Once upon a time I pointed readers to an interesting and thought-provoking article by education guru Rick Hess, titled “Does School Choice Work?” A couple of points Hess made in the article can stand to be repeated. First:
The biggest mistake pro-market school reformers have made can thus be put simply: They have mistaken choice for competition. The conviction that school choice constitutes, by itself, a market solution has too often led reformers to skip past the hard work necessary to take advantage of the opportunities that choice-based reform can provide.
One of his steps to help advance the choice agenda?:
It is not essential for every single consumer to have the knowledge or inclination to make savvy decisions — but providers do need to expect that the quality of their performance will be known, and will matter. Today, unfortunately, it is enormously difficult for parents in most communities to get useful information on school quality….There is a gaping need for third parties to step up and play the role of a Zagat’s guide or Consumer Reports, providing accessible, independent information on K-12 schools. As these examples make clear, there is absolutely value in having multiple providers, perhaps focusing on different educational concerns or kinds of schools.
With that in mind, today on the Ed News Colorado blog, Van Schoales — longtime education reform advocate and executive director of A-Plus Denver — unveiled some great news:
This week Denver Public Schools is rolling out “School Choice,” a new common enrollment process for all DPS schools, and a companion guide for families….
Think of what the combination of Consumer Reports and the web have done to car buying; no longer are we beholden to our local car dealer for information on quality and price for a car purchase. An informed consumer can now see objective data on cars along with purchase and repair costs before even setting foot into a showroom.
Sounds like a great companion to my Education Policy Center friends’ one-of-a-kind School Choice for Kids website — which goes further and covers the whole state of Colorado. Informed education consumers (i.e., parents and students) make better choices that help enhance the competitive effects of the marketplace. More helpful sources of valid information on schools and other K-12 programs is a plus. The companion guide with improved information (known as “Discovery”) is welcomed as another tool.
But, as Schoales points out, the truly exciting news from Denver Public Schools is the new enrollment process. Until now, families faced 62 different enrollment processes to get into the district’s 150 schools. Now, the number is down to “a few.” Especially for low-income students, this move represents major progress in reaching equal opportunity and equal access to excellent education. As families become better informed about their learning options, and face fewer hurdles in exercising their choices, growing demand should help to fuel greater quality.
Hurrah for DPS, and kudos to groups like Get Smart Schools and others that helped to make the greatly improved enrollment process happen!