On Friday, Denver Public Schools began releasing the Round 1 results of the 2016 SchoolChoice process, the means by which families across the city select schools of all varieties for their children for next year. In addition to the placements for thousands of students, the results will tell us which schools are in the greatest demand and the participation rate by region. This last number, perhaps the most important, is the percentage of families in each region who exercised their right to make an affirmative choice about their child’s school.
The implementation, and increased participation, in such a system is an enormous victory for families. Prior to the current unified enrollment system, families were faced with dozens of competing application processes, including those that systematically limited access. Today, the vast majority of families receive one of their top choices (though not all), and this means great things for both the opportunities their students receive and the agency they exert over their future.
There’s substantial research on the role of choice in society. Among what I’ve read, the short summary goes as follows: A strong degree of choice is critical to personal agency and living a fulfilling life, although enormous amounts of choice can be overwhelming. No choices lead to helplessness. At its best, our city-wide enrollment system should match these conclusions. With transparent information and easy access, greater choice improves agency for families, but regional preferences and a simple system help make this choice accessible. And, those who cannot or do not choose still receive a placement in their region. Of course, the success of all this is predicated on each neighborhood having a strong set of choices, in this case high quality schools – and this is the single most important goal we must achieve as a city in the next five years.
Some would argue that a classic values-based tension in education is that between choice and equity, a concept of enormous importance to me and to STRIVE Prep. I don’t agree. Our definition of equity is to base our work on what is just, not what is equal. Through this lens, authentic choice for ALL families is critical to achieving equity. The rich will always have choice, exercised through admission to private schools or by moving to a different district with different neighborhood school options. All families deserve the same – and a robust system of excellent public school choices raises the accountability stakes for each school to meet the needs of its families.
At STRIVE Prep, choice is not just about a family choosing the right school for their scholar, it also means preparing students to make choices about their future. On April 28th, our first class of seniors will claim their choice of a post-secondary opportunity at College Signing Day, witnessed by our entire network community at the Denver Coliseum. It means more than choosing between the colleges where they were accepted – it means choosing among the variety of college and career opportunities in our society based on their preparation and agency. It means leaving high school knowing that they can do whatever they choose.
When we kick off our year with faculty each July, I share with our team that the way in which I know we have been successful is when a STRIVE Prep alum holds my job. It’s symbolic of the leadership our scholars aspire to and the community transformation we all seek.
It all starts with a simple choice – of a school, of a college, of a career, of a future.
Thank you for joining us in choosing the future.