CRPE's Latest Report Reminds Me That We Still Need More Choice

Last week, I gave you quick rundown (okay, it wasn’t that quick) of two big charter reports. But a little guy can only write so much in one sitting, and there was still one more big report on public school choice from the Center for Reinventing Public Education to cover. We’ll do that today.

The report sums up the results of a survey given to 500 parents in each of eight chosen cities, including Denver. There are some pretty big differences between the cities, so we’ll just focus on our capitol.

Among other things, the survey finds that Denver parents have a more positive outlook on the direction in which their education system is heading than parents in most of the other cities. It also found that Denver parents feel pretty comfortable with their ability to find information on public school choice, don’t tend to struggle greatly with the choice application process, and feel that they have good public options available.

Pretty rosy, right? Well, that’s just the good news. Although the report finds that Denver parents are comparatively less likely to have trouble finding or applying for the public schools they prefer, it also finds that they run into issues when it comes to actually getting their kids there. Denver is not alone on that front; transportation and convenience can be big impediments to school choice almost anywhere in the nation.

Then again, figuring out a way to get your kid to a great school may be the least of your worries while navigating Denver’s choice system. CRPE’s report opens with a story about Joe Jiminez, a Denver parent with a daughter about to enter middle school. Seeing that his quality neighborhood options were limited, Joe began to look around. He found some good schools, marked his top three choices on Denver’s choice application, and felt pretty good. Then this happened:

… [W]hen school system officials ran the lottery in the spring, [Joe] discovered his daughter didn’t get into any of her options, leaving her stuck in her low-performing neighborhood school. “I think the [enrollment] process was pretty self-explanatory. It was the end result that was pretty disappointing…the good schools all have waiting lists.” The result left Joe feeling confused and angry: his family had invested considerable effort navigating their city’s system of public school choice, but came away feeling no better off because of it.

Therein, my friends, lies the problem. Public schools can offer great experiences for many kids. Just check out my musings on the state’s latest school awards or my previous research into KIPP. But there’s a supply problem; there simply isn’t room in the best public schools for every kid. Sadly, that means a lot of kids wind up on the short end of the lottery ball. Yes, I’m aware that metaphor doesn’t make sense. But you get the point.

Even families who don’t (literally) win the lottery deserve to be able to pick the right school for their kids—especially when many thousands of quality private school seats sit empty in neighborhoods where they could make a huge difference.

So with that, I’d like to offer up CRPE’s latest report as a stark reminder of just how important it is to press ahead with choice programs in Colorado.

See you next time!