Expanding Informed School Choice

With just one week left in City Schools’ middle and high school choice enrollment period, families of 5th and 8th grade students across the city are trying to find the right school to meet their child’s unique needs. This year, in addition to school visits, brochures, and recommendations from their friends and families, parents and students now have an interactive, online tool to help them make this important decision – the new school choice website.

FFEE_3-25-11_0148 - cropIntroduced seven years ago, school choice is at the core of City Schools’ efforts to transform itself into a portfolio district that offers students a wide variety of high quality middle and high school options. Families can now choose to attend a specialized college or career focused school, a charter or other operator managed school, a grade K-8 and 6-12 school, or a traditional neighborhood school.

But parents we spoke with expressed frustration that information about these school options was not easily accessible or navigable, leading many of them to focus their selections on a few, larger schools with which they felt more familiar. They also asked for better guidance about the school choice process, and how to interpret the requirements for some schools, such as composite scores. These issues made it hard for families to know if they were making the best choice, with the highest likelihood of success, for their children.

Recognizing parents’ needs for accessible, reliable information to make an informed choice for their children, the Fund joined with City Schools and local foundations to design a robust online system that gives families the ability to easily find, compare and digest the variety of school options available to them. Our goal was to empower parents to take a behind the scenes look at what individual schools have to offer their children, and how well they are preparing students for college and career success.

With the new school choice website, parents and students can now search by multiple criteria to find schools that meet their needs and priorities, such as specific academic or Advanced Placement offerings, career focused programs, support services, or sports. The website also includes key student performance data allowing users to do a side by side comparison of schools’ graduation rates, SAT composite scores, and MSA results. The system even provides bus line information so that parents can understand the all-important location and transportation implications of their choices.

As City Schools continues the necessary, but often difficult, work of closing chronically low performing schools, this website will give parents and students a reliable place to turn to find a new academic home that can offer them higher quality programs and services. It will also provide district leadership with valuable insight into which programs and criteria parents most often search for, allowing City Schools to better tailor new school development.

At the end of the day, this process wasn’t about replacing an old paper system with a new online one. It was about helping parents meet their goal of finding a school that will support their child in achieving his/her full potential. That is what informed choice is really all about.