Dallas ISD May Close the Book on This Crafty Way Charter Schools Poach Students

Dallas ISD trustees want to make it harder for charter schools to poach their students.The board is expected next month to discuss limiting access to directory information that’s long been public. The directory is often used by those wanting to market directly to students, such as prom-related services, sporting companies or colleges.But board members are worried that charter operators are now routinely using the information to more aggressively recruit families away from the district.“Our competition was able to get that information and basically use it against us,” trustee Joyce Foreman said at a recent board briefing on the matter. “Clearly, I don’t believe that’s what we want to happen.”Dallas ISD has about 34,000 students living within its boundaries who attend a charter, which is a public school that operates apart from a traditional district.School districts across Texas have long worried about the growth of charter schools, claiming they often take the best, most involved students, making it harder for the traditional campuses left behind. Last year, about 266,000 students across the state opted out of their school districts for a charter, according to Texas Education Agency data.Charter operators say they give families more options to choose a school that’s right for them. They often launch aggressive recruiting campaigns that include billboards, radio and television ads, social media promotion and direct marketing to homes.As a result, a growing number of districts have changed their policies to limit what is public for student directory information.The directories typically contain names, birthdates, place of birth, addresses, telephone numbers and the names of schools the students attend. Parents can opt out. Most don’t.Dallas trustee Audrey Pinkerton told fellow board members she was unaware that so much personal student information was public until constituents contacted her. They were upset about a mailer from a charter school addressed to their 5-year-old and concerned about how the charter knew their child’s name.“There’s a lot of personal information we’re giving away,” she said.Dallas administrators are proposing a policy change -- modeled after districts like Austin and Lancaster -- that allows the military and higher education institutions wide access to student directory information but limits everyone else to only student names.School districts are required by law to release certain information to military recruiters and colleges unless a parent notifies the district otherwise. Some information would still be public for school-sponsored purposes, such as for yearbooks and announcements related to activities or honors.Billy Rudolph, spokesman for the ResponsiveEd group that operates 69 campuses across Texas, said that charter operator often uses direct marketing in the Dallas area to help keep costs down, rather than blanketing entire neighborhoods with mailers, including the homes with no school-aged children.He notes that such outreach helps in recruiting and will continue even if the access to student directories is limited. But it’s only one tool.“The most effective way is word of mouth,” he said. “Really that’s the way students and parents find out about what we have to offer. ... Their friends go there. Their parents are talking and sharing experiences on Facebook.”Bruce Marchand, who works on development and growth for the Texas Charter School Association, said direct-mail is particularly helpful when a new school is launching or when a campus is trying to stand out from the growing field of educational options. But in crowded metro markets like Dallas, personally canvassing neighborhoods and community events are more effective for recruiting.Marchand, a former charter superintendent in east Texas, noted that charters are trying to work with traditional public school districts, but he acknowledges that the competition for students remains fierce.“A lot of times, the ISDs would do the same thing to charters: put in a public information request for all the names and information on who was attending the charter school because then they would do their recruitment effort to try and get the kiddos back in the ISDs,” Marchand said.Two years ago, Austin ISD limited release of its student directory information after charter operators in that area declined to share their own data with the school district, trustees said in an April 2015 board meeting. During that debate, board members questioned whether parents were aware that so much information was shared if they opted for it to be public. Some said they assumed directory information meant campus listings of classmates.A few years ago, Lancaster ISD limited its student directory information to cut down on unsolicited targeting aimed at parents and out of concerns for the district’s students, officials said.“In today’s climate, it’s not uncommon for schools to seek ways to increase safety and security,” spokeswoman Sonya Cole-Hamilton said. “We hope that restricting the amount and nature of the contact data that we release will assist us in this endeavor.”**  Continue reading...

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