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Embracing School Choice: Dawkins Advocates Leveling the Playing Field

Whether we care to admit it or not, school choice is an idea whose time has come.

The days of public school districts being the only option for parents to educate their children are long gone—and there is no turning back.

Charter schools stats
Source: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Charter schools now educate more than 6 percent of all public school students in the United States, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In fact, enrollment in charter schools grew from 1.8 million students in the 2010-11 school year to 2.9 million students in 2015-16.

It isn’t just competition from charters. Many states now feature open-enrollment policies that allow parents to send their children to neighboring districts. Private school choice programs, which offer financial help for students to attend private institutions, are another option. And that was before Betsy DeVos came to Washington.

With a new administration and new priorities, the issue of school choice and market share represents the biggest challenge public schools have faced in a generation, maybe ever.

Every time a time a student chooses to leave your school district, that decision costs your schools thousands in per-pupil funding. This is happening right now, in districts from Washington, D.C. to Cleveland to Detroit to Los Angeles.

But your schools needn’t fear the steady march of choice. Rather, they should embrace it. That means giving people a reason to stay, and constantly adding value to help your school stand out from the competition.

As a former school district superintendent and someone who works with school districts to improve community engagement, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges public school leaders are facing with the expansion of school choice. In my work with districts across the country, I’ve identified four common truths about why parents and families choose to leave their public schools:

  1. While education factors into the decision, a rigorous comparison of academic options is rarely the sole reason for leaving
  2. The decision to choose out is usually emotional and based on one or more negative experiences
  3. To stay competitive, schools must train their staff to provide high-quality customer experiences for students, parents, teachers, community members, and for staff too
  4. Parents need to know that their child’s school is willing to listen and cares

So what can you do in this new school choice reality to make sure your school or district is the first choice for students and families?

To help, my colleagues and I have put together a practical guide to succeeding in a world of school choice.

Read the guide: The School Leader’s Definitive Guide to Capturing Market Share

In it, we attempt to shine a light on the changes taking place—and help school leaders embrace a new mindset, one that levels the playing field and keeps students coming back.

Download it, skim it over, and let me know what you think: gerald.dawkins@k12insight.com.