- School choice options have greatly expanded in recent years, but they aren't necessarily accessible to everyone who wants them, they don’t always lead to higher achievement and they don't always create more diverse schools, according to a Learning Policy Institute report released Thursday.
- While conversations about school choice tend to focus on charters and private school vouchers, most students taking advantage of choice options attend traditional district schools through policies such as open enrollment and magnet schools. “The central question for our public education system is not whether school options exist, but whether they are good ones that are available to all children,” the authors write.
- The report reviews research on the impact of certain choice models, which can sometimes create unintended consequences such as long waiting lists, lengthy commutes and more segregation instead of less. The authors highlight efforts to create more equitable access to choice options, such as using lotteries instead of admissions policies, widely communicating standard enrollment procedures and making sure neighborhood schools don’t become “dumping grounds” for students that couldn’t get into one of their choice schools.
The report, which was released at a Washington forum that also included the NAACP Legal Defense Educational Fund, also discusses how school choice options, particularly charter schools, affect students with disabilities. It suggests that policymakers create incentives for charter schools to admit and serve students with special needs.
The report comes as Arizona voters are set to decide on whether to expand the state’s school voucher program and as the nation’s largest school district, the New York City Department of Education, is proposing changes to the way students are admitted to the district’s selective high schools. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza have proposed replacing the district’s single-test policy with multiple criteria to increase the proportion of black and Hispanic students who gain admission to those top schools. In a Q&A earlier this year, he told Education Dive he was trying to tackle the segregation beyond the selective schools issue. “I believe that we have to provide the broadest opportunities for the broadest number of students to access not only some of the elite schools in the school system, but also really good schools in everybody's neighborhood,” he said.
While choice options are likely to continue expanding, experts advise leaders of neighborhood schools to learn why families are leaving as well as what’s important to the families who stay. They urge schools to focus on their strengths and to find ways to sustain the programs that benefit the most students.