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Public School Choice Works, Creates Opportunity


• Victoria Bell

Public school choice is working for families across the country. While choice programs certainly face unique challenges in cities across the U.S., a recent study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) finds that public school choice is “working well and resulting in new opportunities for families.”

Some people claim education choice will result in an oversaturated education market and in that environment parents will have insufficient information and will lack the support needed to make informed education decisions for their children.

CRPE researchers reviewed 18 “high-choice” cities and analyzed school performance data, interviewed stakeholders, and surveyed parents. The researchers examined student and school outcomes in both district and charter schools.

What they found is promising for the future of public school choice and confirms what many families already know: More choice actually benefits families and communities through improvement in student and school outcomes. Families are eager to enroll their children in great schools, and district and charter schools are responding to that demand by increasing the supply of quality schools.


A few of the key findings in the CRPE report include:

  • In high-choice cities, low-scoring schools tended to improve over time.
  • High school graduation rates improved in 11 of 17 cities.
  • Students had significant improvements in reading and math proficiency in 5 of 14 cities.

The CRPE policy director said “Our hope is that this research can provide common sense information for cities that want to move beyond the rhetoric and get to work finding solutions for families. We urge city leaders and policymakers to dive into the data, see what is and isn’t working, and take action to maximize quality options and minimize barriers.”

The Brookings Institution recently convened a group of leaders to discuss the implications of the CRPE report, including the challenges and successes of choice programs and how those programs can be improved to better meet the needs of students, families and communities.

Overall, the general sentiment of the panel was that public school choice has strong, bipartisan support and this tenacious support will persist long into the future. Suggested areas for improvement in choice programs include better informing and supporting families, continuing to improve school quality and fit, and committing to engage the community in the education strategy.

School choice is about finding the best fit for each individual student. It is not a pitting of district schools vs. charters vs. private vs. some other education model. In fact, neighborhood schools and choice programs can coexist and both can thrive. A market with education choices can, as DC Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson said on the panel, “force us to pay attention as a district” and avoid complacency. Wilson also said, “Absent the insertion of choice, we didn’t have a lot of good schools.”

Still, public school choice isn’t a policy panacea. Ultimately, what matters is that each individual student has access to a high-quality education that is meeting his or her unique educational needs. Public school choice is one of the many ways those needs can be met.

Policy makers, community leaders, and parents can (and should) work in tandem to create education environments that increase access to quality schools for every student. All children can learn, and it is our responsibility to provide equitable access to quality educational opportunities and focus on the singular goal of student success.


About the author


Victoria Bell

Victoria@ExcelinEd.org