Whether you’ve heard the term before or not, you probably know what a MacGuffin is. Popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, a MacGuffin is (in short) something that everybody wants but nobody understands. Take, for example, The Maltese Falcon, or “Rosebud” in Citizen Kane, or “the box” in Kiss Me Deadly (which is, by the way, available on Blu-ray at the Lewisville Public Library).
The MacGuffin has been a popular plot device in movies for decades, but most people don’t notice how often it is used in politics as well. One issue in particular has become a hot topic in recent school board campaigns in our area: “open enrollment”.
But before anyone gets any ideas as to whether they support or reject this idea, let’s figure out what it is and isn’t. Open enrollment, as actually practiced by most public school systems that have implemented it, refers to a district’s policy of allowing children from outside the school district to attend school there. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the ability to choose which school your child goes to within the district. Regardless as to how many people claim this is about “parental choice”, it has absolutely nothing to do with that and everything to do with using kids as cash crops.
In that sense, “open enrollment” is a misnomer in almost every case, since only certain students qualify for these programs. For example, to enroll in Coppell ISD’s extremely limited program (PDF) a student must:
Have 95% attendance from the most recent grading period (six weeks/semester).
Have passed every TAKS/STAAR test in the last year and every class in the last semester.
Have “no more than one disciplinary infraction” from the last grading period.
In other words, if you can sit down, shut up, and pass a standardized test, we’ll take the state-appropriated money that comes with you. Otherwise, take a hike. Additionally, enrollment is on a year-by-year, case-by-case basis. If one sibling qualifies but the other doesn’t, too bad. If a student fails a standardized test, regardless as to how many years he or she has been in Coppell schools, it’s back to the old district.
After all, no district in LISD’s position could ever let every parent choose where his or her kid goes to school. Who would ever go to the “poor” schools? Rather than address the serious issues our district is facing (i.e. the massive lack of funding from the state, courtesy of Republican lawmakers hiding under the cheap guise of “efficient spending”), advocates for this idea see it as a business-like, “market-based” cure-all. There are two problems, however: Firstly, it only shifts the problem around without fixing it (something we see in the private sector quite often) and secondly, it ignores one crucial fact: A school is not a damn business.
If ever a political issue could be called a MacGuffin, it would be this one. So many officials and parents have spent so long chasing this issue that nobody remembers what it’s for, nor do they care to find out. Too many people, especially elected officials, use the gravitational pull of words like “open”, “choice”, and “market-based” to lure parents into thinking they can miraculously solve their problems without funding education properly. In movies, MacGuffins like these never pay off for the characters searching for them: The falcon is a fake, “Rosebud” is a cheap sled, and “the box” contains an unstable nuclear device. There’s no reason to think our own MacGuffin would turn out any differently.
From the TEA: Intra-district transfers: Texas school boards may adopt intra-district transfer policies that allow students to transfer between schools within the same district under Texas Education Code §25.031. Of the 1,031 school districts in Texas, 1,028 districts have adopted intra-district transfer policies. Many multi-campus districts by policy or practice also provide an “open enrollment” period during the school year when students may enroll in any school within their resident district on a “space available” basis.
From my own child's experience, LISD severely restricts intra-district transfers. They have a policy, but it is very limited.
It's a tricky thing to pull off, because you run the risk of having parents move their children on the basis of things like demographics (race, ethnicity, and economic status) or a surrogate like some of the (mostly useless) accountability ratings.
I don't know for sure what the current policy is at LISD, but off the top of my head, I could support a parent being able to move a child if they one or more of the below criteria:
- A certain course is not offered in the zoned school and is offered elsewhere - A class schedule doesn't work out in the zoned school - The child is a victim of bullying, and desires to transfer - The child or parents have incompatibility with staff and are not at fault - The child lives closer to another school than to their zoned school, and there is room at the other school in that grade level. - A parent is a school district employee, and the child will attend the school where their parent is working
In addition to the above, you might have some certain small percentage of wildcard spots, awarded on a lottery basis, and available only for schools with adequate space for each given grade level.
Regarding other "open enrollment" programs, Garland's program is a grandfathered-in desegregation program that they rebranded as "school choice". Both GISD and FWISD rate lower on almost every TEA accountability measure (AP programs, commended scores, etc.) than LISD, so I'm not sure why we should use them as a model.
Regarding the exceptional cases, there will always be some (I'm fairly sure employees of other districts can get exemptions) but most of these examples would only solve short-term issues for individual cases (i.e. squeaky wheels) while ignoring the bigger picture. We already have a problem (as fvaughan will no doubt testify) with certain courses not being offered at every school. Open enrollment in that case would be another burden-shifting "we don't have to offer X class here because they can just go to that high school" tool. Transferring bully victims doesn't solve the problem; the bully (or bullies) will simply pick another target. If someone has issues with the staff and the staff is at fault, you have a staff problem. Moving that one child won't solve it because you'll still have the same problem.
In the long term, open enrollment (of any kind, under any name) will not actually solve these problems. Only proper funding and sound leadership will do that. -BC
Highland Park has open enrollment in their offered AP classes. LISD does not.
- We asked if my child could go to Marcus or Flower Mound to take AP classes not offered at LHS- this request was denied
- We asked if our child could go to Marcus or Flower Mound to take dual credit classes not offered at LHS- this request was denied
If the administration is unwilling to offer the same level of classes in each high school, what is the harm in letting the kids that want these classes take them at other schools in the district? Why the resistance?
There's a big difference between letting students move between high schools during the day to take advanced classes that aren't offered at their campus and "open enrollment".
I really do sympathize with the issue of AP classes. I came into college with 24 hours of credit from classes I took at LHS, and I knew a few students who switched campuses during the day to take classes that weren't offered at LHS (i.e. AP Microeconomics). Your child definitely should have been able to attend specific classes that weren't offered, but switching high schools based on one or two classes in a specific semester isn't feasible.
But the real answer to that problem should be to offer the same AP classes at all schools across the district. That will cost money, of course, but it's worth it. "Open enrollment" isn't about that at all. As practiced, it doesn't address those issues, and as advocated (as a "u-pick-em" school system) it has no real limitations. Don't like the fact that your child is failing? Must be bad teachers, move them to School X (we already see too much of this because of the joke that is Winfree Academy). Want your kid to be on a better athletic team? Switch to the winning team at School Y. -BC
As someone who has a family member who tried to transfer to Marcus to take their ROTC program, let it be known that LISD does not openly encourage these transfers. According to our current school board president, all of the "ROTC programs are the same", despite the fact they represent different branches of the Armed Forces. If my nephew had been allowed to attend the ROTC program at Marcus he could have entered Air Force at a higher rank. According to an ex-school board member, they "didn't care what happened to ***** (my nephews name) after he leaves LISD". The vote was unanimous across the board.
My nephew does live closer to Marcus than Lewisville and the Marcus ROTC commander had given his approval for my nephew to attend as there was plenty of room in the program. Due to my nephew having almost a 4.0 GPA, having no disciplinary or attendance issues, he said he was excited that my nephew was wanting to attend the Marcus program.
There were 2 hearings held on this issue - the last one where our attorney came before the LISD board. It was apparent that our board - from 3 years ago - did not want anyone from Lewisville attending Marcus. The vote took 4 minutes.