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It’s time for all schools to be counted in the OneApp program

24th September 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Dr. Andre M. Perry
Contributing Columnist

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 find loopholes when they don’t fully understand their options. Worse, loopholes often find parents.

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, 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. However, all parents should receive a fair chance at getting the school of their choice. The city also needs fairness. I have to remind folks that God or genetics, whatever you believe in, distributes talent equitably. By denying children a fair chance, we limit society’s opportunities to grow the next great physicist or writer.

Still, more parents will apply to certain schools that will not have the seats to match the demand. Disappointment leads to gaming. Parents will leverage whatever connections they may have. New Orleans schools have to move from who-you-know to what-you-know processes. I expect parents to do everything they can to get their students in good schools. But our systems must demonstrate the same ethics it expects from its students. A centralized enrollment system is a tool that helps leaders make good decisions.

Another positive aspect of a centralized enrollment program is that it simultaneously takes system wide attendance. The system will detect when a student enters another school. Leaders must guard against students falling through cracks of a decentralized system. Special needs students, discipline problems and those simply exposed to bad schools often fall through the cracks. We have a responsibility to take roll so we can better understand why 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 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.

Earlier this year, the Greater New Orleans Data Center reported that 14,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither in school nor in college. Open manholes perforate the pipeline towards graduation between the 8th and 9th grades. Because systems don’t require regular roll calls, leaders lack precision as to how many students exit the system or where fallen students land.

A centralized enrollment program helps keep track of student mobility. Some students choose to transfer or exit a school. Others leave because of expulsion and suspension policies, boring curriculums and limited extracurricular options.

The data generated by the database will help school and system leaders see how and why students are leaving their schools. More importantly, if we take regular roll, system officials can build a cohesive system that honors school autonomy.

There are too many upsides in implementing a centralized enrollment system to not do so effectively.

However, all schools must participate if students are to be given equitable chances of enrolling and fair chances at staying in school. 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. Many school leaders and teachers intuitively know the type of students who will fit in their particular school culture. However, the student that an individual school doesn’t want is typically thwarted by many schools. Again, schools’ primary charter with society is to teach all children. The “least desirable” are those that need the best schools, not those who need the “best fit.”

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.

This article was originally published in the September 24, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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