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Making School Choice Work for Families: DC School Reform Now’s High Quality Schools Campaign

November 1, 2017

DC School Reform Now (DCSRN) launched the High Quality Schools Campaign (HQSC) as an effort to address the challenge of ensuring that school choice works for all families in Washington, D.C. This initiative connects families in the city's most underserved regions—where fewer high-quality schools are available—with "parent advocates" who guide families through the process of choosing a school, from learning about schools (with an emphasis on schools receiving high performance ratings) to completing the application to enrolling their child in school for the fall. The goal of the HQSC is to dramatically increase the number of families who actively take advantage of school choice and enroll in the city's top-rated schools (both district and charter).With support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, DCSRN partnered with the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) to conduct an evaluation of the HQSC. This partnership aims to accomplish two goals: 1) inform DCSRN's ongoing work to expand the HQSC to serve more families and expand their impact, and 2) document best practices that can be used by other school districts and community-based organizations to improve families' access to high-quality schools.

Making School Choice Work Series: How Parents Experience Public School Choice

December 15, 2014

A growing number of cities now provide a range of public school options for families to choose from. Choosing a school can be one of the most stressful decisions parents make on behalf of their child. Getting access to the right public school will determine their child's future success. How are parents faring in cities where choice is widely available? This report answers this question by examining how parents' experiences with school choice vary across eight "high-choice" cities: Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Our findings suggest parents are taking advantage of the chance to choose a non-neighborhood-based public school option for their child, but there's more work to be done to ensure choice works for all families.

Making School Choice Work

July 7, 2014

School choice is increasingly the new normal in urban education. But in cities with multiple public school options, how can civic leaders create a choice system that works for all families, whether they choose a charter or district public school?To answer this question, CRPE researchers surveyed 4,000 parents in eight cities (Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.) with high degrees of school choice. The researchers also conducted interviews with government officials, choice advocates, and community leaders in four cities, and looked at how many different agencies oversee schools in 35 cities.The study found that:In the eight cities surveyed, the majority of parents are actively choosing a school for their children.Parents face significant barriers to choosing schools, including inadequate information, transportation, and lack of quality options.Challenges facing families are not confined to the charter or district sector.Responsibility for schools often falls to multiple parties, including school districts, charter school authorizers, and state agencies, weakening accountability and making it difficult for leaders to address the challenges facing parents.The report finds that a more transparent, accountable, and fair system will require action from all parties, including school districts, charter authorizers, charter operators, and states. State and city leaders may need to change laws to ensure that districts and charter authorizers oversee schools responsibly and that families do not face large barriers to choice. In some cases, formal governance changes may be necessary to address the challenges to making school choice work for all families.

Policy Barriers to School Improvement: What's Real and What's Imagined?

June 18, 2014

Some of the most promising reforms are happening where school leaders are thinking differently about how to get the strongest student outcomes from the limited resources available. But even principals who use their autonomy to aggressively reallocate resources say that persistent district, state, and federal barriers prohibit them from doing more.What are these barriers? What do they block principals from doing? Is there a way around them?CRPE researchers probed these questions with principals in three states (NH, CT, MD). These principals cited numerous district, state, and federal barriers standing in the way of school improvement. The barriers, 128 in all, fell into three categories: 1) barriers to instructional innovations, 2) barriers to allocating resources differently, and 3) barriers to improving teacher quality.Upon investigation, researchers found that principals have far more authority than they think. Only 31% of the barriers cited were "real" -- immovable statutes, policies, or managerial directives that bring the threat of real consequences if broken.The report recommends educating principals on the authority they already possess, to help them find workarounds to onerous rules. The report also outlines a number of specific state and district policy changes to grant schools the autonomy they need to improve student outcomes.

In-Depth Portfolio Assessment: Shelby County Schools, Memphis, TN

June 4, 2014

The 2013 merger of Memphis City Schools (with 103,000 students) and Shelby County Schools (with 47,000 students) was the largest school district consolidation in American history. In its first year of operation, the new Shelby County Schools (SCS) commissioned CRPE researchers to perform a critical review of the district's readiness to implement a portfolio strategy for managing its schools. Based on interviews with internal and external stakeholders and analysis against model system progress, this report outlines CRPE's baseline measurement of where SCS stands in relation to the seven main components of the portfolio strategy. The report also provides suggestions for how SCS can seek progress over the next year, and track progress or decline at future intervals.

Understanding the Charter School Special Education Gap: Evidence from Denver, Colorado

June 1, 2014

CRPE commissioned Dr. Marcus Winters to analyze the factors driving the special education gap between Denver's charter and traditional public elementary and middle schools.Using student-level data, Winters shows that Denver's special education enrollment gap starts at roughly 2 percentage points in kindergarten and is more than triple that in eighth grade. However, it doesn't appear to be caused by charter schools pushing students out. Instead, the gap is mostly due to student preferences for different types of schools, how schools classify and declassify students, and the movement of students without disabilities across sectors.

Is Personalized Learning Meeting Its Productivity Promise? Early Lessons From Pioneering Schools

May 21, 2014

Blending computer-based and teacher-led instruction promises to help schools meet students' individual needs by organizing and prioritizing staff and technology in more productive ways. However, this fiscal analysis of eight new charter schools that implemented personalized learning this year finds that early difficulty in forecasting enrollment and revenue can undermine implementation of the model.As a result of missed enrollment and revenue projections:The schools spent less on technology and more on personnel than planned: instead of a combined $1.7 million on technology in the early stages, they spent just $650,000Student-to-computer ratios were higher and schools spent less than planned on instructional and performance reporting software.Projected budget deficits in five of the schools threaten their ability to sustain on public funding.Among the brief's recommendations for those hoping to implement personalized-learning models in the future:Invest in student recruitment efforts up front to ensure enrollment targets are met.Develop a 'worst-case scenario' budget where fundraising and enrollment estimates fall 20 -- 25 percent below target.Manage contracts proactively: be explicit about needs, establish performance requirements, and negotiate trial periods to make sure products meet the school's needs.The eight personalized-learning schools included in this analysis were chosen to receive Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) competitive start-up grants. CRPE is midway through a study of twenty personalized-learning schools that received NGLC grants. The study examines how the schools allocate their resources, how they manage the new costs of technology, and whether they can become financially sustainable on public revenues. CRPE will continue to track spending in all twenty schools this year and publish its findings next spring.This study is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Working Together to Manage Enrollment: Key Governance and Operations Decisions

March 19, 2014

Common enrollment systems designed to manage student enrollment across district and charter sectors introduce a host of governance challenges. City charter and district leaders realize the importance of cross-sector representation when deciding policies related to enrollment, such as the number of choices families should list or whether some students will have enrollment priority over others. The question of who will administer the enrollment process once these policy decisions are made can be highly controversial. Cities that don't attend to these management questions early on risk major political fights that can stall or derail progress on the effort. There is little precedence, nor is there a ready-made legal framework, for coordinating enrollment across sectors; how these systems will be governed and operated must instead be resolved through the collaboration of agencies, many of which have histories of competition, mistrust, and hostility. In this issue brief, we draw from a series of interviews with local education leaders in Denver, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., focusing on the governance issues that emerged as these three jurisdictions sought a cross-sector common enrollment system.While some urban school systems have long had enrollment processes to manage choice for schools under their control, the expansion of charter schools presents a different and more complicated challenge for both parents and administrators. In many places, students no longer have a single "home district" in the traditional sense. Instead, they can now choose to enroll in the local school district or one of the city's charter schools. State charter laws give charter schools -- whether they are an independent local education agency or not -- authority over their enrollment processes; a charter school must conduct its process in a manner consistent with the law, typically a random lottery. As charter schools grow in number, so does the number of separate enrollment systems operating across individual cities. In Denver, for example, a 2010 report showed that 60 separate enrollment systems operated in the city at the same time. Similar situations occurred in New Orleans and D.C. As individual selection processes grew to unmanageable levels in these cities, education and community leaders sought ways to rationalize and centralize student placement across an increasing number of school choices

Coordinating Enrollment Across School Sectors: An Overview of Common Enrollment Systems

February 26, 2014

Families in many portfolio districts can choose from a variety of charter and district schools for their children. But to make these choices, parents often must fill out multiple application forms and navigate schools that may have different requirements, deadlines, and selection preferences such as sibling attendance or proximity to the school. Once parents complete the applications and schools make offers, some families receive multiple offers and often hold on to them until the last minute, while other families receive few or no offers, remaining on waitlists well into the fall. Not only is this process difficult for families, it favors families with the time and knowledge to navigate its inherent complexities.In order to make applying to a choice school less complicated, some cities are building common enrollment systems that streamline enrollment across all types of schools. These cities are adopting a transparent matching process that systematically assigns students to schools based on both school and student preferences. Families are asked to rank the schools they prefer for their child (regardless of whether the school is operated by the district or is a charter school) in a single application process. Families then receive a match that takes into account their preferences and the priorities and admission standards set by the schools in the city. Proponents of common enrollment believe that it is more equitable for families and schools and can lead to a more predictable and less tumultuous matching process overall. Common enrollment systems can also benefit cities and districts by eliminating the need to authenticate results from multiple charter lotteries, and by providing data on school demand throughout the city that might inform strategic decisions about managing the school supply. Even so, some detractors worry that centralized enrollment systems will erode the autonomy of schools and require administrative capacity that is rarely found in existing oversight agencies (typically school districts). Common enrollment also doesn't directly address the fact that most cities don't have enough high-quality seats to serve all of their students.

District-Charter Collaboration Compact: Interim Report

June 1, 2013

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been monitoring, supporting, and analyzing the cross-sector collaborative work undertaken in 16 District-Charter Compact cities. CRPE tracks progress on agreements and reports on local political, legal, and financial barriers to collaboration, and also facilitates networking and problem-solving among participants. Using data and documents from interviews with district and charter leaders, this interim report details the first two years of Compact work and finds evidence that these cities have made mixed progress on a number of fronts, such as facilities sharing, equitable funding for charter schools, more high-performing schools, and improved access to high-quality special education. But challenges like leadership transitions, local anti-charter politics, and key leaders' unwillingness to prioritize time and resources for implementation have thwarted efforts in some cities. The report includes key Compact agreements and measurements of progress for each city, plus a checklist for district and charter leaders considering a collaboration Compact.

Portfolio Strategies, Relinquishment, The Urban School System of the Future, and Smart Districts

February 23, 2013

Today, there are many new proposals about governance of K-12 Education: The portfolio strategy emphasizes a system of continuous improvement for diverse, autonomous schools governed by performance contracts; devolution models include efforts to expand the role of charter management organizations and other nonprofit providers (Andy Smarick's "Urban School System of the Future," Neerav Kingslad's "Relinquishment"); and school transformation models emphasize the role of third-party support organizations that create K-12 feeder patterns of allied schools (Bill Guenther and Justin Cohen's Mass Insight "Smart Districts" proposal).Are these really rival proposals as the authors of some are claiming? This idea is misguided; these are complemetns not alternatives.

Principal Concerns in Wisconsin: Focus on Future Leaders for Rural Schools

February 21, 2013

States need, among other things, to build detailed longitudinal data systems for principals like the ones they use to track teachers and students. But in some places those types of systems are still a long way off. In the meantime, system leaders can examine the administrative data they already have to paint a basic picture of their principal workforce, one that can help prompt deeper questions and discussions about the challenges and opportunities they face.This Principal Concerns brief offers an example of this type of analysis for Wisconsin. Why should Wisconsin be concerned about its principal workforce? After all, by some measures, the state's schools are doing well. Wisconsin's NAEP scores, for example, are consistently higher than the national average.Yet there is still much work to be done to ensure that all students achieve at high levels, and strong leadership is key to that success. Under the state's recently revamped accountability system, 266 schools across the state are not meeting performance expectations. In Milwaukee Public Schools, the state's largest school system, only 21 percent of schools met or exceeded the state's expectations.Wisconsin will need to pursue a range of strategies and levers to improve results for all of its students. One important improvement strategy is to ensure that districts are recruiting, developing, and retaining good principals. Where there are many early- to mid-career principals, states need to emphasize professional development. But where there is an approaching wave of retirements, states should focus more heavily on recruiting and preparing new leaders. To identify Wisconsin's specific needs, we need to answer these questions: How many principals are near retirement eligibility? How is retirement eligibility distributed across schools and locations? How are experienced and new principals distributed across school types?