Bromwell Elementary Issue Makes the Case for Expanding School Choice

The Denver Post‘s Jeremy Meyer reports today on the latest from the Bromwell Elementary controversy:

Parents who skirted district rules to get their children into a high-performing Denver school must go through the choice process for next year, a school committee said.

Bromwell Elementary’s collaborative school committee met Wednesday to decide what to do with students from outside of the neighborhood who did not follow the district’s enrollment procedures.

In one instance, a family enrolled by using a grandparent’s address.

The committee said students who failed to prove they live within school attendance boundaries must enroll through the district’s choice process, which operates on a blind lottery. Superintendent Tom Boasberg must approve the recommendation.

First, let me say that Denver Public Schools appears to be fairly treating people who tried to cheat the system. It isn’t right when one of my friends tries to move my checkers when I’m not looking, and it isn’t right for people to pretend to live at a different address so they can enroll their child into a different school.

But the conversation can’t end there.

Seeing the phrase “school attendance boundaries” gives me a little bit of the heebie-jeebies. Important questions are raised about the value of assigning students to school based on residence. Yes, Colorado is a leader in the area of open enrollment. However, the incident highlighted in the Post story shows there are still limitations, and that students need more opportunities more than the process needs more rules or better enforcement.

The Bromwell case shows just how much Denver area parents demand a high-quality education. Access to more and different educational opportunities would impel the existing school system to focus more on customer service and the needs of children – through the strong incentives of genuine competition. The likely result would be to forestall potential situations such as the one at Bromwell.

Of course, enhancing school-level leadership is also important. The new group Get Smart Schools is doing some great work on this front. But it’s only one part of the equation.

In the end, the Bromwell story isn’t mainly about playing by the rules. It’s about drawing a big bold black line under the need for more education reform. And no area is more critical or relevant than expanding school choice and informing parents about their options.