By the time we arrived—five minutes late—the school’s basement was packed. As I turned my eyes to the lectern, I wondered at the speed of childhood. My son turns three this summer, and yet, here we were, jammed into this basement to hear one of D.C.’s best charter schools explain why we ought to send him to them next year. On a Saturday, no less!
Even though it was a chilly February day, the room was hot; my one-year-old daughter squirmed in my arms and pulled off her hat. The room’s temperature brought everyone to fidgeting with our scarves and sweaters—young, old, black, brown, white, parents, kids, male, and female. As we all peeled off layers, the room’s impressive diversity came into focus. In a town as racially, residentially, socially, culturally, and economically segregated as D.C., it was an encouraging sight. I want my kids to attend a school that looks like this, I thought.
Except this was just an information session to encourage parents to apply for the school’s admissions lottery. Only a tiny fraction of the families in that packed basement will ever receive a spot at the school. Who knows how that small slice will look?
School choice—exemplified by charter schools—has changed the relationship between parents, neighborhoods, communities, and schools. And D.C.’s experiment with choice is as fully developed as almost any other public school district in the United States. That day, I stood there primarily as a parent and (to a lesser degree) as a former first-grade teacher, not as someone who writes about public education for a living. But on Monday, that moment spilled into my day job. It’s been on my mind ever since.