New Enrollment Systems Help Level Playing Field for Parents Choosing Public Schools
Report details lessons from Denver and New Orleans
Seattle, WA - New streamlined enrollment systems in Denver and New Orleans are creating a climate of fair play, transparency, and consistency for parents choosing charter and district public schools, according to a report released today by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington.
The report, Common Enrollment, Parents, and School Choice: Early Evidence from Denver and New Orleans, shows that parents in Denver said the system made the enrollment process more manageable. These systems are also providing important data about what parents really value and want more of. For example, in Denver, we learned that:
- Minority families select schools based on performance as much as white families.
- All parents prefer schools closer to home.
- Parents choose schools with some degree of racial diversity though white parents are less inclined to choose schools where their child would be in the minority.
CRPE researchers drew on parent surveys and focus groups, interviews with school and district leaders, and administrative data to examine how common enrollment systems are shaping parents’ experiences with school choice. Common enrollment (also known as universal or unified enrollment) allows families to submit a single, citywide application for both district and charter schools. A centralized assignment system matches students to schools based on their preferences.
Common enrollment systems are meant to streamline what are often confusing and demanding decentralized application processes and assure that students are assigned to schools in a fair and consistent manner. The report finds that common enrollment succeeded on these objectives in both Denver and New Orleans.
While parents reported using new information tools to compare schools and 80 percent or more were matched to one of their top three choices, parents said it was still a challenge to find the right school for their child and they want more detailed, personalized information to help them choose.
“The application is very simple,” said one Denver parent. “The hard part is choosing the right school for our kids.”
Parents also struggled with understanding the matching process. Some filled out their forms in ways that reduced the chances of their child receiving an optimal match. Many contended that they do not have enough quality schools to choose from. As one New Orleans parent said, “This [system] would be great if we had better choices."
“Common enrollment is providing important benefits but is just one part of making school choice work for families,” said Dr. Betheny Gross, research director at CRPE and lead author of the report. “This study confirms what we have been learning for years, that much more needs to be done to create more high-quality school options.”
The report notes that leaders in Denver and New Orleans are making efforts to help parents become more informed and confident choosers, and to use the data provided by the enrollment system to increase the number of good schools. The authors recommend that city education leaders target additional efforts to help parents understand and trust the matching process, continue to explore ways to reach parents with information tailored to their needs, and communicate to families about efforts to provide them with new quality schools.
On May 18, Betheny Gross will discuss common enrollment as part of a free, interactive Education Week webinar on helping parents navigate the school choice process. Register here.
Common Enrollment, Parents, and School Choice: Early Evidence from Denver and New Orleans by Betheny Gross, Michael DeArmond, and Patrick Denice, is available on crpe.org. The study is part of CRPE’s Making School Choice Work series.