School choice, coupled with a carefully designed assignment algorithm, brings in two crucial elements: (i) Parents’ demand for schools, (ii) assignment priorities.
Knowing what parents like and want is crucial for serving them and their children’s needs better and for enrollment planning for future. Parents know what works for their children. Demand data can help the district to identify and replicate the in demand and successful programs while changing what is not working in other schools.
Also, one-size no longer fits all. Students’ educational needs are different. Any district that serves a growing and diverse society has to provide various schooling options with alternative curricula and eduction techniques. Without choice, there is no way of serving parents with various options.
Priorities in assignment provide the district with flexibility to implement its policies effectively without arbitrary consequences for parents. For instance, the Wake County School Board has recently changed the designated schools of students in several areas. In the current Wake system and in any system that does not incorporate parental preferences in assignment, such chance will effect all the students in those neighborhoods whether they like it or not. A school choice program with a carefully design assignment algorithm reduces the extent of such arbitrariness while implementing new policies.
In addition, priorities help the district find a middle ground between parents and the district when parents’ individual preferences and district policies are in conflict. Priorities can also help find a middle ground across the political spectrum.
The current assignment plan in Wake County, which relies heavily on mandatory assignment and bussing, lacks such flexibility, as does a neighborhood-based assignment that relies solely on proximity.
Choice, when implemented arbitrarily, may have some undesired consequences. It may lead to resegregation at school especially in segregated societies. However, with appropriate breaks and controls, resegregation can be limited and avoided. Choice can be designed to achieve diversity and stability in the system while giving parents a say in where their children get educated.
A quick note for the Wake County: Choice is already a part –a small part– of the current Wake County assignment plan.