David Frum

02.18.13

Applying to Kindergarten

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In recent years, charter schools have become a growing form of public education in this country. Their appeal is obvious – they allow parents to choose where they send their children to school.

Although these schools are designed to be open to any student who chooses to go, Thomson Reuters found that many have stringent application processes.

Students may be asked to submit a 15-page typed research paper, an original short story, or a handwritten essay on the historical figure they would most like to meet. There are interviews. Exams. And pages of questions for parents to answer, including: How do you intend to help this school if we admit your son or daughter?

Applying to a public school is not a new phenomenon. In New York City, students have the option to apply to elementary schools and middle schools, with a mandatory application process for high schools. The process often has similar requirements as many charter schools, and vary based upon what the individual school deems is an adequate system.  

The Specialized High Schools (which require an SAT-like test to be admitted) have been a staple of the New York City public education system since the 1930s.

It is no surprise that New York City has arguably one of the best public education systems of any major American city.

School choice and stringent application processes allow for gifted students to shine in school zones where they would normally just be another failing number. Charter schools are far from a perfect system, and there are some disturbing elements that must be tended to.

Thousands of charter schools don't provide subsidized lunches, putting them out of reach for families in poverty. Hundreds mandate that parents spend hours doing "volunteer" work for the school or risk losing their child's seat. In one extreme example the Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove, Illinois, mandates that each student's family invest in the company that built the school - a practice the state said it would investigate after inquiries from Reuters.