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Colo. Public Radio on Denver School Choice Expo: Beautiful Real-Life Chaos

A couple weeks ago I reminded you that Colorado’s public school open enrollment season is fast approaching, and mentioned a series of school choice expos hosted by Denver Public Schools (DPS). As it turns out, Colorado Public Radio’s Jenny Brundin attended one of the expos and filed an interesting report about “The Middle School Freak Out” (H/T Ed News Colorado).

Sometimes it’s easy for policy wonks like my friends in the Education Policy Center to focus on the abstract — the numbers and the philosophical debates. A story like Brundin’s, with interviews of students and parents, quickly reminds you that policy changes like expanded choice within DPS have ramifications sometimes not considered. Sure, it means various families have more educational options, but what does that look like in real life?

Choice can be empowering and liberating, but it’s also messy sometimes. The Public Radio story shines a light on the special distress that often accompanies the transition from elementary to middle school. (I’m not even close to being there yet, so don’t ask me what it’s all about.) Some families avoided the dilemma by enrolling students years before into one of the growing number of Colorado’s K-8 schools. But for those who need to make the transition, Denver now offers an unprecedented array of options — including, as the story points out, a (yucky) all-girls school.

Most interesting, though, is what Brundin captures about the process itself. She quotes one mom as saying:

When you have so many choices you start to feel almost like it’s your responsibility to have information and I think that’s the freak out is having the time to go and look through all the information on every school to make sure they’re getting the best they can get is hard. It’s a lot of responsibility.

I’m sure many parents can relate to this Denver mom. It’s valuable to note a few things, though. First is the fact that expanded choice helps to foster a greater sense of responsibility — and by extension, more direct family involvement in the educational experience, a healthy thing. Second, schools explicitly are finding ways to make themselves appealing to students and parents, including the thousands who showed up to the expo. Third, one source of information that helps to make things a little easier for parents is the fantastic School Choice for Kids website.

But then the reporter talked to a father and son newly moved from Baltimore. In this situation Denver comes across as a beacon of educational opportunity. While some parents seem stressed by the abundance of choices before them, Brundin concludes her story by noting what the plethora of options means to the newcomers:

So while the parents around them are freaking out, Craig and Marquise Williams seem calm, content with too many choices, rather than none at all.

The power of educational choice in real life. Chaotic, yes? But simply beautiful, too.