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Lesson 5.2

School Choice:
Should You Have a Choice of Schools?

What if you could choose any school you wanted for your kids?

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When it comes to where kids go to school, zip code is usually destiny, especially for poor families without the economic means to move. Where you live generally determines where your kids go to school. Try to enroll them elsewhere and you could end up in jail. Middle class families, by contrast, often have more options if they are dissatisfied. Money can buy school “choice” in the sense that parents with the means can pack up and move to a home near a school they prefer.

Residential property values can be very sensitive to differences in school reputation. This fact is not lost on real estate professionals, who are attuned to the local rules for determining school attendance areas. Changes in those rules can have a direct impact on housing values. According to research by the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the effect of school quality on real estate is "non-linear"; when a school is perceived as excellent, the value of homes in its attendance area rise quite significantly.

GreatSchools.org, in partnership with Zillow.com, may be able to show you the attendance areas associated with schools of interest to you. The numbers on this map reflect the GreatSchools rating of each school. Click to visit the site. GreatSchools.org, in partnership with Zillow.com, may be able to show you the attendance areas associated with schools of interest to you. The numbers on this map reflect the GreatSchools rating of each school. Click to visit the site.

Not all schools have rigid attendance areas.

Yes, charter schools also have district-wide attendance boundaries – more on those in Lesson 5.5

Districts can set open enrollment policies to give parents some choice among schools within a district. School choice systems can take many forms, and they can be very confusing if poorly implemented. If your district is considering changes in the school assignment process it makes sense to find examples to work from. For example, Oakland Unified asks all parents to participate in a choice process that includes both district and charter school options.

Some schools are designed to serve students from throughout a school district. Magnet schools, for example, are set up to attract enrollment from throughout a district by offering something different and attractive – most commonly an unusually rigorous curriculum, or a curriculum oriented toward a particular interest such as art or science. The first magnet schools were established in high-poverty neighborhoods in the 1960s. After rapid initial growth, such schools settled to less than 3% of California enrollment by 2011. (Charter schools also have district-wide attendance boundaries - more on those in Lesson 5.5.)

A small number of public "exam schools" in California (nine, by one estimate) have an application-based selective admission process. These schools also define their "attendance area" broadly, accepting students throughout their sponsoring district. A prominent example is San Francisco's Lowell High School.

Transfers are rare, but possible

In California, state law also makes some formal provisions for how students can transfer to a regular public school outside of their local district. For example, in certain circumstances a parent's place of work may be used as a basis for a student to attend a school. The state education code specifies that working parents have a right to enroll their children in the district where their workplace is located under certain conditions, but under most circumstances both the sending and receiving district must agree to the transfer.

Some education reform initiatives rest on the premise that families should be able to choose the school that best meets their needs. Districts providing a system-wide career pathway approach to high school are one example. Nationally, a cadre of large urban school districts are involved in developing "Portfolio Strategies" to broaden school choices for low income families.

When it comes to school choice, the other side of the proverbial coin (there always seems to be an “other” side) is the argument that schools define communities. When children from a neighborhood all attend the same schools and families identify with those schools, it can build connections that bring more support into schools and create a powerful safety net for children. Lesson 5.7 will look at a movement working to do just that.

But first, in the next few lessons, we'll look at some of the other ways that students are placed into schools and into classrooms.

Review

School quality affects home prices in a "non-linear" way. What does this mean?

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Carol Kocivar January 28, 2016 at 9:31 am
Evaluation of the School District of Choice Program
http://lao.ca.gov/Publications/Report/3331?utm_source=subscription&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=traditional
This report assesses the program and offers recommendations regarding reauthorization.
From the The Legislative Analyst's Office
user avatar
digalamedabg April 14, 2015 at 8:49 pm
At the school I work at we have many transfer students from lower income areas because the town demographic is older and the residents don't have school age children anymore. But, the district selects who they want to transfer in to the district so it is not just anyone. With decreased enrollment it can help to increase number with the addition of the transfers. They don't get top pick of classes because they are enrolled last and they are held to a much higher behavior /grade standard than residents.
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