OUSD is smart to think hard about its enrollment and how to stabilize or increase it. Enrollment stability leads to financial stability and also creates more predictable planning for the district and families. The OUSD board will be voting on its so called enrollment stabilization policy on Wednesday.
And while the goal is laudable, the means at times are laughable. Rather than investing in school quality, or better helping parents find the best school or supporting the growth of high demand schools, OUSD is going to invest in marketing. And they are going to dismantle the current school information system that parents use, making public school choice even more challenging.
The Issue with OUSD School Enrollment if You Ask Families
Rather than starting with ideology, let’s start with family voices and what they actually said in the last survey around enrollment.
When asked what the biggest issue was, it was not school marketing, it was…drumroll please…. “general lack of quality citywide.” The issues families have are not around marketing they are deeply around quality, and they certainly were not asking for a more complicated enrollment system, which the OUSD board is. Here’s the slide from OUSD.
And when asked about the one of the key new changes—the elimination of a single application—there was wide agreement that was the wrong thing to do (53 to17 percent)
An approach built around restricting the objective information that parents get, and putting more money in to marketing, while not addressing the underlying quality issues, is one bound to fail. At best it will dupe some parents in the short term. At worst, the district will fail to properly build its new system, properly develop or implement its marketing, and in the end, parents are less well served, more confused, and leave OUSD at even greater rates.
OUSD has schools that get 4 or 5 applications for every empty spot and schools that only 1 in 5 families choose. In most cases where you have some half empty schools and schools with not enough seats, you would grow one and shrink the other. In OUSD’s new plan you just hire a new marketing person for each school.
The sad thing is OUSD actually has been making some good decisions on quality, and could do more. It expanded high demand and high quality schools like Melrose, MetWest, and CCPA so that they could serve more students. It also has (on paper at least) supported growth in LIFE Academy, Elmhurst United, and Sankofa United. When we successfully invest in quality families will come.
Families ultimately won’t be enticed by a shiny flyer or a new social media account. Its really about providing the programs families want and the level of quality that they deserve. And until OUSD can commit to those principles, it can engage in all the smoke and mirrors it can muster, but it won’t stabilize its enrollment and it won’t better serve families.