Skip to main content

Charter school website is a huge step forward. Now for the bad news.

By March 21, 2023No Comments

Major kudos to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) for putting all the public charter schools on one “common” application.  Meet

Since the 1997 advent of RI charters, families applied separately to each school, online or by physically schlepping school to school.  No more.  Families finally get a break.  

Nationally, few places use these “common applications.”  But their popularity is rising as education officials respond to parents’ pleas for more school options.  Common apps help families shop among schools, with rich information about school-climate, special programs, academic achievement and more.

Districts who’ve been using them for years, like Kansas City, New Orleans and New York City. have videos that show you how their system works. 

Computer algorithms pull the zip code and grade level from the family’s account to sort for eligibility, generating a list of the available choices – much like how Expedia shows you available flights.  Applicants investigate their options, make their selection(s) and hit Submit.

Yet more kudos to RIDE for including all the Providence schools in the upcoming lottery.  Families have always been able to choose among them, albeit through clunky “preference sheets” which EnrollRI makes obsolete.  Now every choosable school can strut its stuff on the same stage, which is only fair.  

The initiative is 3 years old, which surprised me, a compulsive RI school-watcher.  RIDE’s website doesn’t include it on the navigation drop-downs.  

But that didn’t stop almost 8,000 unduplicated families from making 23,363 applications for a mere 2,353 available seats.  One to ten odds – a painful subject for another day.   

Today’s pain is that EnrollRI is murder on the schools.

Most common-app districts use some version of a “single best option” matching process.  Computer algorithms give each kid as close to her top choice as possible.  One seat. 

Here, after the deadline, RIDE vets the applications for eligibility and sends each school a long list of their applicants.  Later, but on the same day, each school conducts its own lottery to identify the, say, 60 kids who get first crack at their 50 available seats, and to rank order the waiting list.  That list goes back to RIDE which posts the results online where families can look for themselves – another kindness to the parents, thank you.  

But this is where anarchy begins.  

A kid who applied to 10 schools will have 10 different outcomes, not one.  

So students jockey for seats, changing their minds, from April through October.  

The luckiest kids hedge their bets by accepting offered places at multiple schools.  Wait-list kids fret anxiously or grab any offer just to stay in the game.  Some leave the system altogether without telling anyone.

Vacant seats fill, and then empty again; fill and empty.  This constant turnover, called “churn” by student-mobility experts, lasts past the October 1 deadline when some accepted kids turn out to be no-shows.

A kid who takes a seat at one of her options, but switches to another mid-September, fills one seat which empties another, after school starts.   

Pure churn.

Schools have no idea who’s coming.  Starting to engage families or request transcripts is pointless.  Yes, urban kids can be highly mobile, but schools need to start with a relatively stable cohort.


The EnrollRI steering committee is making progress on this front.  The churn drives school communities nuts, so likely they’ll have a workable design by the next cycle. is a great start.  Truly.  But it seems all too familiar for RI to take a terrific idea and first make a mess with it.