divide between parents who have the information they need to navigate the system — and the ability to transport their kids across town to a better school — and parents who don’t.

That divide is increasingly visible as the city gentrifies, attracting middle-class families who often don’t see struggling neighborhood schools as viable options.

...It’s a niche business, so far concentrated on Capitol Hill. But Downey hopes to expand to other neighborhoods, such as Brookland and Petworth, with many families who are desperate for school advice and have the money to pay for it.

... Race and class are two issues that simmer in the background — and occasionally burst to the forefront — of her conversations with parents. Downey steers parents away from schools that focus on teaching poor children, for example, saying that even top-ranked and much-lauded schools — such as KIPP DC and D.C. Prep — “wouldn’t feel like a very good fit” for a middle-class family.

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