“Choice” is a tricky thing when parents compete for the best charters

Charter school supporters and advocates frequently point to the broad choices that families have when seeking a school in New Orleans, where most of the 82 public schools are charters and most accept applications from across the city. But the concept of choice butts against the reality of supply and demand in a city where many schools rate only average or below.

Nearly 12,000 children in New Orleans chose their desired schools through the city’s mostly unified enrollment system this spring — but only half got their No. 1 choice, according to recently released results.

About 30 percent got their second, third or up-to-eighth choice, the most applicants can rank. The remaining 20 percent or so were not matched to any requested school; half of them will stay at their current school and the other half will go through the second round of the enrollment process.

After parents submit applications at the end of February, it’s a waiting game for five weeks until an email reveals their placement — and whether it’s their top choice.

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.

  • Ailuri

    One thing that has never been clear about OneApp is how the rankings that kids/families list actually affects the results.
    Does someone who lists a school as their #1 choice have a better chance of getting into that particular school than someone who listed that school as #2 or #3 on their OneApp?
    Does the order even matter (ie- does the computer treat all of the listed schools as equally desired?)
    Is it possible for a school to completely fill with children who listed that school as #2 and have no students who actually listed it as their #1 choice?
    The actual process of how a kid gets assigned to a school is incredibly lacking in transparency.
    While I like the concept of the lottery system evening out the playing field for all the applicants to popular schools (theoretically, any child has an equal chance to get into the school), the actual selection process is woefully opaque.

  • nickelndime

    Some principals/CEOs actually responded to researchers (published in a Cowen study) that, although considered to be “open admissions” and participating in OneApp, they utilized techniques that favored the admission process for some students over other students who didn’t “match” their schools. Now, the RSD can say that it uses a Nobel-prize winning algorithm, but there is a Wizard somewhere behind the curtain, and there ain’t nobody playing fair out there – State/BESE, RSD, or OPSB. 05/13/2015 5:27 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    And if anybody out there believes that other OPSB-authorized charter schools that are called “open-admissions” and participate in OneApp are not “picking and choosing” students when there is a waiting list of over a hundred students, then I have a goat with a bowtie that is serving refreshments in an edible schoolyard garden that I want them to talk to…and a corner lot in the 7th Ward that the owner “must sell” for pennies on the dollar. 05/13/2015 5:34 PM DST USA

  • Molly

    This recent NYT article ( talks about how they retooled the school choice system in New York City schools, it could be a similar algorithm for New Orleans. It’s interesting because it could mean, as it did/does in New York, that students who highly rank schools with a lower demand (i.e. lower performance) stand to be more likely to receive their first choice.

    I’m not sure exactly how the two systems differ, but I agree with you that it’d be really interesting to know more about how choices are ranked (particularly considering variables like school closings and sibling placements, which don’t appear to be a part of the more test-oriented rankings of NYC). I know the Lens has also reported on how New Orleans has an incredible rate of busing students far distances, which might lessen the “poor students go to underperforming schools because they don’t want to travel” theory in the article I linked. Or maybe not.

  • nickelndime

    “Molly” cites the 2012 NYT article, and yes, the State RSD is using a “version” (!) of the Nobel-winning algorithm. However, OneApp applicants can list up to 8 (not 12 as in New York), but the OneApp choices are NOT computer/in put-ranked (as they are in New York), and it does not appear that the Louisiana RSD wants to help the applicants who need the most help, i.e., THE POOR WHO TEND TO PICK POORLY. Here’s the excerpt, and the article is definitely worth reading. Thanks, Molly.

    “About a decade ago, three economists — Atila Abdulkadiroglu (Duke), Parag Pathak (M.I.T.) and Alvin E. Roth (Stanford), all experts in game theory and market design — were invited to attack the sorting problem together. Their solution was a model of mathematical efficiency and elegance, and it helped earn Professor Roth a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science in 2012.”

    05/13/2015 7:19 PM DST USA

  • Gabriela Fighetti

    This is a great question and I can try to explain it for you. The system attempts to match each individual student at the highest ranked school on their application that has room for them. So, yes, the system takes into account the order in which a parents lists the schools on the application. But, listing a school first or second doesn’t change the likelihood of your student getting matched (the system is not seeking to fill a school with all #1 ranks, for example).

    Every applicant receives a random lottery number and, for every school they apply to, they are assigned a priority group. So, if you imagine applicants standing in line in front of every school they applied to, their place in that line is determined by their lottery number and the priority they have for that school (i.e. do they have a sibling, live in the catchment, etc.). If an applicant is not admitted to their first choice school because all of the seats fill with students with a better priority / lottery number, they will be considered for their second choice, and so on. At the end of the day, each school is filled with the students had the highest priority / best lottery number and who wanted them more than any other school they could have been assigned to.

    Let me know if that explanation helps.

  • Gabriela Fighetti

    OneApp uses the same algorithm that NYC uses and worked with Al Roth and the same team of economists to adapt it for New Orleans.

    Certainly it is true that if you want your child to go to a school that is not highly demanded, you will be more assured of him / her being assigned there. BUT, the important note about this process is that you do not diminish your chances by ranking a high demand school. Whether or not you get in is determined by your lottery number and relative priority, not where you ranked it.

  • R.Rubes

    Not only is the oneapp matching process completely unclear to the families it directly impacts, but it is also important to note that the Parent’s Guide is not even created by the school district. Many schools display incorrect or out of date information on their websites which is then added to the Parent’s Guide. There is NO meaningful choice in this system because it is impossible for families to get a comprehensive understanding of the educational landscape and what each school or organization has to offer. (The school I worked at, for example, claimed on their website and subsequently in the Parents’ Guide to have sports teams, yearbook, newspaper, chess team and art classes… we had NONE of these things)

  • nickelndime

    Who is “Gabriela Fighetti” and how does one get in touch with “Gabriela Fighetti” before the line forms in the parking lot and goes around the corner? Will goats with bowties from FirstLine Schools’ (Leslie Jacobs’ brother’s nonprofit) Edible Schoolyards be serving “zingers and strawberries” or is it a “business lunch”? BTW, who would like to do a public records request to see what the RSD paid for Roth, et al. and the algorithm? 05/14/2015 9:29 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    Why am I guessing that “Gabriela Fighetti” already said too much and should have checked with Mother Superior before she posted anything (not once but twice). BTW, what “was” “Gabriela Fighetti”‘s salary when she was employed by the RSD? I think I smell a “Vera Triplett.” 05/14/2015 9:36 PM DST USA

  • disqus_pn1er9XdzT

    To the Lens, please delete personal attacks. They are not only embarrassing for the author (though she doesn’t seem to understand that she’s degrading herself) but they are irrelevant and unrelated to the news you have reported.

  • nickelndime

    Yeah, “disqus_…,” Girl, I is like a slow-moving anaconda dat you wonder how in da hell dat da prey does not see me comin’. Previously, I suggested dat Walt Leger, III (and then there were three) should be dropped off in the 7th Ward by the St. Roch Cemetery and told to “run for it,” but no (!), some 7th Warder took offense, but that was before a former teacher-artist was nearly beat to death. Now Walt is part of “Louisiana Purchased.” Den I got criticized (by you) for making fun of the RSD chick’s name (da one those poor people line up in the parking lot for). Den, I spells-check da chick’s name, and spells it right (mind you), and den you criticize me for spelling “her name” right and you calls it a “personal attack.” And in the middle of it all, you don’t see how it is related. 05/15/2015 9:32 PM DST USA

  • will_k2

    Basic statistics will also explain why “students already enrolled in school see a lower match rate to their top choice.” Unless a school is an absolute disaster, most students currently enrolled will be back the next year for the next grade. This is normal. So if a school has e.g., 4 classes per grade with 25 students per class there will be 100 open spots in kindergarten. If 90% of K students come back for 1st grade, there will be 10 spots available for 1st grade. The better the school, the less likely students will be to leave – so the top performing schools will attract the most applicants but have the fewest openings. That 42% get their first choice seems amazingly high, actually.

  • nickelndime

    The RSD doesn’t like “basic statistics.” IT’S SO…BASIC! The RSD’s PR Department prefers to keep people confused. And it is hard to do a “snow job” with simple percentages. Look at what Fighetti says again. Close your eyes. Pretend you have a lottery number. Pretend you are going to leave one poorly-performing RSD school and you have put in a OneApp for the achool of your top eight choices. Keep your eyes closed. No peeking. Who do you see in line with you?…i’ve got to stop – I have fallen off my chair, but my ASP (that’s my pet snake ASP) is still on. LMAspO! 05/18/2015 4:38 PM DST USA

  • RL

    Without question, there are some OneApp issues that could stand some clarification (excellent point re: algorithm), but to claim the process is “completely” unclear to parents/caregivers is simply not true. While completing the OneApp with my husband we did have a question so we called the RSD. Representatives stayed on the line with us for 20 minutes (thanks Kristin Illario!) to resolve our issue and could not have been more patient or professional. It’s extremely disappointing that some of our city’s highest ranking schools are still not participating in the OneApp; they do so at the peril of appearing elitist. A wise woman I have the privilege of knowing described our current system of school enrollment, “. . . it’s not choice-it’s chance.” I say once ALL public schools are participating in OneApp, our city’s youth have an improved chance of getting in to better schools. Moving forward, the schools that serve our children well should expand and open more schools while the failing ones that don’t show improvement should have their charters revoked. Am I heartbroken b/c during this weeding out process of schools, kids are languishing in classrooms getting further behind? Of course it’s a dangerous heartbreak-but I don’t have another solution so I will not complain. To those who do complain about OneApp I implore you to produce an alternative. Should we revert to pre OneApp time? How do we address the needs of families who don’t have transportation to travel from school to school meeting administrators and attending Open Houses? Do we provide childcare so that caregivers can devote their full attention to these tours, reimburse them for time lost from their jobs while they travel city wide to view potential schools? We didn’t get to this sorry state of affairs overnight and sadly, the issue won’t be solved quickly. But this is where we are and make no mistake, we are ALL in this together. If someone has a better system than OneApp I’d sincerely like to hear about it, otherwise we’re just wasting valuable time & energy that would be better utilized helping our kids along the path to academic success-which is not just a moral obligation but a legal one as well.

  • nickelndime

    Upon closer reading, we noticed that Gabriela Fighetti, the former enrollment director, actually no longer works for the RSD. In an earlier post on THE LENS, we were being facetious, but it is really true – “what WAS Gabriela’s salary…?” What could have gone wrong! Guess the cartoon AND the algorithm got to be too much. Then again, it could have been the long lines in the hot sun. But wait! Gabriela is on somebody’s payroll. Oh no, this can’t be. The OPSB has paid Gabriela and five others to “evaluate” its charter applications. Yup! Yup! – Matt Candler (formerly NSNO, now 4.0) and FirstLine are up in there. And the Feds say Ira Thomas is “crooked.” The “boys” picked up the wrong ones. Yeah, it’s a bunch of them and the statute of limitations has not run out. I don’t know how Lourdes Moran managed to escape “doing time” with Ellenese Brooks Simms, but she did, and Jimmy, well, we just don’t know what to say about Jimmy. One piece of advice for Jimmy, though – Don’t go near the water AND don’t play with anybody who’s got NICKEL in their name. 05/20/2015 12:35 PM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    Dyed hair mesns no grad ceremony at NOMMA (here’s the re-post):
    “Oh, you is ‘kiling me.’ You want to get me ‘started’ about how Adams and Reese LLP got its former law partner, the State Superintendent of Education, Paul Pastorek, to hand-deliver this charter application (NOMMA) to BESE, via its nonprofit 501(c) (3) and get it ‘apporoved.’ Yeah, Lee C. Reid, Esq., I am calling you out for all the dirty deeds you have done, including the New Orleans Public Library. Garçon – please, my drink. Cuz I is just about to get it started in here.” 05/22/2015 12:31/12:39 AM DST USA

  • nickelndime

    The old saying, “If it doesn’t fit, force it,” seems to “fit” here, I got it. You know if you (collectively speaking) repeat a lie often enough, you (collectively speaking) will come to believe it too. If not, the best you can hope for (other than being The Gambler and dying in your sleep) is that readers will believe it. And this is why nonprofits need to be careful where it/they or the reporters get their funding. 05/31/2015 12:38 AM DST USA

  • Stepmaster

    this is toooooo good…. i need some popcorn….