Which school do you want to support?
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.
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.
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.
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