Ch. 3 - Equal Access: Creating Fair and Transparent Assignment Systems (HFR '11)

January 2012

Parents’ perceptions of district choice reform will be shaped by their experiences navigating the student enrollment and assignment process. If parents cannot trust the enrollment system, if their children don’t get assigned to the schools they prefer, and if some parents find a way to subvert the system, the choice system and likely any other reforms the district is implementing along with choice will be undercut. Designing an enrollment system for citywide parent choice that avoids pitfalls is harder than most administrators imagine.

In this chapter, Tom DeWire of Baltimore Public Schools draws on the experiences of choice plans in Baltimore, New York, and Boston. DeWire argues that districts designing a new assignment system should first consider what they value. Is it important that historic feeder patterns be preserved? Are there concerns about students crossing gang territories? Should school populations be engineered for diversity? Are neighborhood schools so important that students should be given geographic preferences? The complicated yet essential task of defining priorities will undoubtedly trigger debate in the community and among charter school leaders.