Fordham Study Groups Parents Based on School ‘Must-Haves’

A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute paints an interesting picture of parents of students today. By evaluating what families are looking for from schools and grouping them into 6 groups based on those characteristics, the report concludes that the largest proportion of parents fall into the "pragmatist" group which wants schools to offer programs that would make it easier to their children to transition directly into the job market, even if the jobs available are not white collar.

The report, authored by Dara Zeehandelaar and Amber M. Winkler, finds that regardless of what groups they fall into, almost all parents want some basic minimums from the schools education their children. They want a rigorous curriculum that has a good foundation in mathematics, reading, science and other STEM subjects, and they want programs that train children to be good students by helping them develop study habits, critical thinking skills and the ability to communicate.

Thirty-six percent of parents of K-12 students fall into the aforementioned pragmatist group. They prefer schools that provide vocational and other job-related programs as opposed to those that concentrate on college readiness. When compared to the general population, pragmatists typically earn less and are less likely to be college graduates themselves. Rather surprisingly, they are also more likely than the average parent to have sons.

Jeffersonians (24 percent) prefer a school that "emphasizes instruction in citizenship, democracy, and leadership," although they are no more likely than other parents to be active in their communities or schools.

Test-Score Hawks (23 percent) look for a school that "has high test scores." Such parents are more likely to have academically gifted children who put more effort into school. They are also more likely to set high expectations for their children, push them to excel, and expect them to earn graduate degrees. Test-Score Hawks are also more apt to report that their child has changed schools because, as parents, they were dissatisfied with the school or its teachers.

Multiculturalists (22 percent) laud the student goal: "learns how to work with people from diverse backgrounds." They are more likely to be African American, to self-identify as liberal, and to live in an urban area.

The paper, titled What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-Offs, identifies two additional group: Expressionists and Strivers. Expressionists view education as chiefly a liberal arts endeavor. They want more music and art instruction in schools – something that many schools have had to cut in recent years due to budget woes. They make up just 15% of all parents polled. Expressionists are the least religious of all the categories, with three times as many parents falling into that group identifying as atheist compared to the average.

Considering how easily defined Strivers are – their must-have is a school that prepared students to not just enter college but to be admitted to the best colleges in the country – it is a little surprising that they make up only about 12% of those polled.

Strivers are far more likely to be African American and Hispanic. They are also more apt to be Catholic. But they do not differ from the total population in terms of their own educational attainment.

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