November 5, 2020

In Baton Rouge, school choice must be for all students

In Baton Rouge, we spend a lot of time talking about making our education system more equitable, a system where every school delivers high-quality education to its students, preparing them for a life of unlimited opportunity and success. This is, of course, the long term goal for any education advocate - excellence, equity, and access for all.What we don’t often discuss is how to make access to the highest quality schools in our Parish more equitable today, right here and now. That’s why I’m excited that this year, public charter schools are joining EnrollBR, a common enrollment system for Baton Rouge schools. Families will be able to apply to all of our Parish’s high-performing public charter schools within the same online application window. This change will immediately increase the level of equity in our student enrollment system.Traditionally, parents with means who have their children in public schools have started thinking about school options and applying to Baton Rouge’s high-performing magnet schools much earlier than their less-informed peers. In other words, these families use their knowledge and privilege to maximize their children’s outcomes in the enrollment process. There’s nothing wrong with this on its face.The problems only arise when we look at this situation from an equity lens. These families exercise their right to school choice and privilege in the form of knowledge of the city’s best schools, and awareness of complex enrollment deadlines and procedures. Meanwhile, many economically disadvantaged families assume their only option is the school to which the District assigns them, whether in their neighborhood or across town. Or, worse, these families when faced with the prospect of overcoming academic and logistical hurdles to qualify and register for a high-quality selective magnet option are unable to access a coveted spot.Allowing families to apply to every high performing public charter school in one application window will allow families to access more high-quality options at the same time (for the record, we support and would encourage all public schools--including selective magnet programs--to participate in EnrollBR). On average, NSBR supported schools generate 81 additional days of learning in math and 75 additional days of learning in reading versus EBRPSS neighborhood schools. NSBR schools consistently show promise in improving outcomes for struggling students with all NSBR schools earning A or B letter grades in growth. Unlike selective admissions magnets, any child in Baton Rouge can attend an open-enrollment public charter school, including those started and scaled by NSBR--and thanks to these enrollment changes, more families will be aware of their optionsAll of us involved in Baton Rouge education have an obligation to spread the word to as many families as possible. I’m proud that my own organization, New Schools for Baton Rouge, will invest significantly in making families aware of these enrollment changes and helping them take advantage of all their options.By making diverse and high-quality opportunities available to all families, and not just a privileged few, we’re taking steps toward actualizing the values that we profess in our daily lives. Just as America’s founders pledged “liberty and justice for all” but then only gave the right to vote to white, male property owners, Baton Rouge will no longer claim to offer all families the right to choose the best public school for their children but start actually doing it. Just as with voting rights, our nation strives to be a more perfect union. I would argue the same struggle for education excellence and equity will bring us closer to that day.Onward,Chris

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