The latest report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) examines how cities with a significant amount of school choice can ensure that it works for more families. Starting with a case study of Detroit, a city where families have a plethora of school options but precious few that could be called high quality, the report paints a picture of the challenges faced by Motor City parents. Testing their observations from Detroit, CRPE expands its focus by surveying 4,000 public school parents in eight cities (including Cleveland). The survey shows that while families from all walks of life are now actively choosing their kids’ schools (55 percent), the majority of parents (61 percent) considered only one or two schools. One explanation might be the barriers parents face when choosing a school: 33 percent had difficulty understanding which schools their child was eligible to attend, 25 percent said they had difficulty getting information about schools, and 26 percent lacked convenient transportation. The report also found that, by and large, disadvantaged, less educated parents and parents of students with special needs are far more likely to experience difficulties in exercising choice. Finally, the report suggests that the fractured governance structure in place in many cities effectively means that no one is focused on overall school quality or removing the barriers faced by parents. Fixing the governance issues this report raises will require city and state-wide action to more efficiently align services and resources across district and charter boundaries—and that could prove elusive. In fact, it will require city and state leaders to stop arguing about charters vs. districts and focus on solutions to improve all schools. If the goal is truly finding what’s best for kids, then it’s hard to argue that finding solutions to make all schools better isn’t a win-win.
Source: Michael DeArmond, Ashley Jochim, Robin Lake, Making School Choice Work (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, July 2014).