Making School Choice Work

In this report, the Center for Reinventing Public Education surveys 4,000 parents and interviews civic leaders in eight choice-rich cities—Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.—to help determine how to improve existing choice systems, regardless of whether parents choose a charter or district school. Three key findings emerge. First, the majority of parents are actively choosing a school for their children, though parents also report considering just one or two schools. Perhaps this is because the options were not there; indeed, roughly half report that if their current school was not available, there were no other schools that would satisfy them. Second, parents cite a number of barriers to choosing schools, including inadequate information, transportation, and a lack of quality options. Not understanding which schools their child was eligible to attend was the barrier most often cited. These challenges are not confined to the charter or district sector. Third, responsibility for schools falls to multiple parties, including school districts, charter school authorizers, and state agencies, which weakens accountability and makes it hard for leaders to address the challenges facing parents. Having too many cooks in the kitchen makes it difficult for parents to navigate information. For instance, Phoenix has twenty-eight school districts responsible for overseeing public education and Houston has nineteen—meaning that charter operators hoping to coordinate on enrollment timelines would have to negotiate separate agreements with the entire bunch. The report recommends a more transparent, accountable, and fair system, meaning state and city leaders may need to change laws to ensure that districts and charter authorizers oversee schools responsibly and that families do not face large barriers to choice. Formal governance changes may be necessary to address the challenges to making school choice work for all families.

SOURCE: Michael DeArmond, Ashley Jochim, and Robin Lake, Making School Choice Work (Seattle, WA: Center for Reinventing Public Education, July 2014).

Amber M. Northern, Ph.D.
Amber M. Northern, Ph.D. is the Senior Vice President for Research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.