The Kubert School — Open House, April 18, 2015

This is National School Choice Week, and in a lot of cities it’s the time of year when families who have the power to choose a public school for their children are checking out their options and putting their application(s) together.

Here in Denver, it’s singular—an application, regardless of what type of school(s) you’re applying to. I was at DPS when we went through the process of getting it down from sorting through 60something different applications—depending on whether the school is district-run, charter, magnet, etc—to one.

The hardest part was getting all of the charter schools to turn control of their admissions process over to the district. I was skeptical that they all would give up that control. While always a big supporter of choice and charter schools, I’ve seen some use their autonomy over admissions and enrollment processes to cater mostly to the choice-savvy families—to “cream” through the admissions process. And I was impressed—and thrilled—when all of the charters in Denver joined our SchoolChoice common enrollment system, essentially saying: We want to make it easy for everyone to apply.

So you’d think that the anti-charter crowd would welcome common enrollment systems, like the one in DPS, as a way to level the playing field and ensure all public schools are accessible to all students. Apparently not so, as this story in the Boston Globe highlights. It has this quote:

Megan Wolf, an activist with the anti-charter group Quality Education for Every Student, told the crowd that there is a national trend of “ed reformers pushing to have this unified enrollment because it advances their agenda of charter schools taking over.”

The people who want charter schools are parents. If parents didn’t want them and weren’t lining up to get their kids into them, they wouldn’t exist. “Ed reformers” see meeting that demand from parents as providing better service than protecting the traditional system of one attendance-area school and no choice. That better service is the “agenda.”

And as nice as it is to read in the story about how “controversy-free” our move to common enrollment has been in Denver and “that unified enrollment helped more minority, low-income, and non-native English speaking families — groups often underrepresented in charter school enrollments — to enroll their children in charter schools for kindergarten,” it’s disheartening to see it turn into an ideological fight in other cities, like Boston and Oakland.

The loudest choice opponents are usually the teachers unions, even though their members use school choice more than other parents. It’s hard to deny that giving families choice improves service and quality. Teachers know it and use it. Their union leadership fights it, because they’re more interested in control than service.

And that’s not to say choice is the best answer to improved service—better choices is. We have a long way to go on that front.

Every family deserves what affluent families have always had: a good option close to home, plus choice. That would be a great equalizer.