Citywide K-12 School Enrollment – Equal Access for All Families

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All families should have the right to the same opportunities and not need to know ‘the secret handshake’ to participate. 


Imagine going to a local playground with your child.  Your child is free to play in the open play structure with any other child.  But then you notice a second playground nearby. There is a fence around this one and only some children are playing there.  When you ask the families in this area if your child can come in, they say: “ No, you have to complete a special application to play in this area.”  “Where do I find this application?”, you ask. “It comes out once a year, you have to know where to look, and even so, you have to be selected by lottery to play here,”  they reply.

Sound a bit crazy and convoluted? Exclusionary?Photography for Wheelock College web site and publications.

This is often what the process is like for Boston families to learn about and apply to Boston schools –traditional public schools and charter schools.  If we consider this type of process confusing and unfair for a public playground space, we should consider it confusing and unfair for public schools as well.

Boston families have an array of schools to choose from that includes desirable public schools, charter schools, and catholic schools.  This past year, the Boston Opportunity Agenda – a collaboration between the city and Boston’s major education funders— released its annual report card that now provides families with performance data on all school sectors.  And a 2013 report by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) cited Boston charter schools as a model for other cities.

However, where Boston schools fall short is in equitable access for all families. Not all families have the same information, English proficiency, urgency or time to investigate and secure the best educational opportunities for their children. As a result, many families fill out the Boston public school enrollment form prior to Kindergarten, selecting schools without a full sense of the range of educational options. At the same time, parents  ‘in the know’ fill out the  Boston public schools enrollment form selecting their well-researched top choices and complete one or more charter school or catholic school applications.

The Boston Compact, a coalition of public, charter and catholic schools, has made an effort to close this ‘information gap’  by launching a website, Boston Schools Hub, that shares information with families about schools across sectors.  In collaboration with the Mayor’s Office, the Boston Compact is now pushing further by calling for a unified or citywide school enrollment system. Through such a system, Boston parents would complete one school enrollment application at one set time for all available school options—traditional public  schools and charter schools. If they indicate interest in a charter school, their child would automatically be entered into that school’s application process. In this way, the burden falls less on families to seek out and apply for multiple schools at various times.

By expanding application pools, this process will help charter schools counter arguments that they ‘cream’ the best students from the most motivated families. It will also help traditional BPS schools outreach to families from diverse economic, racial and cultural backgrounds. Other cities, such as Denver, have implemented this type of enrollment process with success.

To continue the same school enrollment process is to continue unequal access. All families should have the right to the same opportunities and not need to know ‘the secret handshake’ to participate – whether in a public playground or a public school. It’s time for unified school enrollment in Boston.