The school selection process is a very high stakes task for parents—their children’s career opportunities, financial freedom and life quality hinge on the educational foundation that they create. New York City’s school system is particularly difficult to navigate due to the overwhelming number of programs offered by public, charter, private, and independent schools. Parents must research a wide range of schools, learn about admissions processes, navigate choice programs, attend open houses and learn an overwhelming array of educational terminology.
The tremendous pressure that comes with choosing a school compels some parents to begin their search even before their child is born—strategically planning to move into school districts that offer entrance to coveted public schools or saving money for private school tuition are just a few ways in which parents prepare for their child’s education. One way parents have tackled this undertaking is by hiring a private consultant to assist them with their school search. However, private consultants can cost hundreds of dollars per hour and thus, are not viable options for thousands of families in New York.
Needless to say, finding a good school is a strenuous responsibility for parents; even the most educated, wealthy and well resourced families struggle to navigate the school selection process. Now imagine the pressure that rests on the shoulders of immigrant families, low income families, and single parent households.
Access to comprehensive school choice guides are limited—a majority of families must rely on the sporadic information they can find online or in handbooks that explain the school selection process. To address this issue, the city should implement two supports:
An online database that gathers information on every school that is included in the choice program and allows users to search schools using filters for academic programs, commute time, graduation rate etc.
A subsidy for public educational consulting services that teach families about the school choice process and how to navigate it. This service can be transformative to families in their school selection process and lead to more informed decision making.
There is a huge information gap in the school selection process and it is vital that parents are given the resources they need in order to prepare their children for academic success. Without these supports, the primary goal of choice programs—to increase access to quality education—is diminished. This reality is a reminder that education reform expands far beyond the classroom and must involve the lives of families, and communities at large, in order to make progress.