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How an online form ignited a debate about school choice

There are plenty of reasons for school leaders and parents to lock horns in the debate over school choice. But I never thought a simple online form would be one.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before: Looking to make it easier for families to choose the right school among a burgeoning cadre of options, education officials in Charleston, S.C. recently introduced an online form that enables students to apply for admission to multiple schools using a single application.

The form was designed to streamline a previously tedious application process. But, as this Post and Courier story points out, early computer glitches and other hang ups created frustration among parents, some of whom received false or misleading information about their child’s admissions status.

Though the rollout was less than smooth, school choice proponents say the online system, once perfected, will make deciding on the right school easier.

A national trend?
Charleston is hardly alone in embracing technology to promote unified enrollment. Across the country, education officials are experimenting with more convenient options for families to search and apply for schools, be it traditional public, charters, or other alternatives.

Similar proposals in cities such as Boston and Oakland have school leaders pointing toward the emergence of a national trend. But not everyone is on board.

While unified enrollment makes it easier for families with ready technology access to parse and choose from a growing menu of options, critics say students without such access risk being relegated to under-performing schools with even fewer resources.

On the other side, proponents say more options give parents and families the freedom to seek the school that best suits their needs.

Finding your own advantage
No matter your position, it’s important to understand the needs and concerns of your community. As school choice fosters competition in K12 education, is your school or district doing everything it can to attract and retain parents and students? Are you paying close attention to the different resources offered at other schools? What can you do to make enrollment and other processes easier for families?

My advice: take time to listen to your community. Ask parents and students and others what they want. And start planning from there.

Looking for a better way to bring your community into critical school system decisions? Here’s a few ways to invite them into that conversation.