Families in many portfolio districts can choose from a variety of charter and district schools for their children. But to make these choices, parents often must fill out multiple application forms and navigate schools that may have different requirements, deadlines, and selection preferences such as sibling attendance or proximity to the school. Once parents complete the applications and schools make offers, some families receive multiple offers and often hold on to them until the last minute, while other families receive few or no offers, remaining on waitlists well into the fall. Not only is this process difficult for families, it favors families with the time and knowledge to navigate its inherent complexities.
In order to make applying to a choice school less complicated, some cities are building common enrollment systems that streamline enrollment across all types of schools. These cities are adopting a transparent matching process that systematically assigns students to schools based on both school and student preferences. Families are asked to rank the schools they prefer for their child (regardless of whether the school is operated by the district or is a charter school) in a single application process. Families then receive a match that takes into account their preferences and the priorities and admission standards set by the schools in the city.
Proponents of common enrollment believe that it is more equitable for families and schools and can lead to a more predictable and less tumultuous matching process overall. Common enrollment systems can also benefit cities and districts by eliminating the need to authenticate results from multiple charter lotteries, and by providing data on school demand throughout the city that might inform strategic decisions about managing the school supply. Even so, some detractors worry that centralized enrollment systems will erode the autonomy of schools and require administrative capacity that is rarely found in existing oversight agencies (typically school districts). Common enrollment also doesn't directly address the fact that most cities don't have enough high-quality seats to serve all of their students.