Shouldn't Dougco Score Higher on Brookings' Choice and Competition Index?

A story in yesterday’s Chalkbeat Colorado brought my attention to a newly released Brookings Institution study called the 2013 Education Choice and Competition Index. Well, that certainly got my attention.

Rather than rate states, Brookings developed a rubric to grade 100 of the nation’s largest districts on “thirteen categories of policy and practice” related to school choice. While Chalkbeat highlighted Denver Public Schools’ impressive fifth-place finish on the survey, you’d also think that Colorado’s own Douglas County — a forward-thinking, cutting-edge bastion of parental choice — would also be near the top, right?

Guess again. Dougco finished 19th, with a C-plus, behind such districts as Minneapolis, Chicago, Dade County (Miami), and Newark. Well, you’ve got to dig beneath the surface a bit. What you see raises questions about how well Brookings’ tool captures the meaningful comparisons. On at least three particular points, I found areas where Dougco was marked down that say little or nothing about how well they are providing parents the maximum range of quality educational options:

  1. There’s more than one single common application for families exercising open enrollment into another (district or charter) school
  2. The affluent, growing district has no formal policy for closing low or declining enrollment schools “due to parental choice”
  3. The district offers no subsidized transportation options for parents exercising choice

That being said, even officials in this choice-friendly district could find areas to improve. And Dougco parents could be the ones to demand it.

Not to take anything away from Denver, for its high scores. But overall, those familiar with the Colorado education scene have to scratch their heads when Douglas County virtually ties Cherry Creek — a district that has resisted calls for more than the one charter it has, and is not exactly inviting massive participation through open enrollment. (Meanwhile, the state’s largest district, Jefferson County, finished 42nd with a sub-par C-minus.)

Just because there’s an education index put together by smart people, doesn’t necessarily mean all the results make perfect sense or there’s no room for improvement. Look at the recently released Quality Counts, which includes the amount of per-pupil spending regardless of performance as a factor in a state’s overall grade, and doesn’t factor in school choice options at all.

So hats off to Brookings for putting the Index together. But is there a way to make it work so there’s a more accurate picture of a unique place like Douglas County? Or will the state’s third-largest school district just keep soldiering on, and not get hung up on the score?