Few Surprises in Best and Worst Cities for School Choice List


A enw report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute focuses on school choice by taking a closer look at which cities across the country are “choice-friendly.”

The report, “America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Choice,” examines school choice among a number of cities throughout the United States, finding that quantity does not always equal quality.

Using school choice to incorporate a broad range of the education spectrum including charter, magnet, and private schools, as well as traditional public schools, researchers also took into account how parents can access these options, including open enrollment, vouchers, and tax credit scholarships.  Data was taken from public databases, as well as from district and state websites, newspaper articles, and education insiders within each city in the creation of almost fifty indicators of how much choice families are offered within each city studied.

Positives and negatives were found pertaining to each city’s choice atmosphere in relation to three areas, including political support, policy environment, and quantity and quality.

Political support included the extent of support school choice received in each city from key players such as the mayor, city council, school board, superintendent, and governor.  In addition, unions, parent groups, and the media were also considered.  Researchers weighed this topic the least amount, giving it 15% of each city’s total score due to the fact that it is simply a means to an end.

Policy environment took into account such topics as the strength of state charter laws, funding and facilities access, support from non-profits, businesses, and philanthropists, consumer supports such as report cards and transportation, and quality control mechanisms, such as the process for closing schools.  This section was given more weight, at 35%, because these policies are important to create a robust choice sector.

Quantity and quality looks at the types of school choice options that are available within each city, how easily accessible each option is, the portion of market share occupied by charter and other specialized schools, and the quality of the choice sector.  Because this topic is the most relevant to students and families, it was given the most weight at 50%.

New Orleans, Washington, DC, and Denver rounded out the top three, according to researcher’s rankings.  According to the report, these three cities are well-known for school reform and are well-deserving of their positions on the rankings.  Meanwhile, Pittsburgh, Austin, and Albany came in last.

Researchers note a number of similarities among the cities studied, including a high amount of intradistrict choice as a result of open enrollment programs.  However, support mechanisms for school choice such as common applications or publicly provided transportation were found to be inadequate in many of the cities studied.

These patterns helped researchers to make recommendations toward creating more choice-friendly cities.  The authors suggest that cities give charters equitable resources, including facilities and funding, expand public school choice through a better open enrollment program and a higher number of magnet and CTE schools.

They also suggest school choice be made more user-friendly for parents by offering more information, including magnet and charter schools on common applications, offering transportation to all schools, and including homeschooled and charter school children in extra-curricular activities.