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Impacts of ‘School Chooser’ Digital Tools - Eric Reese (Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University)


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This was presented by Eric Reese from the Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University at the Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC@Taipei) in Taipei on 12th September 2017. You can find out more information about the conference here:


In this time of rising inequality and urban population growth, cities face real problems trying to achieve equity in service quality and access for their residents.

Schooling presents a particularly large challenge — and when the sole determinant of which school children attend is their residential address, it can produce a spiral of unequal schooling conditions that are difficult to remedy.

One solution is the creation of specializations in schools and attendance rules that permit children to matriculate across a range of schools. Through this technique, the close relationship between housing price and school resources can somewhat loosen, the resources of wealthier families can flow to a wider array of schools, and children from less-wealthy households can gain the advantages of a more economically diverse school environment and increased choice for where their children attend school.

Civic Technology tools are playing a key role in improving the availability of information about schooling options to parents and increasing their interest in schools beyond their closest option. Eric examines the development process and effects of several “school chooser” tools currently implemented in the US and European cities of Vilnius, Boston, and Oakland.

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Impacts of ‘School Chooser’ Digital Tools - Eric Reese (Center for Government Excellence at Johns Hopkins University)

  1. 1. The Civic Tech of School Enrollment: Effects of School Chooser Tools Eric Reese, Associate Director | @ereese15
  2. 2. Twitter @ereese15
  3. 3. Twitter @ereese15
  4. 4. Twitter @ereese15 GovEx <3 civic tech - Growing expectation that government services are also digital - Pay utility bills, report potholes, get your driver’s license renewed...and more - Growth of public-focused tech cos/orgs - Code for America & civic hackers - Expanding vendor ecosystem - Our work with cities - US cities: data & UX improvements to achieve public goals - Outside US - Vilnius: specific goals and partner with private sector
  5. 5. Twitter @ereese15 Civic tech: tool that improves flow of civic information Here’s a service!
  6. 6. Twitter @ereese15 Policies can hinge on improved access to information In order to work, some policies require a broad stakeholder group to consider significant amounts of new information. “School choice” is a good example: Increases students’ education opportunities by giving them more enrollment options Assumes students perform better by choosing schools that better fit their needs Without broadening access to information about enrollment options, “school choice” policies are unlikely to work.
  7. 7. Twitter @ereese15 Implementing school choice in cities School reform initiatives are policy innovations aimed at achieving popular goals. These conform to specific policy context and educational structure: US - Two main drivers Quality - improving outcomes for students Choice - improving mobility among schools Vilnius - growing and unable to keep up with demand for kindergartens.
  8. 8. Twitter @ereese15 Nexus of school choice and civic tech: school choosers Vilnius Cleveland What is a school chooser? An online tool designed to help parents/guardians discover more information about schools within a particular area, often a city or school district. Insert photo of Vilnius tool
  9. 9. Twitter @ereese15 What are the effects of school finder tools? 1. Are the tools helping school districts achieve primary policy goals (e.g., increased choice, increased equity?) 2. Are the tools helping school districts achieve secondary administrative goals (e.g., efficiency?) 3. Are the tools creating change as civic tech (e.g., changing policy to serve users, cascading digitization, bias in who is served?) Research design: Interviews with program leaders and software developers, evaluation of longitudinal enrollment data in three municipal cases (Vilnius, LT; Cleveland, OH; Washington, DC.)
  10. 10. Twitter @ereese15 Early evidence: achieving primary goals? Primary goal: Students choose schools with better outcomes (better fit, higher performing, more space) Evidenced by: More students using the tool enrolled in schools other than the closest available Vilnius: Yes - 4,000 unique users of tool in first year available - More students enrolling at schools with shorter wait lists Cleveland: Yes - Enrollments in high-performing schools rose, applications to failing schools dropped by 50%.
  11. 11. Twitter @ereese15 Early evidence: achieving secondary goals? Secondary goal: School enrollment is a more efficient process Evidenced by: Lower cost to enroll per student Vilnius: Partial/unclear - Efficient integration of tool with enrollment (linking back and forth) - Uncovered and investigated incidents of manipulation/ corruption Cleveland: Partial/unclear - Savings from online enrollment - Additional cost of mobile in-person outreach - Some outreach costs borne by new non-profit
  12. 12. Twitter @ereese15 Early evidence: other civic-tech effects? Internal policy changes: interactions with tool development changed policy Digitization of new data: new uses of data from tools, including data on what kinds of schools people want and where Unintended anti-equity consequences: mitigated in Cleveland with in-person outreach, but still evident Tech: updating legal with making it more friendly to individuals. Instead of wild west of tech and legal later (or no legal at all)
  13. 13. Twitter @ereese15 Takeaways So Far 1. Early stage in this research. Planning to complete case studies this fall, produce whitepaper this spring. 2. Integrating into larger context. How does civic tech help cities achieve goals? 3. Understanding equity. In the context of school choice, this is a challenge: philosophical problem to balance individual equity achievements against total system.
  14. 14. Interested in collaborating in research on school enrollment tech – or on understanding other civic tech tools cities are using to achieve goals? Get in Touch! Eric Reese - Emily Shaw -