28 February 2011

Magnet Lottery System

Dear School Board Members; (email: davisph@cps-k12.org )

Please do not ruin your successful magnet programs by changing to a straight lottery enrollment system. My children are already in our chosen CPS magnet programs, so your decision will not directly effect my family. However, I do think the introduction of the lottery could result in young families leaving the City.

Seven years ago we were facing this decision of which school would be best for our oldest son. Our neighborhood school was Washington Park Elementary, a struggling school that was rumoured to be scheduled for closure. We considered private schools like Mercy Montessori but we could not afford them. It seemed to us that our options were either a CPS magnet program, or move out of the City. We visited several of the CPS magnet programs and we were completely thrilled with what we saw at each of them. In the end we decided the closest magnet program, Fairview was best for us and our son.

At that time we did not have to wait in line, but merely took a tour and then added our names to a waiting list a year before school would start for our child. The system was simple and painless. Also as you know, at that time, the school used the Tauber index to admit children partially based on race and gender. This system worked well for us as it kept the diversity of the student population, yet required some commitment by the parents to think ahead and at least visit the school and learn about it before applying. However, as you well know, because of court decisions, CPS's use of the Tauber Index's use was ended in 2007.

At about the same time the racial quotas were removed, CPS told Fairview administration to end the waiting list method of enrollment and made them go to the first-come first-serve method which resulted in a 24 hour camp out the first year. This has now grown into several nights of camping.

Now, I don't like the idea of making parents camp out, but the only worse enrollment method would be a straight lottery. The parents must keep some control. They cannot be left to the pure chance of a random drawing. If I can think back to when I was a younger parent, the one thing that kept us here, was the knowledge that we had the power to choose. We could do things like visit early and talk with the principal so we would have a reasonable chance of getting the school that fit our particular child's needs. The fact that we had these choices made us strong supporters of CPS.

If the Board insist on moving to a lottery system, then please at least keep the requirement that the parents physically visit and learn about the school before they are qualified to enter the lottery. Also it is only common sense that siblings continue to have enrollment priority. To make parents endure a lottery for every child would surely be demoralizing not to mention that the results could be a transportation disaster with kids from one family attending several elementary schools.

Remember that parents know what is best for their child. If you keep as much power in their hands you will end up with a much stronger school district.



Mike said...

I fully agree. There must sufficient control retained by the parent and some reasonable check or validation that they are interested in the unique program offered, not just picking based on ratings. Having just camped out at Fairview this fall, it was a fantastic experience. I have never been around so many adults and heard so little complaining. We are fortunate that we had the means to take off work, watch children, and afford frigid-weather camping gear.

The process could be improved. One alternative would be to continue with FCFS, accept there will be campers, but manage it so families can plan and prepare.

A drastic and careless change has the potential to break one of the best things CPS has going.

Any word on change to sibling priority?

VisuaLingual said...

Every time I hear these stories about CPS, it blows my mind. What about all the parents who can't take time off work or find a sitter or whatever it is that you need to do in order to try to do right by your kid? Are these kinds of situations common in other places?

CityKin said...

Well, what about the parents who cannot afford private school? What about the parents who have severe illness, or who have no family support, or who cannot help with homework etc.... Can the public school system make all kids equal?

Bottom line is CPS enrollment must leave some control in the parent's hands or else they will leave... We are not cogs in a lottery machine. We know which program will work best for our kids. It is silly to leave it up to complete chance.

I really don't know how other cities do it, but I would like to find out.

VisuaLingual said...

I just think it's crazy that these parents camp out, as if the right school were a rock concert.

This current system seems really unfair, but I understand your point about the lottery.

Mike said...

It's about having control of the situation. The lottery takes control away from the family. Our choice were 1.) neighborhood school (failing, not an option frankly) 2.) private school (3 kids, expensive since we weren't interested in parochial) 3.) move to another district (expensive and we love our neighborhood). We really wanted the language program that Fairview offered.

What ever happens there need to be a reasonable amount of certainty that those who really want to attend a certain school can.

We started planning months in advance. It was still stressful. I wondered what I would do if some tragic event conflicted with waiting in line. What would I choose?

If someone really wants something, they can make it happen. I would help out someone who truly and sincerely wanted their child to attend a school by standing for them for a few hours. This is why we build and nurture a circle of support around us.

@VisualLingual: it is way more important than a rock concert.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely with needing some certainty in order to keep fmailies in the city. We were the pyscho parents who took the tour of our daughter's future elementary when she was 8 months old because we were trying to decide where to buy a house. If we didn't like the school, we weren't buying a house in the city - even 4+ years out from actually going to the school.
- Dan

Anonymous said...

Great letter. The net effect of this change in policy will be to drive families who care about their child(ren)'s education (middle and low income, white and black) out of the district.

The biggest irony is that they're using a frying pan to swat a fly. There are three schools where the camping out has resulted in significant racial swings from balanced to imbalanced: Fairview, Dater, and Sands. Which happen to be located in predominantly white areas. Other magnet schools are predominantly black. A minor fix could eliminate the problem in these three schools without throwing the entire system into disarray.

What I've read in the new plan is no sibling priority and schools are expected to do intensive education for parents about its educational program AFTER students have been accepted. No tour required; registration by computer, with terminals provided in schools for families who do not have access at home or at the library.

What I haven't heard is if there's a limit on how many schools one can apply for--what's to prevent someone from throwing their hat in the ring of every school with good scores? This could throw registration everywhere into chaos.

Parents who care won't be willing to leave it up to chance that (a) their child will get into the program they want, and (b) subsequent children can attend the same school as their older sibling. These families will either move out to the suburbs where they don't have to put up with this nonsense or not locate in the city in the first place.

Anonymous said...

In going back to the presentation to the Board for tentative recommendations, sibling priority would be part of the new plan.

I still don't think that parents will be willing to sit through monthly lotteries on the chance that they'll get lucky.

CityKin said...

Response from Eve Bolton:

Thank you for your comments and insights regarding the CPS Magnet School Application Process. As reported in the Enquirer, the Board has received an update from our Magnet Community/Administration Committee. In that update, a few alternatives were presented and analyzed. Besides maintaining the status quo, an adjusted lottery (which could include a required school tour and/or principal interview with parents/guardians) and a straight lottery were included.

The Board has referred the matter to its Policy Committee and the Administration for further review. No decision has yet been made by the Board. The Board will have another public discussion of the matter over the next several weeks. A decision will need to be made by the Board regarding the Superintendent’s recommendation at either our regular Board meeting on March 21 or April 11, 2011.

The Superintendent’s Message on February 10, 2011, included the following summary of the issue:

Proposed Magnet Application Change

After years of study and parent and community engagement, the administration is recommending possible changes to the district’s first-come, first-served application process for CPS’ magnet schools. If approved by the Board of Education, CPS could switch to a lottery application process – similar to the process used at grade 9 for students to enter high school – beginning with magnet applications for the 2012-13 school year.

For additional information, please see the CPS News Release or the Magnet School Application Process Presentation, both dated February 9, 2011

I encourage you to continue to communicate with the Board in writing or to speak directly to the Board during the Hearing the Public time reserved at our upcoming Board meetings on March 14 and March 21, 2011.


Eve Bolton

Cincinnati Public Schools
2651 Burnet Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45219
(513) 363-0036

Kris said...

Thanks so much for writing and posting this letter. I completely agree and know that many other parents do as well.

After hearing that the Board wants to vote on the lottery within the next month or so I contacted the parent group at Fairview (the school we've been hoping our child will be able to go to). We actually met Wednesday night to discuss the issue and what we plan to do going ahead (we know we need to act fast). A few parents have been sitting in on recent Board meetings and here's what we know so far. The Administration wants a lottery, plain and simple so at this stage our plan is to convince them that they MUST adopt a hybrid lottery (as Citykin suggested with school tours, interviews, etc.).

When we met the other night there were so many questions brought up about how the Board will be structuring the lottery. One parent who had just attended an open Board meeting said that in her opinion, the Board has no idea how the lottery is really going to look. On the positive side it sounds like a few of the board members are leaning towards a no vote, basically meaning they need more time to figure all of this out, to really shape the process instead of just pushing it through. That's definitely hopeful. I think that they've agreed that siblings will also be able to attend whatever school you get into -- I know that is a big concern and I'm pretty sure they aren't changing that.

Also at the meeting we agreed that we need to get as many of the other magnet schools involved as we can. I myself contacted the Dater PTA this morning. We know this can't just be Fairview parents and we also don't want to tick the Board off. We need them to listen to us and work with us. Sending letters to the Board members (like the one Citykin so perfectly penned), getting other families involved, and attending the Board meetings are really great things to be doing right now. This is a really emotional issue, believe me I get that,but we have to be as cool and smart about it as we possibly can to get them to hear us.

I'll let you know when I find out more news. Kris

CityKin said...

A committee of the Cincinnati Public School Board recently recommended the institution of a lottery system for the admission of students to their magnet schools. I submit that this is a disastrous idea. The logic behind this recommendation seems to be that a lottery is more fair. But while it may seem more accessible, it is certainly not more fair. Since when is the luck of the draw or a gamble considered more fair than sacrifice and hard work? Under the current system, all parents have the opportunity to enroll their child in one of the magnet schools: they only need to wait in line once, others can help and they have months to plan ahead for work and childcare arrangements.

Our first child is 11 months old, and we specifically moved to the city because of the elite public magnet schools available. The day the board votes for any sort of lottery is the day our search for a new home in the suburbs begins, because I refuse to leave my child’s education to the luck of the draw.

Matthew Wallace, College Hill


Anonymous said...

I live in Portland, OR. We have a lottery system/school choice, which many parents like to call "school chance." To enroll your child in a focus option (magnet) school, a parent is required to attend a mandatory meeting and sign a statement of understanding. There is a sibling preference.

Here's more info:


It's not a terrible system. Frankly, the real question is why are middle class parents fleeing neighborhood schools and how can CPS make neighborhood schools more desireable to parents who have the ability and wherewithal to make a choice. That's what PPS is working on right now.

Good luck CPS parents!


Anonymous said...

If you're interested in other districts, here's how it works in Seattle:


And in Minneapolis:


I believe both districts have a lottery system.

My understanding of San Fransisco Unified is that they don't have a neighborhood guarantee, it's all lottery:


Again, good luck!