District and charter partners in Camden, NJ, have implemented a new enrollment process designed to give families equal access to schools across the city through a neutral, unified system, while also guaranteeing a spot at their neighborhood school. “Camden Enrollment” replaces a patchwork system of 17 different application forms with a wide range of deadlines.
Camden Enrollment requested an external study by CRPE to understand families’ experiences with the new system and inform how it can adapt and improve going forward. CRPE researchers conducted focus group conversations with 34 parents and collected survey responses from over 500 parents who applied to schools using the new system. They explored four key questions: What was the experience like for families in the first year? What are families seeking in a school? What information and support do families use to select a school? How well do families think Camden’s schools are meeting their expectations?
Among the report’s findings:
- Families found the new system fair, though more need to know about it.
- Families reported the new system reduced paperwork and effort.
- A large majority of applicants (71%-77%) matched to their first or second choice.
- 65% of surveyed parents were satisfied with their child’s placement.
- Families want strong academics, but they also care about safety, location, positive relationships with teachers, and enrichment opportunities.
- Families used a combination of sources, including the Camden Enrollment web page, experiences of family and friends, and school visits.
- Families want more information about curriculum, safety, and school offerings.
The report includes recommendations for improving the system based on families’ experiences.