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L.A., Detroit Try to Simplify Application Process for School Choice Options

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Two major urban areas are trying to make it easier for parents to choose and enroll in schools. But Los Angeles and Detroit district officials are taking opposite approaches.

Los Angeles Unified School District wants to start a one-stop application for its own specialized schools, such as magnets and dual-language programs. But the district plans to exclude charter schools.

Detroit only has charter schools and one private campus in its new application system. No district schools are involved.

School districts across the nation are increasingly trying to simplify the way parents apply for the myriad of public-school choices and make the process more equitable. Single-enrollment systems, especially, have grown in districts with many choice options, such as efforts started  in 2012 with Denver and New Orleans. But the results have been mixed and often have resulted in parent complaints, such as in Newark, N.J.

Los Angeles and Detroit both have neighborhood schools, along with charters and other options.

Los Angeles Unified, the nation's second-largest school district with 640,000 students, recently started discussing a unified enrollment process to help parents navigate the district's eight or so specialized programs, as well as its traditional district schools.

Now, if parents want to leave their neighborhood schools, every program has a different application system. The enrollment process spreads over eight months, said Jesus Angulo, director of academic and counseling services. An April 1 story in LA School Report described how more than 100 parents lined up at one school to get a permit for a school. One father spent the night. 

The district wants to crunch down the window to about six weeks in the fall each year as a way to better "support communities and families so they can make important choices for their sons or daughters," Angulo said.

No timeline has been set to start the new application process.

The plan comes as Los Angeles Unified already has lost many students from traditional district campuses to charter schools. More than 150,000 students attend Los Angeles charter schools, which make up about one in five in the district, according to the California Charter Schools Association.

"It's really streamlining our own internal process," Angulo said. "We really want to do the best job we can in our own system within our district."

In Detroit, district officials were initially part of the talks to join the common enrollment system, run by the non-profit organization, Excellent Schools Detroit. But Detroit Public Schools, which has roughly 50,000 students, decided to stay out for now.

The district has been under state oversight and emergency managers since 2009.

"Detroit Public Schools actively participated in the policy discussions surrounding the development of a common enrollment system for schools in Detroit. However, given the state of transition that currently exists in the District, we elected not to join in the pilot program," said Michelle Zdrodowski, Detroit's executive director of communications, in a statement.

In the meantime, Detroit families with children entering kindergarten or 9th grade can choose between more than 40 schools during the 30-day window this month, according to a story in the Detroit Free Press.

Education Week has been following school-choice programs, as well as issues in Los Angeles and Detroit schools. Here are some of our stories:

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

Follow @ParentAndPublic for the latest news on schools and parental involvement.

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