A new online enrollment system for families to enroll their kids in grades K-12 for the 2018-19 school year at Indianapolis Public Schools and most Marion County charter schools begins Wednesday.
The so-called common enrollment process is a major shift for city parents and schools. Families will longer fill out separate paperwork for IPS magnet schools and neighborhood schools, or need to remember a smattering of enrollment deadlines among dozens of charter schools.
Instead, families will log on to a website, pick the schools they want to attend, rank them in order by preference and wait to find out which school their child will attend. The first enrollment round begins Wednesday, Nov. 15, and ends January 15. Enrollment results will be announced February 15
Cities, including Denver and New Orleans, offer a variation of the one-application approach. Support in Indianapolis has come IPS, the Mayor’s Office, most of the city’s charter schools and local education reform group The Mind Trust.
As the new system has been rolled out some have raised concerns over the complexity and transparency of the process.
Caitlin Hannon, founder of Enroll Indy, the local nonprofit managing the OneMatch enrollment system, says it creates equity by simplifying where families get information about schools and using a computer algorithm to match a child with an open seat.
“It doesn't matter who your parent is,” Hannon says about how students are selected to attend schools with long waiting lists. “It doesn't matter who you know or how much money you have or if you bake brownies for the school secretary.”
The technology behind the system is similar to what is used for National Resident Matching Program through which most American doctors get their first job, according to the Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice which creates the algorithm used by OneMatch.
Families are expected to use Enroll Indy’s website to find a school that matches their need and interest, such as it academic performance, after-school care and transportation options.
Though OneMatch, also part of the Enroll Indy website, families can choose up to ten schools they would want their child to attend and rank the schools in priority.
The algorithm factors in priories associated with each student -- such as whether they live in a pre-drawn school boundary zone, if a sibling already attends a school and if a parent works for IPS -- and assigns a random lottery number.
The system runs everyone’s choice at the same time and fills open seats based on those factors, Hannon says. IPS will no longer offer waitlist positions for programs that reach capacity. Rather, Hannon says, students will be assigned their top option based on availability.
“This is not about putting you in a school that isn't a school that you want,” says Hannon, a former IPS School Board commissioner. “This is about you telling us what you want, the priorities of the school, and your random lottery number. Those are the only three factors.”
Unlike in the past, Hannon says, the system will also explain to families why they did not get the school they wanted.
The new system requires all schools taking part to use a single enrollment application, follow three enrollment windows and use a random lottery process to select which students make it into popular academic programs.
But not all Indianapolis charter schools are taking part, including Christel House Academy.
Carey Dahncke, head of schools, says the charter network is taking a wait-and-see approach to OneMatch for its two schools.
“Our enrollment has been strong, so the idea of changing practice just didn't seem necessary,” he says.
Phalen Leadership Academy also did not sign on but two IPS innovation schools managed by the company will use OneMatch.
The two networks will continue to enroll students using their own system and deadlines.
The IPS Community Coalition, a group critical of ongoing changes within IPS, has described the OneMatch system as being akin to the dystopian Hunger Games series. In a recent Facebook post, the group said the enrollment system dictates schools choice, not the parents.
"The parents only provide the list of 10. This starts to look like some strange robotic, authoritarian system of the allocation of scarce resources (the 'good' schools), kind of like the Hunger Games. This looks like an inhumane system, not a parent and child-friendly one," the group wrote.
In a public response, Hannon disputed the notion that families are not choosing their schools.
"We don’t decide anything for families -- they just apply and we run a lottery -- the same way it’s been done for years but in a more efficient place so families don’t have to apply all over the city," she wrote.
Enrollment for 2018-19 will be held during three rounds: Nov. 15 - Jan. 15 with results on Feb. 15; Jan. 16 - April 15 with results on May 15; April 16 - June 15 with results on June 30. Late enrollment starts July 1.
Correction: An earlier version of this article had the incorrect state date for enrollment. It is Nov. 15.