Parents engaged in the school choice process for kindergarten need more than simplified information to help them select schools. Parents seek, but struggle to find, help in how to use information to decide on a good school match for their family, according to exploratory work MDRC has done with parents and the multi-service organizations that support them. Overloaded parents who are new to the system report feeling more comfortable when someone guides them through an application or decision-making process.
Community-based organizations, such as child care centers and neighborhood health clinics, are uniquely positioned to support and even personalize guidance to parents to help their children find the right match. But organizations need evidence about the types of information to share with parents, the best ways to present that information, and additional supports parents may need as they navigate complex school application processes. There are few rigorous tests comparing different information delivery mechanisms, such as digital platforms vs. in-person contact. In addition, few studies compare who is more trusted and effective at delivering information and coaching: school staff/district representatives vs. community agents or peer parents vs. institutional staff.
To fill this knowledge and programming gap, MDRC is collaborating with community-based organizations and child care centers in New York City to test interventions for families navigating the school choice process. These institutions help families navigate many other application processes, such as applying for benefits, and are also fielding requests from parents to help support them with school selection. The Supported Choice project will offer these institutions new resources to support families while testing the effectiveness of these tools in different settings.