3 // Improve Access to Options
+ Giving families the ability to choose from multiple school options ensures equitable access to high-quality schools and can provide you with rich information about what schools parents choose and why.
This strategy puts the power in the hands of parents and families. Districts should focus resources on empowering and supporting parents and students – their most important constituency. School information and enrollment processes ensure equity of access to all schools, give parents options to choose the school and program that best meets the needs of their children and focuses the central office on providing good information to families and building a rich data-set to inform portfolio planning.
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3.1 Build and launch “school chooser” tools & supports
+ Families can't meaningfully choose between school options if they don't have a way to compare them. Shifting to a system of great schools requires districts to provide clear, simple, useful and accessible school information to families.
Districts should make information about all schools accessible to families through multiple avenues including online resources, paper (brochures, pamphlets, advertisements, etc) and in-person (expos, school information fairs, etc.). When researching and choosing a school, families should have easy access to information such as:
Basic school information: Location and neighborhood served, contact information, enrollment, grades served, principal name, family coordinator name, school type (charter, district, magnet, etc.) and any unique aspects about the school.
Performance data: School performance framework grade, state assessment data, attendance data, suspension data, and school safety data.
Comprehensive school guides: Basic school information and performance data for all schools should be easily sortable and in one comprehensive guide for public consumption (online and in print).
Enrollment navigators: Ability to search schools based on specific location and transportation requirements; navigators are connected to basic school information and performance data.
+ Develop supports for families throughout the school selection process, with in-person enrollment events including in-person expos, school information fairs, or registration events.
Families should have a clear understanding of what types of schools are available and how these schools address their child’s unique needs and circumstances. Information about school quality, transportation options, and application processes should be clear and accessible.
The central office and schools should see a fair representation of school information and data in the public sphere and nonbiased navigation tools to ensure equitable recruitment and enrollment of families and coordination of school information across district and charter schools.
3.2 Design and implement a unified enrollment system
+ A unified enrollment (UE) system can simplify the admissions and enrollment processes for families and ensure that more families have access to high-quality schools.
The term “unified enrollment” (UE) encompasses a set of policies designed to give parents a simple, informative, transparent, and fair way to access any school in the district.
A UE system can give greater access to school information and school quality for parents and a simplified, streamlined process to enable them to apply to multiple schools.
A UE system can reduce the administrative burden for schools, and provide earlier information about school enrollment that supports better budgeting, staffing, and overall planning at the central office.
Lastly, a UE system can provide more visibility into what families want (demand data), more stability (less, or more predictable, student movement), and greater equity (fair enrollment) across the system.
+ A UE system is a combination of several policies and tools.
UE systems include:
One application: A majority of schools (and hopefully all) – both district and charter – opt into a system that lists all school options and provides a simple process for families to choose a number of schools to apply to on one common timeline.
A matching algorithm: All applications are placed in a central clearinghouse and student matches are developed through a transparent (and verifiable) algorithm. Algorithms generally support a number of “preferences” that are applied to specific students. These preferences will favor some students over others for placement in a school. For example, a common preference is “sibling preference.” If a student applies to a school that her sibling already attends, she will be given precedence over another student who does not have a sibling attending that school. The development of preferences is a collective effort among the central office and schools, and a critical component of the UE work.
One system administrator: Rather than giving authority to multiple entities to enroll students, a single system administrator implements the school admissions process and provides “school matches” to families. The system administrator works with individual schools to enroll students throughout the year.
Refer to the Essential Resources for Lever 3 and the Resource Exchange for more information and resources.
3.3 Develop capacity to support enrollment, enrollment analytics, and choice activities
+ Identify key staff and the core functions required in order to ensure quality implementation of enrollment and choice activities.
Identify what functions are needed to support enrollment activities and whether there is existing capacity to fill these roles in the district. Then, develop a clear organizational chart and define the specific responsibilities for each position. See the Essential Resources and the Resource Exchange for organizational chart examples and job descriptions.
+ UE requires project and change management, analytics, engagement, and technical capacity.
Strategy and Design: Develop internal and external plan to create buy-in for school chooser activities and UE. Producing a school chooser and implementing UE requires that schools across sectors buy-in to the process.
Communications and Implementation: In order to reach all parents, districts must develop tools (e.g. comprehensive school guides) and widely distribute them through multiple platforms. Districts must create multiple touch-points with parents including phone canvassing and work with community organizations. Districts must also create and staff enrollment centers and coordinate enrollment events and establish a telephone hotline to assist parents with enrollment issues.
Analytics and Technology: Districts should partner with an organization that can build an algorithm for student assignments based on district preferences. Districts must build internal capacity to analyze enrollment trends and data to inform the portfolio review and planning process and ensure adequate technical support for parents and families with a new online enrollment system.