I got the text as I was pulling into my driveway after work: My school choice results were available to view in OneApp, New Orleans’ universal enrollment system. I’d been waiting all week for them, refreshing the EnrollNOLA website at random intervals. Already prepared, I logged in, followed the links and, suddenly, felt like someone dropped a piano onto my car. My daughter didn’t receive any placement. We’d have to go through Round 2 of OneApp, when open seats at good schools are even harder to secure.
Every year around this time, my great city is awash with frustration. Here it is, another year where lots of students find out they didn’t get in to the schools that their parents believed were the best fit for them. All over social media and the news, you hear complaints about how awful the OneApp process is and why it needs to be done away with — presumably, so that all kids will be able to go wherever they want. Meanwhile, families who DID get the schools they wanted keep quiet amid the clamor.
I get the frustration. I feel it myself. If you’re not frustrated that families aren’t getting into the schools they want—the schools they’re depending on to give their children a good education—something’s wrong. But if you’re one of the people calling for pitchforks and torches about OneApp, I’m here to tell you that you’re pissing in the wrong pot. The problem we have isn’t OneApp, which seems to be working the way it’s supposed to, even if we’re not always happy with the individual results. The problem is, there aren’t enough great school options for the children of New Orleans.
A year ago, I was grappling with the news that my daughter’s school was closing. I understood the school board’s decision and her school’s closure alleviated me of the burden of pulling her from a school that hadn’t done right by her educationally for over a year. My husband and I turned our attention to finding a new school through OneApp. Having previously worked for EnrollNOLA, been an enrollment manager for a charter management organization, and helped plenty of other families with school choice as a Navigator for EdNavigator, I knew OneApp backwards and forwards. I figured it would be a cinch.
We decided that we were looking for schools that met a few key criteria. It had to have a letter grade of C or better, practice restorative discipline, do a good job of listening to students and families, have low teacher turnover, and—my personal top priority—not require girls to wear plaid uniforms (that’s a topic for another post but to sum up, they are gender discriminative and illustrate another form of “pink tax”).
There are 12 schools within a two-mile radius of my home. None of them has a state grade higher than a C. Only one of them is a school that I would recommend to other families. We ended up with four schools on our list: Arthur Ashe, Alice Harte, Morris Jeff, and KIPP Central City Academy. After some further debate, we reluctantly added Audubon Charter despite my mixed feelings about selective admission schools. My daughter would be prioritized for seats since she came from a closing school, so we saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to get her into one of the highest-demand schools.
Then, she didn’t get into any of them.
So what if we got rid of OneApp? How would things have been different? Most likely, I would have applied to five individual schools at five different times, waited for five individual letters back—and my daughter still might not have a school placement. This actually happened, pre-OneApp, seven years ago when I applied for her to go to pre-kindergarten. I applied to three different schools and she didn’t get a seat at any of them. At the time, a friend of mine called in a favor (without my consent) and lo and behold, she suddenly got a placement at a school that she was originally denied access to. Was that a fair process? Is that the way we want to go back to handling enrollment, with people with connections or resources getting an advantage—even if they don’t fully realize it?
OneApp has eliminated nearly all of that shadiness. Parents don’t have to take a day off work to leave their children’s personal information all over town, only to be denied a seat because their child has special needs, the family speaks a different language, or the lady at the front desk has a problem with the way you looked when you walked in that day. Shirley’s child isn’t going to get a seat because her third cousin’s coworker has an aunt whose brother-in-law is in the same fraternity with a man who’s married to the principal of the school she wants her child to go to. We all are guaranteed the same opportunity to get placed at a school that we ranked, from “this is the only one I’ll accept” to “I can live with it.”
I think this is a better way. But it can’t fix the larger problem of too many people wanting the same schools, because there aren’t enough great schools to go around. This year, schools like Edward Hynes and Alice Harte received as many as 14 applications for every 1 seat—about the same ratio as universities like Princeton and Yale. Most applicants are just not going to get in. And personally, even though I’m disappointed (and stressed, and anxious, and…), I’m glad there’s nothing I or any other parent could have done to cut the line.