Denver's SchoolChoice Program Keeps Growing

I love when people talk about school choice as a “movement.” The word just does such a good job of conveying a sense of momentum and highlighting the fact that an increasing number of families are looking for more options for their kids. A Chalkbeat story illustrated that kind of momentum this morning, reporting that participation in Denver Public Schools’ SchoolChoice system jumped nearly 10 percent this year. More than a quarter of the district’s students are now using the system.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the SchoolChoice system, it essentially creates an all-in-one application for families looking to get their kids into schools other than their neighborhood school. Families list their top five choices on the application, something magically administrative happens, and kids are (hopefully) matched with one of those choices.  This year, about 95 percent of kids got one of their top-five choices. Around 75 percent of students got their first choice.

As we’ve talked about before, Denver’s program does a great job of helping families find the information they need about potential schools. The district even provides a nifty tool called SchoolMatch to help families create lists of potential public schools. In some ways, Denver’s SchoolChoice system has succeeded in overcoming one of the biggest obstacles in choice systems: Providing good, helpful information to interested families.

As happy as this morning’s news about the SchoolChoice makes me, though, I think it’s important to slow down and remember that there’s still an awful lot of work to do. Transportation to schools of choice is still a major hurdle for many families, and recent research indicates that oversubscription at the best schools still locks many Denver kids out of their top choices unless they win an admission lottery. A new A+ Denver report on the DPS SchoolChoice program also makes it clear that there’s still some work to do when it comes to providing more choice to more disadvantaged kids. Both Denver and Colorado have plenty of room for more choice.

Choice is making forward progress, and it’s great to celebrate successes like those we’ve seen in Denver’s program. Still, momentum is key. We’ve got to keep rolling until every kid in Colorado has access to a school that fits him or her best. “Movement” does, after all, imply that we aren’t there yet.

See you next time!