Cities around the country are taking steps to simplify the K-12 school choice process for families through common applications and common enrollment systems. This site is a resource for cities considering these steps, and the site is organized around the four main workstreams for implementation which are defined below. For an ‘Introduction to Unifying Enrollment’, click here.
While the broad outlines are typically consistent, each city has to design the specific policies and procedures for their system. For a common application, which schools will participate? And for a unified enrollment system, will schools keep waitlists or not? Will there be a single lottery round, or multiple rounds? These are just a few examples of the types of policy decisions required. Collectively, these decisions are typically referred to as “market design” and most cities choose to involve a wide variety of stakeholders in the design process. A related set of questions each city faces concerns governance. Who has authority over the system, and who has access to the data?
Unifying enrollment requires building a set of tools for families to use to apply for schools, and for system administrators to run the process. Typically, cities building either a common application or a full unified enrollment system set up an online application platform which families can use to submit their school selections – often called an “application management system” or AMS. Cities also typically build web or mobile tools for families to search for and compare school options, and administrators use a software program to manage the lottery to assign students to open seats.
No system will be effective unless eligible families know about it. Cities use a range of strategies – from paid advertising to door-to-door canvassing to partnerships with community-based organizations – to let parents and students know about new timelines and processes. Special populations might need extra support in navigating the application, such as translated materials, or assistance in-person or by phone from trained staff.
In order to confirm that the system operated correctly and fairly, cities typically conduct an audit of their system in the first year, and often on a regular basis. Additionally, since unified enrollment systems also provide rich data for policymakers and school leaders about parents’ preferences for schools, cities often use the data to inform educational decision-making.
Our resources include “voices from the field” interviews with researchers and practitioners from around the country, blog posts, recent articles and papers, and more.view resources
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