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Update: Denver Unveils Unified District Charter Application Process

image from www.blueglass.comThink that charters and districts can't work together, are forever locked into adjacent silos to the eternal frustration and annoyance of everyone ?  Well, most of the time.  But following up on a recent agreement that local charters would accept mid-year enrollments, a coalition of groups in Denver has just announced the creation of a single application process, form, and deadline for all Denver public schools, including charter district and magnet schools.  From a grand total of 62 different forms and dates the district will go down to just "one piece of paper and one single date," says Amy Slothower, whose group Get Smart Schools led the effort with DPS and the Colorado League of Charters, among others.  Parents will list up to five choices, and get assigned from there.  NCLB transfers?  Preschool programs?  Check.  Easy to pull off?  Not at all.  

In fact, image from www.blueglass.comit took about two years to make it happen, and charter school networks were understandably skeptical about trusting outsiders to do the job right and to give up on all that information they like to have right from the start.  What they got in exchange for giving up all that control was what is anticipated to be a simpler, ultimately cheaper process, and less last-minute scrambling for students whose families lottery into different schools and hold spots until the last minute.  "For charter schools we're solving the waitlist dance," says Slothower.  "Not that we won’t have any movement in August, but it should be greatly diminished."  What charter skeptics get is some additional reassurance that charters aren't selecting kids based on grades or IEPs or anything else but name, rank, and serial number.  

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comOf course, the relatively small size of Denver and the small number of selective enrollment schools makes it less likely that things will blow up or that they'll have tons of unassigned students at the end.  But still this is something that no other big city district has done, far as I am aware, in terms of comprehensiveness if not size.  New York City has a unified high school application process. (Denver is using the same consultant, Neil Dorosin -- you might remember him from the New Yorker article about matching med school applications.) Baltimore has something, too, but not including charters.  Chicago has announced plans to unify its process (and recently -- finally -- brought NCLB transfers into the process).   Dorosin is working with the new team there and predicts that the result will be the same as in Denver. For more check the EdNews Colorado story from last week here and the DPS press release below.



SchoolChoice – One Form, One Timeline, All Schools

 Dear DPS Community:

At DPS it is our collective mission to provide the best possible educational opportunities for our kids and the families of Denver so that all of our students are prepared for success in college and in life. As part of our efforts to ensure that all of our kids have access to all of the opportunities available to them, we’ve worked hard to create a much simpler and more equitable system for families to use when selecting a school for their child. We believe this will allow us to attract even more of Denver’s families to DPS and help us to continue to increase our enrollment.
Today, I am pleased to share with you some details of our new enrollment system, SchoolChoice, which will be in place early next month to begin the process for enrolling students in our schools for the 2012-13 school year. SchoolChoice will simplify the way families select schools for their children by moving to a single, unified enrollment and application system regardless of the schools (traditional, magnet, innovation, or charter) they are interested in. Parents will simply state their top-five preferred schools on one form, which will be available beginning Dec. 1 at all DPS schools and at http://schoolchoice.dpsk12.org.
I’m also pleased to announce that all of our schools serving transition grades, including all charter schools, will be participating in this simplified system.   

Please note that nothing in SchoolChoice changes priorities for families or affects in any way your ability to have your child attend your neighborhood school. A family’s first choice should be their neighborhood school and neighborhood families always have priority at their neighborhood schools; at the same time, we want to make sure our families have the opportunity to choice into a school if they believe that school is a better fit for their child.
In the past, we had more than 60 different enrollment and waitlist processes, which made it extremely difficult for parents and students to navigate the system, as they often had to keep track of different forms and due dates. For too long, this process has been a cumbersome one for families. We needed to do a better job of making the process of selecting a school simple, user-friendly and fair; SchoolChoice does just that by condensing the process down to one piece of paper and one timeline.
Not only will this new process be more straightforward and improve accessibility for DPS families, but it will also result in greater equity for our students looking at different types of schools and provide better planning information for our schools.
To supplement the support for this new critical enrollment initiative, we’ve enhanced and created more communication and planning tools – like more inclusive enrollment guides and regional school expos – to give families more information about the options available to them when starting the process of selecting a school that best meets the needs of their children. Our SchoolChoice outreach also includes a partnership with Get Smart Schools, a Denver-based nonprofit that is leading a coalition of community organizations that are helping to spread the word about the new enrollment system.
In addition, our enrollment guides for all of our schools were made over to include a detailed profile for EVERY school, and the guides have been translated into three languages: Spanish, Vietnamese and Arabic. Enrollments guides will be distributed to all transition-grade students, and extra copies will be available at every DPS school. We’re also following up last month’s district-wide Middle and High School Expo with five Regional School Expos to help provide families with more information about schools in their neighborhoods. These expos are scheduled for early December. (Click here for specific regional-expo information.)

I want to express my sincere thanks to everyone involved in the many hours of detailed conversations that have made SchoolChoice a reality. It’s an important step forward in improving our service to our families, and I hope you find it to be a much simpler way to select a school that’s the right fit for your child.





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Looking at this from another perspective, an east Asian (for example, a Japanese or a Singaporean) would ask, "What's the incentive for your students to study? Since all are to be treated equally, whether they are meritorious or not -- that is, whether they have worked hard to get ahead, or have slacked off all the way through middle school, the hard workers will have earned no advantage -- why should anyone bother to work hard in school?"

These questions, together with the seminal finding of Smithers and Robinson that school systems that allow selective admissions outperform those that don't in terms of total knowledge accumulation (see http://www.suttontrust.com/public/documents/smithers-final-report.pdf), undermine the supposed accomplishment that this accord represents.

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