My oldest daughter is 4 years old, and we recently completed our first OneApp.
We listed 7 choices for pre-k programs and she was accepted in spot number 4. Although I have some mostly-logistical reservations about sending my child to her matched school, I will say that I’m feeling pretty good about the OneApp process overall.
As local parents know, OneApp and school enrollment in New Orleans get a lot of criticism. It’s not hard to understand why. In fact, for the 2021-22 school year, it was harder for a rising kindergartener to get into Audubon Gentilly than it was for a high school graduate to get into the University of Southern California (USC). (10% match vs 12% acceptance.) If you’ve watched Operation Varsity Blues you know that USC is a very in-demand school.
So let’s get back to OneApp.
I didn’t change my mind at some point and realize that our fourth choice was actually the best option for my daughter. But I am feeling good that the process is working to promote parent choice, even if it means my own child didn’t get our first one.
Before becoming a New Orleans mom, I became a New Orleans teacher. I moved to New Orleans a few months before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and started my teaching career at a traditional public school. After a year in Houston, I returned to New Orleans and have been working in education here for the past 15 years. I know that teachers are working incredibly hard every day for our students, and that a school’s accountability rating is likely not the most predictive measure of an individual child’s experience in an individual school.
I’m not reflecting today on the merits of a fully charter system over a traditional one, or to tell you what I think of the progress and failures of post-Katrina reforms. But I will say that I value having choice in where my children will attend school.
From a parent perspective, I know that OneApp is not a pretty process.
The website and school profiles leave something to be desired, and it can be challenging to find straightforward answers to pressing questions. Additionally, while we have some of the most incredible public school options in the country, the availability of language immersion, arts integration, and A-rated schools does not nearly meet demand.
However, in contrast to the user experience, what’s happening behind the scenes is cutting-edge. OneApp uses a sophisticated matching algorithm based on research from a Nobel Prize-winning team of economists. The algorithm corrects for mistakes made by earlier charter-approving school systems and prevents the need for families to preference anything other than their real preferences.
If cool algorithms aren’t your thing, let’s consider the alternate to centralized enrollment. This part does not require an imagination.
Rather, this is what happened before OneApp:
As New Orleans started becoming a charter district, families would apply to each school individually. Some schools accepted students on a first-come, first-served basis. Others didn’t. A school’s enrollment criteria would be expected to align with its charter authorization, but the process was all over the place. Parents with resources like time and money would figure out how to get their kids into highly sought after programs. As a white parent with white children, these types of systems and practices overwhelmingly benefit families like my own.
With the introduction of OneApp a decade ago, New Orleans public school enrollment became much more organized and moderately more fair. To be clear, there are still many barriers in reaching an equitable system; it is far from perfect. School admissions criteria like kindergarten test scores and geographic priorities are problematic. White students continue to be over-represented in A and B-rated programs, although data trends from some schools give me hope.
But what about next school year?
If you feel discouraged about your child’s public school options for next year, I’d like to offer some encouragement and a few practical suggestions.
- Get your child’s waitlist sorted out. Families change their plans and waitlists will move in the next few months. Stay up-to-date about your child’s placement on waitlists so you can anticipate if you may receive a call soon.
- For Round 2 (K-12) or Open Enrollment (early childhood) consider schools that were not on your original list. Start with the C-rated schools; they are often quite good. You can see which sites have availability in K-12 here and early childhood here.
- Provide feedback to NOLA Public Schools, or get in touch with your elected board member. Change happens rapidly here and parent voices matter.
If you need to vent first, I get it. Let’s pour a large glass of wine, call our parent-friends, and discuss how impossible it is to get into our first choice schools. Let’s be uncertain about the enrollment process, but not dismissive. Let’s consider how our own areas of expertise may be able to support a local school. And let’s also consider that our temporary uncomfortability may be worth the tradeoff to prevent our own version of the varsity blues.