A number of cities across the country are trying to make school choice work better for families by adopting new systems and policies that cover both district and charter schools. The common enrollment system is a promising new development that allows families to fill out a single application with a single deadline for any and all schools they wish to apply to. It’s meant to cut down on the confusion and stress of choosing a school and to assure families that the application process will be fair.
This report examines the implementation and early results of common enrollment in Denver and New Orleans, two cities with very different demographics and educational landscapes, and the first two cities to launch such systems. The report provides important lessons and essential guidance for these cities as well as others thinking about implementing common enrollment.
Most notably, we found evidence that a lot of confusion and inequities have been eliminated thanks to the centralized application and choice system. The enrollment systems are also providing important data about what parents really value and want more of. However, parents complain that they do not have enough quality schools to choose from (not something an enrollment system can resolve on its own), and they still struggle to find the right school fit. They also struggle to understand why they get matched to a particular school.
Education 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 manage the supply of schools. The authors recommend targeting additional efforts at helping parents understand and trust the matching process, offering more diverse information and tailored help for parents choosing schools, and improving the quality of available school options.