As I write this, I have no idea where my fifth-grade daughter Samantha will go to middle school in the fall. By the time you read this—I will know.
If this doesn’t strike you as riveting, edge-of-your-seat drama, you haven’t attempted to raise a kid in the city of Seattle. So you might not know that just a handful of the public elementary schools rise above the field—and that they’re the ones in the expensive neighborhoods. Or that a couple of the public high schools perform exceptionally—for kids who score into the smart-kid tracks. Or that the public middle schools, well…completely suck.
Or sorta suck, or pretty much suck, or mostly suck, depending on whom you talk to. Mind you, I have zero evidence to back this assertion. In fact, the WASL scores for the public school Samantha has by now likely gotten into, Washington Middle School, are on the respectable end of adequate, and heading north. The principal there is uniformly regarded a superstar. My husband Tom and I know plenty of kids who have graduated from Washington and gone on to lead normal, healthy lives.
So why is it that the only middle school data running on endless loop through my brain are the anecdotes gleaned from 10 years’ worth of cocktail parties and soccer sidelines? “Did you hear that Zoe has 32 kids in her eighth-grade English class?” “Dinah’s youngest got offered drugs on her way out of her middle school orientation!” “We just went to our son’s parent-teacher conferences, and his science teacher didn’t know which kid he was.”
It’s every local parent’s parlor game of choice: Share and Compare Your Seattle Public School Nightmare, a game Tom and I have been addicted to since researching kindergartens for Samantha seven years ago. That’s when we began to learn that in Seattle, “school choice” meant “have your pick of any unpopular school!” That south enders like us, being geographically distant from the more moneyed northern neighborhoods and their higher-achieving schools, had a rich and varied spectrum of unpopular schools to choose from. And that it was, in fact, possible for an overeducated parent with the right blend of high academic standards and untreated OCD to tour 25 public elementary schools and seven private ones in the space of nine months.