New Orleans Public School Enrollment Can Be Confusing. This Guide Should Help.

Nov 19, 2020

OneApp, New Orleans’ centralized school enrollment system, goes live Friday for the 2021-22 school year. Almost all of the district’s schools use OneApp to register new students, with the exception of some of the city’s top-rated schools: Benjamin Franklin High School, Lake Forest Charter School and Lusher Charter School.

We’ve got guidance for applying to these schools further down, but first, here’s what you need to know about applying for schools using OneApp.

OneApp Basics

New Orleans’ unique all-charter public school system isn’t zoned, which means students are eligible to attend dozens of school across the city regardless of where they live. The only requirement is that the student reside in Orleans Parish.

OneApp is a centrallized enrollment process which allows families to rank up to 12 school choices for a given student. Families rank their school choices in order of preference and OneApp uses an algorithm to make assignments.

The higher a student’s randomly generated lottery number, the more likely they are to be assigned to one of their top ranked schools. There are no random-generated placements and students are either placed at one of their choices or back at their original school.

The enrollment process also allows families to apply for private schools participating in the state’s scholarship program and publicly funded early childhood programs and tuition-based programs in public schools.

This year, OneApp launches on Nov. 20 and closes for most schools on Jan. 29. Some schools close earlier, on Jan. 15. All applications submitted by the deadline are processed at the same time, according to the district.

While families have the option to switch schools every year, students applying for new school placements are usually those entering the system for the first time (in PreK or kindergarten), as well as students entering the ninth grade, since many lower schools run through the eighth grade.

In most cases, students looking to stay at their current school are automatically re-enrolled for the following year and should not complete the OneApp unless they want to change schools. If you complete the OneApp you forfeit a seat at your current school.

Families also use OneApp to apply to new schools if their children’s current school is closing. This year, five schools, all of which earned D or F letter grades for the 2018-19 school year, could have their charters revoked.

Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. is expected to make recommendations on school closures by the end of December. His decisions can be overturned by the Orleans Parish School Board with a supermajority vote.

The five schools at risk of closing are Phillis Wheatley Community School, SciTech Academy, Robert R. Moton Charter School, Schaumburg Elementary, and Lawrence D. Crocker College Prep.

Who Gets Priority?

Whether a student gets into their top ranked school largely depends on three things: the number of available seats, the student’s randomly assigned lottery number, and whether they belong to a priority group.

To see how the lottery plays out, the district created this video which simulates the OneApp matching process.

Families impacted by school closures have top priority in the district’s algorithm. The other two factors that influence priority are a student’s proximity to a given school and whether their sibling already attends.

Geographic priority is given to students who live within a half-mile of the school or live in the same zone as the school. A certain number of seats are also reserved for students who do not have geographic priority.

While 100 percent of available seats can be awarded based on priority for students from closing schools and the siblings of current students, in most cases geographic priority is only used to fill 50 percent of available seats, according to the district.

Each school has its own priority breakdown that’s listed on its school profile.

Family Link also attempts to match siblings to the same school as long as they provide the same school choices in the same order.

Researching Schools

New research from the Education Research Alliance shows that the more information families receive about school options, the better choices they make. At the same time, the study found that obtaining quality information can be time-consuming and difficult.

Researchers at Tulane University and Brookings Institution conducted a study during the 2019-20 OneApp enrollment process by randomly assigning more than 7,000 families three different types of school information that was then distributed by mail, email and text message.

The study only included families with students entering PreK, kindergarten and the ninth grade.

One group received a list of the district’s highest-performing schools based on student test score growth. The second group received a list of schools near their home. The third group received no specific school information. All three received reminders about OneApp deadlines.

Researchers found that when families of ninth-graders received information about high-performing schools, they were more likely to apply and be assigned to those schools by 4 percentage points.

There were no significant impacts on PreK and kindergarten applicants, according to the study’s findings, though kindergarten applicants were 4 percentage points more likely to apply when their families received information about nearby schools.

The study’s most significant finding emerged when the data was sorted by student characteristics. Researchers found that students with disabilities were 13 percentage points more likely to apply to high-performing schools when they received a list of those schools. They were 7 percentage points more likely to be placed at one.

Black students and male students were also more likely to apply to high-performing schools when given additional information. These groups were more likely to apply to a high-performing school by 4.2 percent and 5.8 percent respectively.

Researchers concluded that “many (though certainly not all) families in New Orleans act on information about the schools available to them.”

Using the district’s school finder, parents can sort school options by both geographic area and letter grade. The finder can also be used to identify schools that provide before- and after-school care.

Parents can use the search feature to identify schools with specific curriculum offerings such as language immersion, arts enrichment, and dual enrollment. School profiles also include the resources available to students with special needs and English Learners.

Most schools aren’t hosting open houses or other in-person events in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. While this can make the school research process more difficult, many have posted online resources and are available to take parent questions by phone.

System Myths And Misconceptions

The district’s chief enrollment officer, Thomas Lambert, debunked three common myths about the OneApp application process at a school board meeting earlier this week.

Myth: “I heard I should complete my application earlier in the window to increase my chances.”

Lambert said the truth is all applications are processed at the same time once the enrollment window closes.

Ileana Ortiz, of the nonprofit Ed Navigator, told New Orleans Public Radio in 2018 that families should use the enrollment period as a time to research schools and adjust their rankings. Families can make changes to their OneApp ranking up until the deadline.

Myth: “I heard I should list more popular schools higher on my application to increase my chances.”

Lambert said families should always list schools “in the true order of preference,” since OneApp’s algorithm attempts to place students at their highest ranked school first, before working its way down the list.

For that reason, it doesn’t hurt families to list a large number of schools. If a family only lists high-demand schools, there’s a chance their student won’t get matched during the first round. In that case, the student could go unmatched and get bumped to the second round of OneApp when far fewer seats are open.

Ortiz said during the first round families should include all of the schools they would be comfortable sending their child to even if it isn’t a perfect fit.

Myth: “I heard NOLA Public Schools puts children at schools that the parent didn’t select on their application.”

Lambert restated that there are no system-generated placements. Students are only placed at schools listed on their application.

If a placement can’t be made, students are placed back at their original school or move to the second round of OneApp selection where they rank more schools and try again.

Schools With Selective-Admissions Policies

This is the last year that Benjamin Franklin High School, Lake Forest Charter School and Lusher Charter School will be allowed to enroll students outside of the OneApp process.

All three schools are expected to begin renewed charter contracts this coming summer, at which point they’ll be required to enroll in the OneApp system.

For the coming school year, prospective students will have to apply using the school’s specific admissions process. Benjamin Franklin, Lake Forest and Lusher, all A-rated, are some of the most sought-after institutions in the city and the highest-ranked schools in the state.

Benjamin Franklin High School (9-12)

Students applying to Benjamin Franklin High School must sit for the school’s admissions test and have a 2.0 GPA or higher to be considered for admission.

An admissions matrix score is calculated based on the student’s GPA and admissions test score, which awards points in reading, language and math.

Students entering ninth or tenth grade need a matrix score of 88 points or higher to gain admission, while incoming 11th-graders need a matrix score of at least 108 points.

If students meet these minimum requirements, maintain their GPA, and fulfill residency requirements, they’ll be admitted automatically, according to the school’s admissions website.

Admissions tests were administered on Nov. 14 and 15 and will be administered again on Dec. 12 and 13, Jan. 9, Feb. 6, March 13 and April 17. Prospective students can register for the test after they complete an online application and verify their birth date and Orleans Parish residency.

Tests are administered at Benjamin Franklin High School. Students who apply by the admissions deadline may re-test if they do not meet admissions requirements on their first try.

Benjamin Franklin hosted a virtual open house on Nov. 10. A recording of the event can be found here.

Applications must be received by Jan. 22 to be considered on time. Students will receive acceptance offers beginning in February on a rolling basis.

Lake Forest Charter School (K-8)

Lake Forest opened its admissions portal on Oct. 5 and will accept applications through Nov. 30. Once admissions materials are received, students are assigned an “assessment appointment.”

The assessment takes place in-person at Lake Forest Charter and lasts between 30 minutes and two hours depending on the age of the student. Students are tested on reading and math, according to the school’s admissions matrix.

Students’ matrix scores consist of their assessment scores, GPA, school absences, and whether or not a family member completed the orientation process.

For kindergarten (which has its own separate matrix), students must receive 20 points. First- through eighth-graders must receive 33 points.

If there are more qualified students than available seats for a given grade level, then a lottery will be held, according to the school’s website. The lottery will be unranked.

Preference is given to incoming kindergarteners if they have a sibling enrolled for the upcoming school year. Otherwise, all qualifying applicants are weighed equally.

Lusher Charter School (K-12)

Lusher began its admissions process for the 2021-22 school year on Oct. 5 and will accept applications through Nov. 30. All supporting documents must be received by Dec. 7.

Students are assessed using an admissions matrix that awards points based on GPA, admissions test scores, an arts profile and application, and for kindergarten and first-graders, parent involvement.

Admissions testing is conducted at Lusher and testing dates are assigned once the online application is completed. Students without a 2.0 GPA or higher are not eligible to test. Retests are not permitted.

For kindergarten and first grade, students must score 25 out of 30 points to qualify for the school’s lottery process. All eligible students are included and have equal rank regardless of individual matrix score.

Students in second grade and up follow a slightly different matrix process and must score 28 out of 33 points to qualify for the lottery, which is two-tiered.

First, qualified students are ranked based on their matrix score, and 75 percent of available spots in each grade are filled by students with the highest scores. The remaining seats are then filled using a non-ranked lottery.

Preference is given to kindergarten applicants with siblings who attended Lusher’s lower school and will be enrolled at Lusher for the coming school year.

A limited number of spots are also reserved for the children of Tulane University-affiliated parents as part of a formal partnership between the two schools. These children are not exempt from the admissions process and must score high enough on Lusher’s admissions matrix to qualify.

Becky Bell, Lusher’s head of admissions, said Friday that half of available spots per grade level are set aside for the children of Tulane’s full-time faculty and staff.

Students who are “economically disadvantaged” and have qualified using Lusher’s admissions matrix are included in a “second chance drawing” if they are not admitted during the regular drawing.

To qualify for the “second chance drawing,” families must provide either a Medicaid card, free or reduced lunch qualifying letter, SNAP card, Head Start verification, TANF verification, or another document verifying some form of governmental assistance.

There will be no in-person open house for prospective families due to COVID-19 restrictions. Completed applications must include a student’s birth certificate and relevant report cards.