Public School Choice as Practiced Abroad

It's ironic that a year after our Supreme Court struck a blow against school integration, the Christian Science Monitor reports that Holland is planning on importing American de-segregation programs. In Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague, about 10 percent of neighborhoods are overwhelmingly made up of ethnic minorities. Nineteen percent of the Dutch population is foreign-born and 6 percent are Muslim.

The challenge of school integration in the Netherlands isn't just a question of mitigating the effects of segregated housing patterns, but also of a longtime emphasis on parental choice when it comes to Dutch schools. The new concept, which is based upon American models, is called "controlled choice":

In the controlled-choice setup, parents visit local schools and rank their top four. The system then tries to give parents their preferences while balancing demographics such as race, class, and parental education level in all the schools. Sometimes it factors in other variables such as gender and proximity, and whether a potential student has siblings in the school.

The potential problem here is the assumption that parents will have the time, knowledge, and inclination to visit many schools in order to rank their top four picks. Some immigrant parents who aren't fluent in Dutch (or, here in the states, English) will likely opt-out or never even hear about the opportunity. That means that when the district sits down to make school assignments, some kids have parents who've registered a choice for a top school, and other don't. That disadvantages already underprivileged kids, but still — public school choice is one of the best options out there for keeping college-educated, middle class and affluent parents engaged in the public school system, which offers serious benefits to low-income families, who often aren't as active in pushing for school reform.

cross-posted at TAPPED

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