Today's city school landscape is far more complex than ever before. In an effort to bring coherence and transparency to the complicated school choice process, some cities have begun to launch unified enrollment systems. Unified enrollment (also referred to as common enrollment) allows families to fill out a single application with a single deadline for any and all schools they wish to apply to, whether district or charter. 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. Our research looks at how unified enrollment systems fit into a larger effort to make school choice work for families. As this work moves forward, we see significant need for city education leaders to better understand 1) the implications of specific design elements, such as schools’ criteria for priority enrollment, assuring students a neighborhood assignment, and individual timelines for applications; 2) how to support parents in making choices in a cost-effective and sustainable way; and 3) how to make more productive use of the enrollment data.
In May 2017, CRPE published A Guide to Unifying Enrollment: The What, Why, and How for Those Considering It. The guide explains the benefits and costs of unified enrollment for families and both district and charter schools, and it outlines the questions decision-makers should ask before initiating enrollment system changes.