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Access and Quality Vital to Growth of School Choice, Report Says

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Half of the nation's largest 100 school districts allowed for some kind of school choice in 2014, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution.

Based on the Washington-based think tank's 2014 Education Choice and Competition Index released Wednesday, the report also says that policymakers need to improve access to quality schools. Specifically, parents need better tools to make good choices, and they need good schools to choose from.

Echoing a theme of other recent studies on how parents choose schools, the Brookings' report authors write: "Education is a very complex service for which to shop, with limited opportunities to repair bad decisions."

Using data from the 2013-14 school year, the index ranks districts based on how many school choice options and supports families can access.

District Rankings

New Orleans' state-run Recovery School District got top marks from the Index with New York City coming in second. That's been the lineup for the top two spots for the last three years. Newark, N.J.'s district was the surprise upstart on the list, climbing 15 spots to the number three position. Its 21 point rise was due in large part to its new districtwide single enrollment system for charter and district schools.

That turned out to be somewhat of a theme among some of the top performers, including New Orleans, New York City and Denver. They all have comprehensive enrollment systems which use algorithms to assign students to public schools—New York being the only one that doesn't lump district and charter schools into a single system.

Meanwhile, New Orleans' original school district, the Orleans Parish School Board, saw the sharpest decline in the rankings, shedding 17 points since 2013. This was due to several small changes including a drop in the number of students enrolled in affordable private schools and removing graduation rates and a link to student performance gains from the district's website.

On the other end of the spectrum, the three lowest ranked school districts were Alpine School District in Northern County, Utah; Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia; and Brownsville Independent School District in Brownsville, Texas.

That doesn't mean those districts are low-performing—they simply don't offer much, if anything, in the way of school choice. Brownsville, which was ranked third from the bottom, won the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2008.

Interesting Data "Points"

Among other interesting facts from the 2014 index numbers:

  • Only eight percent of districts provided transportation for students to any school of their choice within district borders;
  • The average percentage of students enrolled in charters, magnets, and private schools from years 2012-14 was 24 percent; 
  • Based on a very loose definition of school choice, including parents who move to a neighborhood based on the area's schools, the Brookings report estimates that far more than half of school-aged children are attending schools chosen by their parents.

You can explore the full 2014 Education Choice and Competition Index here.

Related:

Survey Highlights Hurdles Parents Face in Making School Choices

What's in a School Letter Grade? Perhaps Not So Much for NOLA Parents

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