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Aggressive School 'Shopping' in Detroit

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The city of Detroit, and its schools, have taken plenty of hits over the years. But in spite of those woes—or maybe because of them—parents in the city are fairly aggressive in seeking out what they see as the best educational options for their children, a newly released survey reveals.

Seventy-one percent of Motown families have "shopped" for a school, meaning they had recently exercised school choice, the survey found.

Specifically, 59 percent of Detroit parents said they currently have enrolled a child in an alternative to an assigned city public school, or have done so in the past five years and say they are very likely to do so in the future. Another 12 percent of parents reported that their children are currently enrolled in alternatives to their assigned Detroit schools, though those families have not been shopping recently.

The survey is included in a report, "Understanding School Shoppers in Detroit," published by Michigan Future, Inc., an Ann Arbor nonprofit. A research firm, Qwaku & Associates, led the research; and a University of Arkansas researcher, Patrick Wolf, who has studied school choice, oversaw the design of the survey and co-authored the report.

The survey was based on more than 1,073 door-to-door interviews of Detroiters with school-age children.

Currently, 45 percent of Detroit children are attending a school other than a city public school to which they would normally be assigned, the survey found. The greatest number of those children, 22.5 percent, are attending charter schools, and the next largest number, 15 percent, are in public schools outside Detroit. Much smaller numbers were attending Detroit public magnet schools or private or home schools.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most parents use the May-to-August window to shop for schools, the survey found.

Those interested in learning more about how parents make choices about schools, and the factors that drive their decision-making will find plenty of other tidbits in the report itself. But here's one: Who takes the lead in school shopping? In Detroit, overwhelmingly, it was mothers, 58 percent of whom made the final school choice, compared with just 21 percent of fathers. The children themselves, as well as other relatives and guardians, played lesser roles.

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