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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

How parents choose schools

One daughter goes to a small, fast-paced STEM-focused school with few arts, language, sports or extracurricular options, Fordham’s Jeff Murray writes in Education Next. Her twin sister has moved to a private school that doesn’t care about test scores or AP courses, but offers independent projects, theater, sports and a study trip to Russia. Did he make the right choice?

Metro Early College High School in Columbus, Ohio focuses on science and math.

Parents know how to choose schools, writes Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute on RealClearEducation. At least, parents know better than economists, he argues.

study by economists suggests parents don’t know how to identify the most effective schools. In choosing a high school, New York City parents prefer schools with high-performing students, rather than schools that add value. To quote myself, “schools that do an OK job with high achievers look good; schools that do a great job with low achievers look just OK.”

Parents assess schools by a variety of factors, writes Eden. They “care about whether their children feel safe or not; whether they feel challenged and engaged or not; whether teachers love to teach them or not.”

The Wellington School in Columbus, Ohio offers a range of arts classes, as well as sports and other extracurriculars.

The economists who thought parents weren’t choosing schools correctly didn’t look at data from school climate surveys, Eden writes. New York City students, teachers and parents are asked about school safety, student engagement, teacher morale and other factors.

Traditional New York City schools that compete with nearby charters raise students’ test scores and attendance rates, and lower suspension rates, according to a study by Temple University’s Sarah Cordes, writes Eden.

In addition, using data from the climate survey, she also “found improvements in school safety, academic expectations, mutual respect and general school cleanliness and order.”

It seems quite probable that those improvements occurred because school leaders realized that in order to retain and attract students, they’d have to offer a better school experience. If it’s true that parents can spot and do value those things, that would be powerful evidence that when it comes to school choice the “market” works.

When parents have a choice of schools, such as transfer options, charters or vouchers, they’re more likely to seek information, concludes an analysis of GreatSchools searches.

The Center for Reinventing Public Education looks at how cities are “delivering on the  promise of public school choice.”

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