School Choice? Learning Policy Institute Report Recommendations

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Introduction

Today’s blog is about how school choice has not really been implemented as a system. The Learning Policy Institute has produced a report on school choice that reminds us, “Simply creating new options does not lead automatically to greater access, quality, or equity.” (Learning Policy Institute online report).

School choice seems to be in keeping with our capitalistic idea of free markets—that citizens can choose the products they want to use and pay for. However, in a publicly-funded system of education, the way school choice is now being used is quite fragmented. States are in need of coherent policies in school choice. The Learning Policy Institute report has a simple set of recommendations that would promote access, quality and equity for all children:

LPI Report’s Recommendations

“The goal and challenge of school choice is to create a system in which all children choose and are chosen by a good school that serves them well and is easily accessible. The central lesson from decades of experience and research is that choice alone does not accomplish this goal. Simply creating new options does not lead automatically to greater access, quality, or equity. This report cites examples in which the introduction of choice variously expanded or restricted access, increased or decreased segregation, and led to positive or negative impacts on student achievement, depending on how it was designed and managed. An additional consideration is that, by a large margin, parents’ preferred choice is their neighborhood public school.” (LPI Summary Recommendations)

Learning Policy Institute online report

Building Systems of Choice

“Thus, systems of choice must equally attend to quality and access to such schools as well as to those offering novel orientations or innovations. A number of states and districts have developed means to address the challenges of choice through school authorization and review approaches that pay close attention to quality and access, as well as student diversity; centralized enrollment systems that help ensure fairness in student recruitment and retention; and strategies for supporting instructional improvement across all schools, rather than relying primarily on school closures to address school failure. The research we have reviewed suggests the following recommendations for building equitable systems of school choice” (LPI Summary Recommendations)

Learning Policy Institute online report

High Quality Learning for Children

“• Focus on high-quality learning for children, not the preferences of adults. Too often, questions related to school and program design get debated and decided in terms of the preferences of adults, not the needs of children. The key questions should be: How do we create high-quality learning environments for all children? Are there some schools or programs that are oversubscribed and could be replicated or expanded rather than setting a fixed number of slots and rationing access? Are there some groups of students who are not receiving adequate and equitable learning opportunities? Are there groups of students or schools that are underperforming? Are there certain neighborhoods in which families do not have high-quality choices? Subsequent questions should help determine how those needs might best be met. Answers to these questions surface strategies that can improve educational opportunities, such as redesigning schools, adding wraparound services, increasing bilingual services, improving training and recruitment of special education teachers, or investing in new curriculum approaches.” (LPI Summary Recommendations)

Learning Policy Institute online report

Equity and Access

“• Work to ensure equity and access for all. Expanding choice can increase opportunities, or it can complicate or restrict access to convenient and appropriate opportunities, most often for the neediest students. Creating systems and communication methods that truly provide equal access to all students can be challenging. Simply opening up the “market” to allow for parental choice tends to favor families who already have access to a range of options rather than increasing options for those families who lack high-quality choices. The focus must be on ensuring all students have access to high-quality schools—not simply creating options with the hope that they will be accessible to all students. This requires centralized efforts to ensure good schools in every neighborhood—with investments in high-quality personnel and programs—and ways to ensure all students have access to all the options.” (LPI Summary Recommendations)

Learning Policy Institute online report

Create Transparency in Choice

“• Create transparency at every stage about outcomes, opportunities, and resources to inform decision making for families, communities, and policymakers. Regardless of where they are located, for districts to maintain a healthy array of school options, parents, community members, and policymakers need up-to-date, consistent, comparable, and easily accessible information on all schools. That includes information about admission processes, recruitment and retention outcomes, enrollment patterns, finances, access to high-quality curriculum and learning opportunities, student outcomes such as achievement and graduation, and disciplinary practices and their results. It should also include the results of school quality reviews that provide qualitative evidence about school practices, programs, and climate, and that can guide diagnostic investments.” (LPI Summary Recommendations)

Learning Policy Institute online report

Schools for All Children

“• Build a system of schools that meets all students’ needs. For a system to work effectively, all students need access to high-quality schools, and all schools must be of high quality. No neighborhood should lack an effective school for parents to choose. Creating such a system requires a laser-like focus on understanding student and school needs and then investing in program resources, as well as teachers and leaders, individually and in professional learning networks, to build their capacities to create strong schools and serve all students. It also means investing in the wraparound services and supports that students need to be healthy and ready to learn each day. We already have a rich tapestry of school choice in the United States. The challenge ahead is to expand quality and access within this tapestry so that every child chooses, and is chosen by, a school worth choosing.” (LPI Summary Recommendations)

Learning Policy Institute online report

References

Cookson, P. W., Jr., Darling-Hammond, L., Rothman, R., & Shields, P. M. (2018). The tapestry of American public education: How we can create a system of schools worth choosing for all? Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Learning Policy Institute online report