It's Time for Schools to be Counted

Sep 21, 2012

When I used to coach track and field, I would tell my colleagues, “A great leader removes all excuses for their athletes to fail.” The same is true in education. Our systems should make it easy for parents and students to succeed by removing excuses’ door.

While empowering, New Orleans highly decentralized system of charter schools has been as confusing. Parents encounter loopholes when they don’t fully understand their options.

School leaders have responded to this unintended and negative tradeoff of choice. The Recovery School District developed a centralized enrollment system called the OneApp program, which creates a one stop, school selection shop for parents. Families simply list their school preferences, which are managed by sophisticated algorithms. The OneApp system then administers a fair and equitable lottery process.

In a choice/lottery system, in which families must apply to a school, structures that encourage fairness and equity are expected. Every parent wants the best for their child. I believe most parents understand that not everyone can get into what is considered the best schools. But all parents should receive a fair chance at getting the school of their choice.

Still, more parents will apply to certain schools that will not have the seats to match the demand. Disappointment leads to gaming. New Orleans schools have to move from who you know to what you know processes. Our systems must demonstrate the same ethics it expects from its students. A centralized enrollment system helps leaders make just choices.

Another positive aspect of a centralized enrollment program is that it will detect when students enter another school. Special needs students, discipline problems and those simply exposed to bad schools move frequently. We have to take roll so we can better understand if schools are not fulfilling their primary charter: teaching all students.

The state only requires individual schools to report attendance three time a year: October 1, February 1 and at the end of the year. We need to come closer to a comprehensive, centralized database that tracks students between multiple systems. New Orleans schools are bleeding students between those three dates.

Open manholes perforate the pipeline towards graduation, especially between the 8thand 9thgrades. Because systems don’t require regular roll calls, leaders lack precision as to how many students exit the system or where fallen students land.

There are too many upsides in implementing a centralized enrollment system to not do so effectively. Yet many school leaders don’t want to participate. Why? Clearly some schools want autonomy in admissions beyond those made explicit by their admissions policies. Remember, public schools’ primary charter with society is to teach all children.

Ostensibly, the enrollment system creates an accessible, equitable and transparent process to help families enroll their child in a highly decentralized environment. It also allows school leaders to know who’s in school and what schools are not teaching all children. Most importantly, a centralized enrollment system removes excuses that lead to failure. It’s time for all schools to be counted in the centralized enrollment program.

Andre Perry, Ph.D. (twitter: @andreperrynola) is Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola University New Orleans and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.