School Choice is Great if Parents Can Navigate the Choices

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By Andrew Pillow

School choice is seen by many as the future of the American education system and for good reason. School choice brings options to families that ordinarily wouldn’t get them. Rather those options are in the form of charter schools or vouchers, there is no question that more options is a good thing for families. 

However, options mean nothing if parents don’t know them. And unfortunately, that appears to be the case in many places.

Too many states and districts have rolled out school choice initiatives without accompanying it with the necessary parent education and infrastructure. Without those two things, parents cannot make informed decisions. If parents can’t make informed decisions for their children, then the entire point of school choice is negated.

Too often I have seen parents make the incorrect choice about where to send their children based on false or limited information. Too often I don’t even know enough to advise them myself. It’s hard to navigate the school choice system without help. Even for someone with intimate knowledge of the education landscape.

Unfortunately, because of the competition that school choice creates, we really can’t depend on schools to educate parents on their options. If you are a parent looking for better options for your high achieving child, don’t count on the mediocre school they attend to give you an honest run-down of where to go because they want your child to stay. Competition for children can be a good thing, but it doesn’t exactly nurture an environment of co-operation between competing schools.

This is why states and districts need to concentrate on school choice education and accessibility for parents. There are a number of ways to do this:

1.       Common/unified enrollment

It would be a lot easier for parents to choose schools if there was one platform to do it. This is the concept behind common or unified enrollment. Parents fill out one application or form that allows them to apply to multiple schools at once. In theory, you could educate parents through the platform as well by including information about test scores or reviews.

2.       Simplified grading metrics for schools

We all know that schools are complicated and there is no one perfect way to tell rather a school is good or bad. However, without a simpler way to judge school quality, parents will be left in the dark. A district’s rating scale for judging schools should be easy to understand so that parents know what is what.

3.       Transportation matters

If you don’t have transportation, then your options for school choice become limited by proximity and or bussing. This often leads students back to the schools that have failed them in the first place. If a district is serious about choice, they have to be serious about transportation.

Anti-school choice activists cite accessibility as a drawback of school choice. This is not an incorrect assessment. People who support school choice need to work to take this criticism off the table.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.