Schools Cut Tours

This is the time of year when Seattle Public Schools enrolls students for the fall, and normally the district offers a bevy of school tours that allow families to see classrooms in action. Not this year. Parents who look at the district Web site may be surprised to find no mention of school tours. Instead, the district has published a schedule of open houses to be held in the evenings and on Saturdays—not during the school day, when parents would get an opportunity to observe actual teaching. Some tours will still happen, but many schools will only offer one or two, instead of four or five or more, as they used to. The district has made this change quietly and without explanation. The reason is clear, though: The district wants parents to accept whatever school they're given under the new assignment plan without looking around further. Hamilton International Middle School Principal Christopher Carter says as much in a recent e-mail to a parent. The school will be holding only one open house and one tour, he wrote, because the new assignment plan means that "students living within the neighborhood boundaries will be assigned to Hamilton. Thus, the need to host school tours is minimized." But that's not necessarily the case. Under the plan, students will receive a preliminary assignment at the end of February based on where they live. However, they can still request a different school, which will be considered according to space availability. Now, though, even parents who accept their kids' assignments will have fewer opportunities to check out those schools. It's a foolish strategy for the district, which is missing out on the chance to make parents feel good about their assignments and get behind the new plan. Instead, the district is giving parents the message that they're stuck with what they get, like it or not.

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