School Choice Report Highlights Parent Experience


A new report released by the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) suggests that education reform efforts should focus on parental experiences in addition to those of their children.

This suggestion is especially true when it comes to school choice, writes Eric Schulzke for Deseret News.

According to Michael DeArmond, a research analyst at CRPE based at the University of Washington in Seattle, parents today have many more options than they have had in the past, including charters, magnets, traditional neighborhood schools and the possibility for vouchers to attend private schools.

The authors surveyed 4,000 parents in eight major urban areas where school choice is prevalent, including Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and D.C.  Parents of children who attend traditional schools were included, as were those who have chosen for their children to attend other schools.  “The findings are less about a particular school district and more about the city’s system of schools,” DeArmond said.

DeArmond said the most encouraging part of the study was that the challenges “are important but are also solvable with time and investment from city leaders.”

The study, How Parents Experience Public School Choice, discovered that most parents are happy with where they have chosen to educate their children.  Although some did express the desire to have more options, the result varied by city.  For example, 60% of parents in Denver said there are enough options, while only 40% of parents in Philadelphia felt the same way.

The authors also looked into how well area schools were improving, and found greatly different results by city.

While over half of the parents in Denver, New Orleans, and DC were happy with how education was improving in their cities, less than one-third of parents felt that way in Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia.

According to the study, one of the largest barriers to school choice is the issue of transportation.  Enrollment complexity, or understanding how to enroll and which schools you are able to enroll in, was found to be another barrier, with the third issue being simply obtaining information about school choice.  “Even in cities that have invested a lot in parent guides and websites, parents still say it is hard to get the information they need to pick a school,” DeArmond said.

A separate 10-year study of parental experience was performed by University of Arkansas professor Patrick Wolf in partnership with the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, finding that while most parents wanted help in simplifying the school choice process, they did not want decisions made for them.  They simply wanted data to be given to them so that they could make their own decisions.

“It was almost as if they were reading right of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” Wolf said, referring to the psychologist Abraham Maslow, who theorized that people will pursue survival demands before they seek to enrich their lives.