Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Denver's new school choice plan: communication is paramount

One of the challenges of introducing a new market design is communicating effectively with participants. Even a strategy-proof system that makes it safe to list your preferences straightforwardly may cause parents to worry whether this is the case. The new school choice system in Denver is dealing with this: Denver Public Schools' new school choice system stressing out some parents

"Denver Public Schools is rolling out a new school-choice process that centralizes school enrollment, and parents are feeling the stress of learning the new ropes.

"The process is still not entirely clear to me," said Tracy Edwards- Konkol, a parent of a fifth-grade daughter in the market for a middle school.

"Edwards-Konkol has delayed her return of the new four-page application — due Jan. 31 — that requires parents to submit a list of their top five school choices in order of preference.

"A line in the application that states that enrolling at a school other than the neighborhood school means forefeiting that guaranteed seat — has some parents thinking twice about choice.

"Fearing that not getting into the first- or second-pick school would place her child at the end of the line to get into their own — likely full — neighborhood school, Edwards-Konkol considered not even applying at Denver School of the Arts, her daughter's first choice.

"When I downloaded the form and saw that line, I panicked," Edwards-Konkol said. "Several parents I've talked to in fact are now looking at this new school in Stapleton because there might be more room at that school. Parents are looking for a safe school."

"But DPS director of choice and enrollment Shannon Fitzgerald said that understanding is incorrect.

"Even if the neighborhood school is not included in the list of top-five choices, if there was no room to enroll the child at the five preferred schools, the child would still have a guaranteed spot at their home school.

"Every student is allowed to hold a spot at one school at any given time," Fitzgerald said.

"It's only when a student is actually placed or enrolled at another school of choice that the neighborhood seat would be offered to a student from outside the neighborhood, she said."

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