Web Site Helps Colorado Parents Choose Schools

Published February 1, 2008

Colorado parents can find a vast array of information to help them choose their children’s schools on a new Web site by the Independence Institute, a Colorado think tank. To make it useful to a diverse population, the site is available in both English and Spanish.

Under Colorado’s open-enrollment law, students can attend any school in the state with space available as long as parents can provide transportation. With 178 school districts, plus myriad charter schools and private schools, finding the perfect one can be a mind-boggling experience, said Pam Benigno, the Institute’s education center director.

The new Web site empowers parents by showing them their children’s educational options, including comprehensive information that took a year for the Institute to compile.

“We want all parents to embrace school choice, which should result in all children receiving a better education,” Benigno said.

Different Criteria

The site, formally launched in early December, is designed as simply as possible, Benigno said. Parents can search all schools within a radius they specify. They can also look for schools among 47 different categories–such as liberal arts schools or Montessori schools. Each category is accompanied by a definition, and the site includes a glossary of useful words and terms of speech.

“It’s important that parents understand the language that’s used under education,” Benigno said.

Colorado politicians have taken notice. State Sen. Nancy Spence (R-Centennial) said the Web site is a good tool for parents seeking the best education for their children.

“Parents know what’s best for their children and can access valuable information about geographic choices and academic choices that they have by using the School Choice for Kids Web site,” Spence said.

Helping Hispanic Parents

The entire Web site is available in Spanish, too, tailored for Colorado’s growing Hispanic community, Benigno explained.

“This is a huge asset to Spanish-speaking families that don’t understand our open-enrollment [law] and the choices that are available to them,” Benigno said.

The Web site allows parents to search for schools based on academic rigor. Benigno said many schools claim to have excellent programs, so the Independence Institute created the term “above the ACT average.” All high school juniors statewide are required to take the ACT, and the Web site rates schools based on their collective results. Elementary and middle schools have similarly telling academic ratings.

In addition, parents can investigate private school or homeschool options for their children on the site. After making their choice, they can use the site’s handy checklist of questions to ask the school or district before their child enrolls, such as information about immunization requirements.

Promoting Choice

To promote the site, the Institute printed 200,000 colorful bookmarks, one side in English, one side in Spanish, and distributed them at churches, bookstores, and community centers statewide.

The site has received much attention from Denver’s Spanish-language media, thanks to a public unveiling at a Hispanic Community Center in the Denver archdiocese last fall, Benigno said.

The Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options (HCREO), a Washington, DC-based organization dedicated to reforming Latino education by empowering families with parental choice, has embraced the site and is using it to train parents.

“It’s a wonderful tool for parents,” Benigno said, “but it’s also a wonderful tool for people doing community outreach and for parent training classes, because the information is here for them.”

Providing a Model

Benigno said she considers the Web site a trailblazing tool to help parents make the best educational choices they can for their children.

“I would encourage other think tanks and other organizations that have the expertise about school choice policy to compile this information” for their states, Benigno said.

Jillian Melchior ([email protected]) writes from Michigan.

For more information …

School Choice for Kids: http://www.schoolchoiceforkids.org