A School Choice Education Consultant is Cheaper than a F***ing House


Three articles recently came out about school choice.

This article details how parents in Washington D.C. are hiring school choice consultants to help them navigate their options. From the article:

Most D.C. families don’t have the wherewithal to pay for school advice, raising questions about whether school choice highlights a divide between parents who have the information they need to navigate the system — and the ability to transport their kids across town to a better school — and parents who don’t.

This article in Education Week details the rise of choice consultants and notes:

…others worry that consultants are a symptom of a system that’s perhaps getting too complicated for parents, and could potentially put low-income families who can’t afford such services at a competitive disadvantage.

And the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

“The irony is that a system that has very complicated, precise rules, that encourages you to go out and see and evaluate a bunch of schools, obviously benefits the most advantaged families,” said board member Norton.

A couple of thoughts:

1. I can guarantee you that a nice house in Washington D.C. or San Francisco costs more than an education choice consultant. You know what’s unfair? Having to be able to drop 1.2 million on a two bedroom house to get access to a good school. If paying $250 to a school choice consultant is now all it takes to level the playing, I think that’s about a one million dollar move in the right direction.

2. A good letter grade system will reduce education choice consultants to an unnecessary luxury. Everyone understands that “A” and “B” schools are better than “D” and “F” schools. If these districts really cared about poor families having access to good information, they would label their schools.

3. Inevitably, in a choice system, some parents will make bad choices. And more educated families will likely have some advantages in navigating the process. But the question you need to ask is not: is this system perfect? Rather, you should ask: is this system better than assigning people to schools based on their ability to buy a house?

Yes, there’s been plenty of room to make choice systems better.

But let’s be crystal clear about the fact that nearly every school district in the country assigns people to schools based on the market value of their home.

The education injustice in this country is not about having too many choices. It’s about having too few.

3 thoughts on “A School Choice Education Consultant is Cheaper than a F***ing House

  1. Ryan Hill

    One thing I’m increasingly cognizant of in discussing choice is the conflation of “choice we don’t immediately understand” with “bad choice.” There are high performing schools I wouldn’t put my kids in, and lower performing schools I’d consider for my own. While I agree that ratings systems would help, nobody’s (especially no government organization) going to invent one that perfectly describes schools in a way that resonates to all parents, in prt because different parents value different things.

    At least two reasons this matters:

    1. Education choice consultants can breathe easy because the ratings system won’t ever completely obliterate them.

    2. It has implications for how we think about ratings systems. Ratings and rankings create incentives, even when no other stakes are applied. Base the system exclusively on test scores, and there go the arts and maybe sports programs. Base it on reading and math, no more science and social studies. And if you’re not extremely careful in designing it, you may incent really bad behavior, like pushing out kids with special needs.

    So while there may be (in NOLA?) ratings systems that do productively increase transparency while accounting for these issues, I think that some actually reduce transparency into the kind of nuanced assessments of performance most parents care about, by providing an air of certainty (a hard letter grade) based on a very limited measure (tests). My guess is that on balance most such systems probably marginally increase transparency while also exacerbating equity issues for kids in marginalized subgroups and further narrowing the offerings of schools. That is to say, overall a really good rating system would be better than no rating system, but I’m not so sure a typical rating system does more good than harm.

    1. nkingsl

      I hear you – my general take is that creating a decent rating system is so easy that it should be pursued. But open to the idea that politics on good ratings systems make this impossible in many places…

  2. badgehs

    ” let’s be crystal clear about the fact that nearly every school district in the country assigns people to schools based on the market value of their home.”

    Neerav, is there a way we can test this statement? Obviously, it has merit when we’re talking say east Cleveland. But across the nation?

    A friend taught at Jackson High, outside Canton. She says, ‘it’s incredibly difficult to give everybody what they need. On one hand, we have kids roll up in Jaguars. On the other, we have kids on food stamps and more. We have everybody.’

    Or, take our district here. As I mentioned, it covers most of the county. Yes, the district has less money than its wealthy suburban competitors. But most of the state is more like here than those schools.

    2/3 of us live outside cities.

    The district to the northeast includes a 1000 home gated community and the original traditionally platted town. The entire district contains 650 students. Few mansions, but a balanced student body for what it is. The district to the northeast is pretty much just like this, though in a county with a little more propensity to vote for tax hikes.

    Of the 830 high schools in Ohio, figure 2/3 or more will fit one of these profiles. Most will have only one school to send a child to.

    Extend that across the midwest, plains, and south.

    I’m with you on more choice for families. If we’re gonna do this, though, don’t we have to consider all the schools that lie outside urban cores?


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