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Abundance of School Choice Doesn't Guarantee Access, Quality

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Although there may be an abundance of schools for parents to choose from in a city, that doesn't guarantee parents have the means to make a choice. A new study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, or CRPE, finds that many parents—especially those with less education or special needs children—face barriers that limit their ability to choose, such as a lack of quality schools, convenient transportation, and information to make informed decisions.

"Parents are generally satisfied with choice, and students in choice schools can benefit academically," the study's authors write in the report. "But, choice also has the potential to increase social stratification when the most disadvantaged families are the least likely to choose."

CRPE researchers surveyed 4,000 public school parents in eight cities with large school choice programs (Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington) this spring and examined data from a larger group of 35 cities.

Where to Go and How to Get There?

The survey finds that the three top barriers parents pointed to in choosing a school were understanding eligibility requirements (33 percent), arranging transportation (26 percent), and getting information about the schools (25 percent).

CRPE parent survey info graphic.JPG

According to the study, parents with less than a high school diploma were 72 percent more likely to list transportation and 58 percent more likely to list getting information on school choices as barriers than more educated parents. 

The same went for parents of special needs students. They were 36 percent and 18 percent more likely to list finding adequate information and transportation, respectively, as barriers than parents without special needs students. They were also 33 percent more likely to list understanding eligibility requirements as a roadblock to choosing a school.

The study also points to school quality as another barrier to school choice saying that in some cities, such as Detroit, "the biggest challenge facing parents [...] is not a lack of choice of but a lack of good schools."

Because oversight and responsibility is often spread out between several local and state authorities, no single entity is charged with fixing these problems, the CRPE researchers found.

Coming Up Next...

CRPE will be releasing more detailed results from the parent survey this fall, including a list of cities CRPE thinks are managing their school choice marketplaces well. The research organization will be proposing its own governance model to deal with these issues in a book to be released at a later date.

Graph from 'Making School Choice Work' by Michael DeArmond, Ashley Jochim, and Robin Lake for the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

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