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Survey Highlights Hurdles Parents Face in Making School Choices

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A survey of public school parents is shedding light on how they go about choosing a school in cities with lots of options and the hurdles they face.

The latest report from the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education, the second in a series on how parents steer their way through high-choice systems, asks how parents are faring.

The short answer: it depends on the city.

Surveying 4,000 public school parents in eight "high-choice" cities—Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and the District of Columbia—the CRPE found parents hit different hurdles to finding and picking a school depending upon where they were. For example:

  • In Cleveland, parents are 68 percent more likely to name transportation as a barrier to school choice than their counterparts in New Orleans where charter schools are required to provide transportation;
  • New Orleans was the only city where parents of a child with special needs were not significantly more likely to report having trouble finding a school that was a good fit for their child;
  • In Philadelphia, parents in non-neighborhood schools were far more likely to report being content with their school compared to parents whose children go to their neighborhood school. For comparison, parents in the other seven cities were equally likely to say they were satisfied with the quality of their child's education regardless of whether they were in a neighborhood or non-neighborhood school;
  • District of Columbia parents were six times more likely than those in Philadelphia to say their schools were improving;
  • Optimism by race about the improvement of their cities' schools varied from city to city. White parents in Denver and New Orleans were much more likely to report that their schools were getting better, compared to Indianapolis where Hispanic parents were most optimistic and Detroit where black parents were most optimistic; and
  • On average, 25 percent of all parents said they struggle getting the information they need to choose a school. In Philadelphia that number was 28 percent, and in Denver,17 percent.

Other important findings from the survey:

  • Parents use between two and three different resources to research schools, but school visits are far and away the most popular method of research;
  • Parents of children with special needs, parents with less education, and parents of minority students have the most difficulty finding the right school; and
  • Nearly half of all parents said they had no other good option aside from their current school.

That last item is especially important, the report's authors write, as "school choice implies that parents can choose from two or more alternatives."

Overall, the report says even cities that have done a lot to support families in the school choice process, such as Denver, the District of Columbia and New Orleans, still have more work to do to help families navigate increasingly complex education systems. The report's authors write, "No city looks good on all, or even most, measures."

There's plenty more in the report. You can dig into the full report here.

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