Selected readings on US charter schools
CLEVELAND – Cleveland’s school lottery Monday was just an appetizer for a bigger one that could be coming soon.
In a few years, some hope, we could have one large lottery for all schools in Cleveland – district schools and charter schools – which would be joined in a single enrollment process.
A “common enrollment” system is a major goal for school choice advocates across the country, particularly for districts like Cleveland that are moving toward the“portfolio” model for the district.
Parents and students would enroll for any school on one website, or at one office, in such a system. Students would use one application for all schools. One lottery would determine who can attend any school, whether district or charter.
That would be a huge leap for a district in Ohio, where many school officials view charters as competitors that take resources away from districts. It’s less of a leap, but still a substantial one, for Cleveland, where quality charter schools are viewed as part of the city’s educational solution, not the problem.
Mayor Frank Jackson and district Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon’s hinted at a common enrollment system in the school improvement plan they unveiled two years ago. The Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools called for a “fair and informative citywide enrollment process.”
The Plan calls openly for intermediate steps to a shared enrollment system, including sharing a portion of the 2012 tax increase with partnering charter schools.
The lines between district and charter schools grew fuzzier last month with the launch of a new website that promotes district and charter school choices together.The site created by the Cleveland Transformation Alliance, Jackson’s school choice panel, lists details and ratings of each school, while intentionally not offering users a way to search for just district or just charter schools.
Advocates of Jackson’s plan are now openly calling for common enrollment as the next step.
“The goal is to move ultimately to a citywide enrollment system,” said Transformation Alliance director Megan O’Bryan. “We have to start streamlining things on the enrollment end. Otherwise, people are going to get frustrated.”
Helen Williams and Ann Mullin, the education directors of the Cleveland and Gundfoundations respectively, agreed that joining charters and the district in one enrollment system is probably three years away. The two foundations have donated millions toward the creation of new school choices in the city over the last several years.
They guessed that charter high schools and the district could be on one system first, followed by other grades.
School choice advocates like Grover “Russ” Whitehurst of the Brookings Institution say that forcing parents to apply at multiple schools is a “mess” that districts need to avoid if they want to promote choice.
Whitehurst and Brookings consider a common enrollment system a major plus when doing their annual ratings of the quality of school choices in each city. (Cleveland is not included on Brookings’ rankings because of a misunderstanding about Cleveland’s enrollment totals.)
“A parent who can apply once, and has one application to fill out, is empowered to actually shop and not have to spend a year in the process,” Whitehurst said.
And he said a common enrollment system can help districts and charter schools know what schools are most desired by families. They can use demand for certain schools to guide creation of new schools, he said.
Betheny Gross, of the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, said a common enrollment plan can make it easier for parents, districts and schools when a city has a growing number of school choices.
Parents don’t have to sweat out multiple lotteries, she said, while schools don’t have students enrolling, only to leave if they get picked in another schools’ lottery.
CRPE and its founder, Paul Hill, are the main advocates of the “portfolio” style of districts, where districts become collections of individual schools that families can pick, rather than a traditional centralized system.
Cleveland is a member of CRPE’s Portfolio School District Network and lists its membership in that movement as a guiding force in the Cleveland Plan.
Gross, who is writing a series of papers about common enrollment for the CRPE website, said that joining charters and a district in one system is a difficult task.
“This is a really challenging collaboration on every side of the fence,” said Gross, “Everybody has their own individual interests that they’re trying to accomplish.”
Gross said making this shift takes careful planning and only two cities, Denver and New Orleans, have fully made it. New Orleans is a special case, with charter schools dominating school choices after Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city in 2005. Denver, she said, had about 60 separate school lotteries before uniting all of them as one.
Gross said having district and charter schools in one information system, like the Transformation Alliance website, is a good early step. Then, she said, schools should adopt a common timeline for when families should apply, deadlines for priority for seats and lottery dates.
That’s not in place yet, here in Cleveland, where even the Breakthrough charter schools have their own schedule, despite working closely with the district and despite sharing money from the 2012 levy.
A common timetable would make it easier to market school choices to families and remind them of the need to make choices.
A common student data and enrollment system would follow, so parents can enter information on their children once, regardless of what school they choose – instead of having to fill out paperwork each time they switch schools.
A common data system would also allow schools to keep track of children as they change schools.
The final step, she said, is a “heavy-duty” algorithm that can randomly put students in a priority order and match them to their top choice or, if full, their second or third choices.
The end result, experts say, would be similar to the matching that happens with medical students and residency programs.
Williams, of the Cleveland Foundation, said for a common plan to work, charters would have to trust that the district, or another agency running the enrollment system, wouldn’t guide students to their schools and shut out others.
O’Bryan agreed with Gross that such a plan would have to “phase-in” over time, while the district and charters sort out issues of control and what level of quality a school needs to have to be included. She predicted that the district and charter schools it partners with are the most likely to share a system, well before other charters are included.
Breakthrough spokesman Lyman Millard said the New Orleans and Denver enrollment systems, along with one being considered in Philadelphia, look promising.
“If it were that sort of system, I think we’d be interested,” Millard said. But while he is interested in the concept, schools would need to see details of how it would work before deciding.
He noted that the Breakthrough charter network, which has three different styles of schools, doesn’t even have a common Breakthrough enrollment system.
It’s also unclear if Cleveland has a need for such a system. The district’s most popular schools at its John Hay campus don’t even use the district’s lottery, since subjective things like interviews and recommendations let the schools pick students that are the best fit.
Only one district school, Campus International elementary school, needed a lottery this week to decide what students could attend. And Millard said some Breakthrough schools use a lottery, but demand for individual schools falls as the network adds more schools using the same model.
Citizens Academy, he said, had a lottery every year until Citizens Academy East opened and took in the extra students. The Intergenerational School has high demand, as well, but a new Lakeshore Intergenerational School starting in Collinwood this fall will take care of many students.
Source: Cleveland.com – by Patrick O’Donnell