Parents Increasingly Using School Consultants to Steer Kids

By Michelle Luce

In the New York Times, Rebecca Vevea writes about how some parents in the Chicago area are "Navigating Public School Admissions, With a Consultant's Help."

In Chicago, Christine Whitley, a public school parent, offers consulting service to those who would like guidance through the maze of school choice. After spending hours of research two years ago finding the right school for her daughter, she held her first workshop. She and Donna Bracey, founder of PREP Chicago, help parents learn about the options for their students.

Michelle Luce

What choices? It used to be that you sent your child to the school closest to you. Over the past 20 years things have changed, however. There are magnet, magnet cluster, charter, gifted, and classical schools. Some schools select students through computerized lottery but others, like classical and gifted schools, require admission testing because they offer accelerated curriculum.

Donna Bracey of PREP Chicago offers a 12 week program for rising kindergarteners. It covers all the basic kindergarten skills from colors and numbers to listening and following directions. "'We're like a Kaplan for 4-year-olds," Ms. Bracey said, referring to the company known for preparing high school students for the ACT and SATs. "It sounds kind of crazy. But we're really just responding to the situation at hand.'"

In the Chicago district where Ms. Whitley lives the odds are against a parent getting her choice. "Last year, the district received 11,184 applications for 1,733 seats in gifted and classical schools, and 38,438 applications for 3,471 seats in the city's magnet programs, a district spokeswoman said."

Not everyone thinks having public school consultants is a good idea. Noah Sobe, whose child attends a specialty school, is a professor of cultural and education policy studies at Loyola University. He has concerns. He wonders if consulting will provide "tools that parents might use to game the system."

Rebecca Labowitz, a Chicago Public School mother of a child attending a gifted school, blogs for CPS Obsessed. She said, "You take what you get and you might get nothing, and that doesn't really feel like choice to a parent." But, she said, "There still is a great need for parents to share information about schools. In this system, information is power."

Michelle Luce is a mother, teacher and a writer. She lives in Swansea, South Carolina.

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