What Choice Reveals, Demands

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Anya Kamenetz’s NPR piece, “The End of Neighborhood Schools,” is both poorly titled and well worth a read (and I know journalists don’t control their headlines).

Anya gets much right. New Orleans schools are vastly improved. They aren’t excellent yet. And both mature charter school networks (such as KIPP) and start-ups (such as Bricolage) are trying to figure out how to get New Orleans to excellent.

I hope they succeed.

But here’s something I wish Anya had explored: what can we learn from parents expressing frustration with not getting in to the most in demand schools in the city?

Some thoughts below:

Quick Review of the Data

It’s worth remembering that 80% of families got 1 of their top 3 choices.

About 18,5000 of 45,000 seats are rated “A” or “B.”

The number of schools rated “A” and “B” continues to grow. 

The Prerequisites of Frustration

In New Orleans, parents get easily digestible information in the form of letter grades (as illustrated by the mother in the article who references letter grades). So parents actually know which schools are good.

In New Orleans, unlike in most cities, families have a chance to send their children to schools to the most desirable schools (which are many times located in wealthier neighborhoods). So frustration comes from not securing a seat that is potentially available.

Facing the Realities of Poor Performance

Citywide choice forces all families (especially those who can’t opt out into private schools) to internalize the negative impacts of failing and mediocre schools. When every child can attend every school, a bad school is no longer someone else’s problem.

Which System Will Better Serve Students?

On one hand, we could go to the old system: poor information, little choice, and an ability for those with greater wealth to fence off their public schools.

On the other hand, we can provide information, give choice, and force all public school families to face the realities of poor performance.

What does choice reveal?

As any parent can tell you, choice reveals to everyone that our public schools aren’t as good as they need to be.

What does choice demand?

As any charter school leader in New Orleans can tell you, choice demands that public schools get much, much better.

The end of neighborhood schools is one way to look at.

The beginning of equity is another way.



3 thoughts on “What Choice Reveals, Demands

  1. Joe Connor

    Candler says this city — and the nation — need fresh education ideas to continue to make progress.

    “What got us from an F to C is not what’s going to get us to A,” he said. “More than any experience yet in the last 20 years, New Orleans has enlightened us that market-based strategies are not sufficient in and of themselves.”

    I think Candler poses an important question:
    What gets us from C (ok) schools to A (great) schools?

    A few ideas:
    1. Push for more higher order thinking skills in the classroom – Many teachers in TFA and KIPP etc are very good at teaching behavior management and basic academic skills. There is sometimes a lack of rigor for skills like design, evaluate etc.
    2. Wraparound services – Providing wraparound services (like HCZ provides and KIPP is piloting at KIPP Connect in Houston) for students.
    3. Talent – More charter incubators helping more future charter leaders establish CMOs and charter schools.

    What else do you think can help?


  2. Wm Murphy

    I wonder what letter grades actually tell a person who may have a less nuanced understanding of how SPS is calculated, how it does or does not correlate to AYP and subgroup performance, and what is the reality of a pedagogical day in the life. A “C” is not I’d argue in most cases “ok” given the current method of calculating. I’d also say many B’s are not places I would choose to send my child given their pedagogical and curricular choices and/or significant sub-group performance discrepancies. I’m just not sure a letter grade tells us very much about a school or about parent choice motivations. But I could be wrong.

    1. nkingsl

      I agree with your take on performance – “A” and high “B” would be where I’d start to think about higher quality…

      But I generally think a parent saying “only A or B for me” would be a fairly decent guide post


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