Expanding Choice in Elementary and Secondary Education: A Report on Rethinking the Federal Role in Education
What role should the feds play in school choice? That is the question teased out in this report, one of four from the Brown Center on various aspects of the federal role (the other three are forthcoming). First of all, explain the authors, we need to reconceptualize how we think about choice by moving past our idealistic visions of it--any student can attend any school on the government’s dime--and accept the empirical reality that only a small percentage of students attend schools of choice, despite significant recent growth, and many of those schools aren’t any good, or any better than traditional options. But thinking about choice as a tool for giving students more options and improving low-performing schools, on the other hand, provides common ground to choice supporters and detractors. And that’s where the feds step in. One of the main constraints on choice today is parental access to school information. Typically, they get the wrong numbers, too late to do any good, and in incomprehensible technical jargon. The reauthorization of ESEA provides the perfect conduit to create a better system. A new version of the law could tighten up school report card and notification of choice deadlines, presentation, and readability; it could incentivize districts to offer open enrollment programs where there are no “default” schools, forcing parents to make a decision, even if that still is the neighborhood school; and it could require schools to provide more relevant information such as teacher absenteeism rates, student transfer-out rates, and availability of advanced coursework. Using this new information, the feds should fund and create a “School Navigator” system, similar to the already existing College Navigator tool, that would allow parents to troll through the entire warehouse of data on schools in an easy to use, easy to read, and easy to understand manner. But unlike the college version, this database would be structured in such a way to encourage parents to consider more heavily the factors that actually reflect school quality and student achievement. This report is a game changer. Don’t skip it.
Jay Greene, Tom Loveless, W. Bentley MacLeod, Thomas Nechyba, Paul Peterson, Meredith Rosenthal, Grover Whitehurst
The Brookings Institution, Brown Center on Education Policy
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