A majority of parents — regardless of socioeconomic backgrounds — are now choosing which schools their students attend, according to a new report by the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

But too many parents, especially those with less education and lower incomes, continue to face barriers in selecting schools.

The report, released today by the education reform-minded Seattle-based think tank, is based on surveys from 4,000 parents across eight cities with active choice options — including Denver. It is the first report in a series by CRPE that will examine choice programs across the nation. The report was funded in part by the Walton Family Foundation.

Barriers families face when choosing a school — neighborhood or charter — include inadequate information, lack of convenient transportation, and uneven school quality, the report found.

Parents of students living with special-needs are also more likely to experience difficulties finding a school of their choice.

“For school choice advocates, this report paints a cautionary picture,” the study’s authors concluded. “Although the expansion of choice in American cities has clearly empowered many parents and provided their children an escape from chronically low-performing schools, leaders today need to face crosscutting access and quality problems that get in the way of all families benefiting from choice. Given the state of education governance in many big cities, where agencies charged with overseeing public schools operate independently, addressing these problems requires new thinking and strategies.”

The report recommends school officials provide parents more detailed school information and offer better transportation options. In some cases, especially in those cities with multi-level governance structures (including district-run neighborhood and charter schools, private charter operators, and state-run schools), a single city-wide choice system like Denver’s may simplify the process for parents.

Denver’s SchoolChoice process is a three-year old initiative billed as “one form, one timeline, all schools,” which aimed to make school enrollment fairer. Parents submit up to five choices for potential schools. Those who do not participate or do not get one of their five choices are automatically enrolled in their neighborhood school.

Data released earlier this year by Denver Public Schools found this year is the first since the system’s launch in which the number of participants who received a top choice declined.

Denver parents also shared their love-hate relationship with the school district’s choice program earlier this year during a series of town-hall meetings the city’s school board hosted as it reworked its strategic governing document.

The next CRPE report is expected to dive into the results of the survey by localities and is due out in the fall.

Disclosure: Chalkbeat is a grantee of The Walton Family Foundation. 

CRPE choice report