Evaluation of Denver’s SchoolChoice Process for the 2011-2012 School Year

Demand for a school was highly correlated with its quality.

Baking a successful school-choice soufflé is challenging. The ingredients are hard to come by: Schools must be high performing while simultaneously offering options to a diverse parent base. And the recipe is fussy: Navigating the system should be easy and fair. There can be no inherent incentives to game the system. Denver’s new school-choice program (creatively titled SchoolChoice) may not be “Iron Chef” quality, but it has some stimulating flavors cooked in. This encouraging report from A+ Denver explains: Last year, the Denver Public Schools (DPS) streamlined its choice program, merging all sixty of the district’s varying school applications and deadlines into one system. This alleviated much headache and caused an uptick in intradistrict choice. For the 2010-11 school year, over 22,700 students (comprising a little over 25 percent of all pupils) participated, with over two-thirds of them gaining access to their top-choice schools (and 83 percent to one of their top three choices). Even more promising, demand for a school was highly correlated with its quality. Improvements to the program can still be made, however. The report finds, for example, that poor and minority families choose schools that are generally lower performing than their better-off peers (likely due to school location and marketing). There’s lots to learn from the paper, including new insights about parental preferences and school-choice decision-making. As DPS refines its program—and as other districts seek to copy, and improve upon, its recipe—this report will offer helpful guidance.

SOURCE: Mary Klute, Evaluation of Denver’s SchoolChoice Process for the 2011-2012 School Year (Denver, CO: University of Colorado, prepared for the A+ Denver SchoolChoice Transparency Committee, June 2012).

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