How Cities Can Help Parents Navigate Public School Choice

Robin Lake, via a kind Deb Britt email:

We found that parents in these ‘high-choice’ cities are aggressively taking advantage of school choice when it is available. In seven of the eight cities, half or more of parents are choosing a public school other than their assigned neighborhood school. Clearly, when parents get the opportunity to choose, they take advantage of it.

But we also found that parents have vastly different experiences when choosing a school for their child. And while some cities are improving parents’ ability to choose with confidence, we saw that each has work ahead to ensure that every parent can find the right school for their child.

As with nearly all public schools surveys, parents from all types of schools across all high-choice cities reported very high satisfaction with their current school. But when we pressed and asked whether parents had other good options, stark differences emerged. At the high end, 60 percent of Denver’s parents agreed they have other good public school options, but only 40 percent of Philadelphia’s parents felt this way.

Three cities—Denver, New Orleans, and D.C.—that have invested a lot on developing high-quality schools, closing low performers, and developing transportation, information, and common enrollment systems to help parents navigate their choices, saw some good results. More than half of all parents in these cities reported that their cities’ schools are getting better, compared to less than a third of parents in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. Parents were the least likely to report transportation as a barrier in New Orleans, the only city where most non-neighborhood-based public schools provide transportation. Eighty percent of parents in D.C., and 79 percent of parents in New Orleans reported prioritizing academics over safety and school location. In other cities, where not all families are able to enroll in safe and accessible schools, smaller proportions of parents reported choosing based on academics. Parents in these cities are likely making difficult trade-offs between academics, safety, and location.