Nov 4, 2008

Recap: The LAUSD Choices Program Informational Fair

As I mentioned previously, the LAUSD Choices Program Informational Fair was held this past weekend. The main attraction was the three seminars, which were each held three times so that you could attend each one, in whatever order you chose. I know for sure that two of the seminars addressed Magnet schools and Gifted/High-Ability Magnet schools. I think the third seminar covered the Public School Choice program, which allows children whose local school is classified as needing academic improvement to transfer to a better school.

I didn't know what to expect at the fair, but I did come away with the information I was hoping to get: details on the application and selection process for magnet schools. I attended the Magnet school seminar and learned some things I didn't know about the priority points system. For instance, there are a maximum of 12 Wait List or Matriculation points, but you can add points for other criteria. You get 3 points if a sibling will be enrolled in the same school. And you get 4 points each if the school is designated as "Predominantly Hispanic, Black, Asian or Other Non-Anglo" or overcrowded. Thus, a child could have a maximum of 23 points at the time of application. I'd been under the impression that the maximum was 12, but it turns out that's just for the Wait List/Matriculation points. (For more info on the points system, see page 3 of the Choices Program Brochure (pdf).)

It was interesting to learn how the selection process works. The children with the most points are accepted first, and only when there are more children with the same number of points than there are slots does it become a random lottery. So, for example, say you have a school with 100 openings and 150 applicants, as follows:
  • 20 applicants - 23 points
  • 25 applicants - 20 points
  • 30 applicants - 15 points
  • 50 applicants - 12 points
  • 25 applicants - less than 12 points
The applicants with 23, 20 and 15 points all get in, so that's 75 slots filled.

That leaves 50 applicants with 12 points competing for 25 slots. That's when the random lottery comes into play. It's also where race comes into play: There are two lists, one for "white" and one for "non-white." And each school has a certain racial percentage to reach - some are 70% non-white, while some are 60% non-white. So the way I understood the explanation, the number of kids that come off of the two lists in the lottery process is determined by the number of such kids needed to achieve the desired racial profile of the school. And you really only have two choices for race in the application process: white or non-white. So for a child who's of mixed race, checking one box or the other could be the difference between getting in or not getting in.

The lecturer recommended checking a box at the end of the application to allow your name and address to be shared with other magnet schools. That way, if you're wait listed at the school you applied to, other schools that have slots to fill will be able to call you and ask if you'd like to attend their school instead. Declining such an invitation does not affect your wait list priority points. But the lecturer suggested that before you accept such an invitation, you call your preferred school first and find out what your chances of getting in there are, because you will be removed from the wait list once you decide to go to another school.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to attend the other seminars. We attended the fair as a family, and the boys were ready to go home after the Magnet seminar. That was fine, since I'd learned what I really wanted to know. But if I'd realized that there was a hall where each school had a representative, I would have stopped by some of those tables first. However, the good thing about starting my research early is that I'll be able to attend next year's fair before Alex starts kindergarten, and I'll have a better idea of what to expect then.

I had a couple of friends who also attended the fair, so if they tell me anything noteworthy from the other seminars, I'll be sure to pass the info along.

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