One sign that the Brookings Institution’s second annual Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI) is better than the first is that New Orleans came out on top—boasting the ECCI’s only A grade. For this go-around, Russ Whitehurst and his team ranked 107 school districts (the 100 largest metro areas and seven others of interest), up from twenty-five in 2011, on thirteen choice-related categories of policy and practice (including accessibility of information on school quality and availability of virtual schooling options). Joining the Big Easy in the top five are New York (last year’s valedictorian), D.C., Minneapolis, and Houston. Rounding out the bottom of the rankings are Brownsville (TX), San Antonio, and Loudoun County (VA). (Ohio’s sole district on this list, Columbus, ranked eighty-ninth.) But what makes this year’s index particularly worthwhile is the way it explains the differences among even the best of the best. It’s easy to see what separates the Recovery School District in New Orleans from Brownsville. The contrast between the NOLA’s RSD and the District of Columbia is subtler, but still significant. As one example, D.C. scored well on its abundance of (and generous funding for) school alternatives, including charters and vouchers. But it fell short in matching families to the schools of their choice. The problem is that D.C. parents must separately apply to each school in which they are interested, since individual schools control their own lotteries to determine admissions. That’s not the case in NOLA, where a common application works for all traditional and charter public schools in the Recovery School District, and where families are more likely to gain entry into the schools that they rank highest. (This system was designed by two Nobel Prize-winning economists who specialize in match-making.) All this isn’t meant to slight the progress made in D.C. (and elsewhere) in supporting school choice. But the ECCI does show how policies affecting student assignment, funding, and transparency can be changed in small ways to the benefit of kids—even for states and districts that already are committed to choice. Use the ECCI’s interactive features to compare districts for yourself.
A version of this review originally appeared on Fordham’s Choice Words blog.
Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst with Sarah Whitfield, The Education Choice and Competition Index: Background and Results 2012 (Washington, D.C.: Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, December 2012).