Report: Information, transportation can be obstacles to school choice

Information and transportation are two of the main barriers to true educational choice that school districts need to help parents overcome.

Those are two of the key findings in a report released last week by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which has looked repeatedly at the barriers to true parental choice.

Parents with less education are less likely to choose options beyond their neighborhood schools.
Parents with less education are less likely to choose options beyond their neighborhood schools.

The report is based on surveys of hundreds of parents in eight high-choice cities (none of which are in Florida). About one in four parents said they struggle to find information they need to select the schools that best meet their children’s needs. The problem tends to be more pronounced among parents with lower education levels.

In general, more educated parents are more likely to choose options beyond their assigned school. Neerav Kingsland, however, notes districts that have invested in the infrastructure to support choice are starting to close that gap.

Overall, more educated parents are more active choosers. However, you’ll notice that in New Orleans, parents without a high school degree are more active chooses than parents with a college degree in every other city! Sound regulation – in this case New Orleans’ OneApp enrollment system – goes a very, very long way.

The report still notes that parents “appear no more or less likely to report having the information they need in cities [like New Orleans] with the most comprehensive information systems” – a sign there is work left to be done in this area.

Cities need to develop rich information resources to help parents choose a school. A booklet listing programs and test scores is a good start but cities should do much more to support informed choice by leveraging trusted community institutions and school staff to provide the personalized and interactive sources of information parents crave.

One key barrier some districts have helped families overcome is transportation. New Orleans appears to excel in this area, and it requires charter schools to offer transportation. For example, parents in Cleveland were more than two-thirds more likely to cite transportation as a barrier to school choice than their counterparts in New Orleans, the only city found to have made a “significant investment” in transportation options that support school choice. Florida districts grappling with this issue, take note.

For many families, including those that are well resourced, the lack of transportation severely constrains the options that are available to them. If city leaders want all families to be able to benefit from choice, they must ensure that parents choosing non-neighborhood-based schools have the same transportation options as those who choose neighborhood schools.

Of course in many urban areas, the most important barrier to parents seeking the best option for their children is a shortage of high-quality, accessible schools. So perhaps the most important recommendation in the report is for school districts to focus on opening more great schools.