Grover Whitehurst, a senior fellow in Governance Studies and director of the Brown Center, and Sarah Whitfield, Center coordinator, argue that increased support can be seen through the:

  • Growth of public charter schools, which did not exist 25 years ago and presently enroll about 5 percent of public school students in the 42 states that allow the formation of charter schools).
  • Expansion and technical refinement of open enrollment systems involving traditional public schools whereby parents actively choose the school their child will attend within their district.
  • Emergence of statewide voucher programs (12 states have such programs).
  • Continued increases in the availability of online and blended learning alternatives.
  • Passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that allows economically disadvantaged families to take Title I dollars to any public school of their choice, including charters.

However, even Whitehurst and Whitfield acknowledge that the debate on school choice is “not empirically well-grounded,” as much of the “collection of information about the status and consequences of school choice has lagged far behind the pendulum’s swing toward choice and competition.”

To fill the void on information about school choice at the district level, and to provide a resource to policy makers and the public, the Brown Center developed the Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI), which is based on scoring rubrics within 13 categories of policy and practice.

The school choice index

The formal scoring guide includes characteristics such as availability of alternative schools, virtual schools, popularity of schools reflected in funding, restructure or close under-subscribed schools, assignment mechanism, application, and more. For the full scoring guide, go here.

In general, a high score on the ECCI requires that the “geographical area served by a school district provides parents of school-aged children with:” maximum choice, a choice process that maximizes the match between parental preference and school assignment, funding and management processes that favor the growth of popular schools at the expense of unpopular schools, and subsidies for the costs of choice for poor families. For a more detailed explanation of these characteristics, read the report.

(Next page: The best and worst districts)