Parents in Denver are more optimistic about the direction of the school system and feel positive about the information they have about school choice than parents in other cities—but equity issues and challenges in providing transportation as more students leave their neighborhood schools remain.
Those are some of the findings from a new report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, which polled parents and guardians about their experiences with school choice in Denver and seven other cities with more developed school choice systems.
CRPE, a research group that focuses on school choice systems and other issues in urban school districts, released a report with broader findings from the same surveys earlier this year. This month’s report gives more detail about parents’ perceptions in each city.
Denver Public Schools’ current school choice system has been in place for about four years. Parents fill out an application in which they name their top choices, and are assigned to a school by the district’s central office. The process has been tweaked over time: It now sets aside more spaces for students who miss initial registration days, for instance.
In Denver, more parents reported that they were able to access information about school options than in other cities. Parents also reported that the district’s “common application” worked well. That’s a contrast to New Orleans, another city that’s created a common application that includes charter and district schools.
Denver parents were also most likely to report that there were other good school options in the city besides the school they send their child to. A full 60 percent said they’d be happy to send their child to another school, compared to 40 percent in Philadelphia and 47 percent in Cleveland.
Close to 60 percent of parents said they felt the school system in Denver is improving.
But Denver parents said they often had trouble finding transportation to their child’s school.
And not all Denver parents get into any of their desired schools. The report highlights a parent named Joe Jimenez who applied for three schools after extensive research, but was able to send his daughter to none of them.
Despite the district’s emphasis on choice, about 50 percent of parents in Denver reported sending their children to neighborhood schools. Some 11.6 percent of students attended charter schools in 2011-12, according to the report. District officials said more than 17 percent of students attend charter schools as of this October.
The report finds marked variation between the eight cities’ systems and parents’ perceptions of how they’re working. But across the board, parents who have children with special needs, minority parents, and low-income parents reported having more challenges accessing schools. Parents who are more educated also tended to use the choice systems more.
The report advocates for all of the districts it profiles, including Denver, to increase the number of “high-quality” schools, invest in their information systems, improve transportation options, and create schools tailored to the needs of their communities.
(CRPE receives funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also provides some support for Chalkbeat.)
Clarification: The report cited charter school enrollment for 2011-12, not the current school year. The article has been updated to clarify and to include more up-to-date enrollment numbers.