Controlled Choice Michael Alves Speech

What is controlled choice?
Below is a summary of a presentation at the ”Creating Equity-based Student Assignment Mechanisms” briefing, Nov. 15, 2011, at NYU, co sponsored by the Community Controlled Choice Project & the Participatory Action Research Center for Education Organizing in partnership with the Educational Leadership Program at NYU-Steinhardt.

What is controlled choice?
Michael J. Alves

The question of how best to assign a diverse population of students to public schools has been one of the most controversial issues in the United States since the Brown decision outlawed intentional racial segregation in public schools in 1954. Although most of this Nation’s students are mandatorily assigned to a public school, giving parents the opportunity to choose the public school their children can attend has become a fact of life in many school districts and is especially so in urban school districts that use a variety of mandatory and voluntary student assignment options in an effort to accommodate a diverse range of families and students. While most of these urban school districts give parents a “choice” between a neighborhood school and a magnet school or a charter school, this forum examines how an equitable and universal “controlled choice” plan could be initiated in a complex urban school district.

Controlled choice is an educationally sound, transparent, and equity-driven method of assigning students to public schools that promotes diversity and empowers parents to choose the schools they want their children to attend in a manner that is fair to all students and is practicable to implement.

The concept of universal controlled choice originated in Massachusetts in the early 1980’s as a way to voluntarily achieve racially integrated schools and avoid forced bussing. Over the past three decades controlled choice plans have been adopted by numerous school districts throughout the United States and has proven to be a living and equitable innovation that has adapted to the changing circumstances and challenges to providing all students with a high quality integrated education. (See Student Diversity, Choice and School Improvement by Michael Alves, Charles Willie and Ralph Edwards 2002, Greenwood Press; and Controlled Choice: A New Approach to Desegregated Education and School Improvement, Michael Alves and Charles Willie, 1996 Brown University.

Some Key Features

Schools of Choice: Under controlled choice all schools are deemed to be a school of choice and no students are mandatorily assigned to a school based solely on their home-address.
Parent Information and Engagement: Ensuring that all parents have equal access to the information they need in order to make an informed decision about the schools they prefer their children attend is an essential component of an effective controlled choice student assignment plan.

Diversity: The ultimate goal of controlled choice is to provide all students with a high quality integrated education. While controlled choice was initiated as a way to promote voluntary racial integration, over the years controlled choice has been successfully modified to promote the voluntary integration of students from diverse social, economic and linguistic backgrounds and varying achievement levels.

Transparency: In order to implement and sustain an effective and fair controlled choice student assignment plan all aspects of the school choice application and assignment process must be transparent and understood by all parents.

Assignment Priorities: Under controlled choice all available seats should be allocated and assigned in way that is fair to all diverse student population groups, and a “family friendly” assignment priority is given to siblings and to students who reside closest to a school and to other students who want to attend that school.

Stability of Assignment: Prior to initiating a controlled choice student assignment plan, the students who are already enrolled in the school district are allowed to stay in their assigned school of enrollment until they complete that school’s highest grade, and once assigned through controlled choice no students are mandatorily reassigned to another school.

Efficient Utilization of Schools: Under controlled choice no schools are allowed to become overcrowded.

Student Transportation: Providing efficient transportation services is an essential component of an effective and equitable universal controlled choice student assignment plan.
Diversity, Choice and School Improvement: Controlled choice enables school districts to identify the schools that are most in need of improvement based on parental choice. Experience has shown that the schools that are over-chosen by parents from all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups are schools that are meeting the educational needs of its diverse students, and are schools that should be replicated.

Student Achievement: Controlled choice provides school districts with the opportunity to implement an achievement-focused student assignment plan. Experience has shown that it is highly unlikely that a school will attract parents unless it can demonstrate that it can provide their children with an instructionally effective educational experience. And, it is highly unlikely that truly informed parents will select a school that they believe will not meet the educational needs of their children. Therefore, under controlled choice a school district needs to ensure that each of its schools is meeting the educational needs of its diverse learners.