School choices: Parents need information, more options

February 6, 2013 11:00 AM

New Wave staff

In rebuilding its schools, New Orleans has gone to an all-choice system. This is a market-based approach geared to improve all schools, but is it working? Research by the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives points to the need for better distribution of quality school options across the city and more communication with parents about school attributes.

School choice illustration

Cowen Institute researchers talked to more than 80 families with school-age children about their process for choosing schools.

“This year, parents have more school options and better information than ever … but we are not there yet,” wrote John Ayers, executive director of the institute, in an opinion piece in The Times-Picayune. With limited seats at high-quality schools and a complicated application process, “some parents will fail to gain access to the best schools for their children.”

Markets work best when information is widely available and utilized, said Ayers. 

According to the institute's focus group results, outlined in a report titled “Spotlight on Choice," all New Orleans public schools — both charter and district-run — are citywide access schools, allowing parents to select among schools regardless of where they live. This school year, more than 80 percent of public school students attend charter schools.

Researchers found that parents invest a large amount of time and energy researching and selecting schools. The Orleans Parish School Board and the state-run Recovery School District, along with several nonprofit organizations, have worked to simplify the application process through a unified enrollment system known as OneApp.

Ayers said OneApp is “brilliantly designed” but needs to include all Orleans Parish schools. Clear communication with parents is key, along with making more improvements in school quality so that “all parents have access to great school choices close to home.”

A Schools Expo on Feb. 16 will enable parents to interact directly with schools from across the city.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu