Friday, May 11, 2012

New Orleans school choice goes live

Recovery School District says new pupil enrollment system is getting the job done

The state-run district that governs most of the public schools in New Orleans has finished assigning more than 25,000 pupils who turned in applications for seats at one of 67 campuses this spring, declaring its new central enrollment system a success. Recovery School District officials said Wednesday that of the 3,841 students looking for a kindergarten or ninth-grade seat -- broadly speaking, those entering the system for the first time or making the transition to high school -- 84 percent got into one of the first three choices they ranked on their application. About 76 percent got their top choice.
lafayette-academy-janet-wolfe.jpgView full sizeAmong elementary schools, Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School, Lafayette Academy and Martin Behrman were the most popular. Janet Wolfe was photographed teaching her second-grade class at Lafayette Academy in October.
Of the 19,896 looking for a place in the other grades, about 73 percent got one of their top three choices. And 59 percent got their first choice.
On the other hand, almost 16 percent of students heading into kindergarten or the ninth grade didn't get any of the choices they ranked, along with 26 percent of students in other grades. Because there are a limited number of seats in any given school and some schools are more popular than others, it was inevitable that some students would have to stay put where they already attend or be manually assigned by the district.
State officials said that in those cases, they assigned students to open seats using random lottery numbers, giving preference to those living closer to one school than another. A little more than half of the students who didn't get any school that they ranked will remain in the school they already attend.
The data also suggested that only a fairly narrow set of public schools in New Orleans have built a strong enough reputation to draw big applicant pools. The state said that on average, families ranked only 2.6 elementary schools and 2.4 high schools, even though they could have ranked as many as eight.
"It says two things," concluded Gabriela Fighetti, the Recovery District's director of student enrollment. "There are some schools that families really want to go to -- and we really need to keep improving our full range of schools so that families have more options."
diagram-enrollment-041512.jpgView full size
Overall though, state officials are pointing to these numbers as a sign that the district's new central enrollment process, which made its debut this year, is working.
The state moved to centralize enrollment this spring after years of complaints from parents about the difficulty of finding a school in a city where so many independent charter schools have been handling the process on their own. In past years, families who wanted to try for a spot at more than one charter school -- charters now educate close to 80 percent of the city's public school students -- had to fill out separate applications and hope that one of their choices had an open seat.
Now the district is assigning seats based on how families rank their top choices, their proximity to the school and a random lottery number.
Families are being notified this week where their children will attend in the fall. Anyone can appeal their assignment, and given the significant number of pupils assigned a school they didn't ask for, that could prove a contentious, emotional process.
"If you're asking if there were wrinkles, absolutely," said Vera Triplett, CEO of the New Beginnings charter school network. "There were kids who weren't assigned to any of their choices, kids who didn't get into a school where their sibling goes, that kind of thing."
Triplett added: "I think a lot of it will be ironed out after it's brought to the district's attention."
Still, the district isn't in a position to give every family what it wants. Seats are limited, and if parents ranked only the more popular schools, they were more likely to be disappointed.
The Recovery District released a list of the top three most popular schools for different grade levels on Wednesday, but officials had not compiled complete rankings for every school in the city. Those in the top three tended to be schools with better performance scores from the state, as measured by test results and other factors.
Among elementary schools, Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School, Lafayette Academy and Martin Behrman topped the list. For just those students entering kindergarten, however, schools that are a part of the KIPP charter network proved the most popular, with KIPP Central City, KIPP McDonogh 15 and KIPP Believe in the top three slots.
Lake Area, Sophie B. Wright and Sci Academy were the top secondary schools among all applicants, while those entering the ninth grade most often chose Lake Area, Sci Academy and KIPP Renaissance.

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