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Danielle Dreilinger, a reporter in New Orleans, describes the mechanisms used by three high-performing charter schools in New Orleans to separate the wheat from the chaff and get the students they want.
These three charters have figured out how to remain high-performing.
Each deploys a unique set of requirements so complicated that parents have made spreadsheets to keep track of the steps, which, as per the schools’ websites and extensive conversations with staff, include some combination of:
Parent attendance at a meeting
A questionnaire filled out by the parent showing they understand the school’s curriculum
An application hand-delivered to the school during business hours
A portfolio of the student’s work
The child’s school attendance record
Scores from a single sitting of a standardized exam, with no retests allowed
Within these details are more details. Lusher applicants, for example, must submit a profile detailing the student’s experience and interests in the arts, even if the student is only 4 years old. The school office will not accept applications from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., lunchtime for prospective parents with day jobs.
For kindergarten applicants, Lake Forest requires a hand-drawn self-portrait, a second piece of artwork and a handwriting sample. The artwork may not be three-dimensional or include food items such as macaroni, and it can’t be a sheet from a coloring book. Lake Forest also specifies a pocketed folder of a particular color, which changes each year; for 2016, it was red.
All these activities earn points on a scorecard, called a “matrix” by staff. If children don’t meet a minimum total, they are declared ineligible. Despite the extra pieces and activities, test scores make up the largest share of the possible point total. Lusher posted its scoring matrix online this year; Lake Forest did not.
Audubon has the same kind of point system for third grade and up. Below third grade, there’s no exam or scorecard. Operations manager Alisa Dupre emphasized that the school is not academically selective in the early grades.
But families are disqualified if they do not attend a curriculum meeting, to which they may not arrive late. Signup for these meetings is online; according to the Eventbrite website, parents were required to show their drivers license, auto insurance and auto registration if they wanted to park at one meeting location.
Further, this year Audubon had a double process for preschool admission. Getting in early is a big deal because those children automatically advance to elementary, where they typically fill about 60 percent of the kindergarten seats, Dupre said.
“School choice” does not mean that parents get to choose. It means that schools choose their students.