Parents across the country are taking advantage of public school choice, but their experiences vary greatly from city to city. A report released yesterday by The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), How Parents Experience Public School Choice, details the observations of 4,000 parents in eight cities across the nation (Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.).
What is made clear by the report is that parents in each of these cities face school choice in very different ways.
For starters, parents take advantage of school choice options when they are available, but they are not always pleased with the options:
In seven of the eight cities, half or more of parents reported choosing a non-neighborhood-based school. This ranged from a high of 87 percent in New Orleans to a low of 35 percent in Indianapolis. When asked whether they had other good options beyond their current school, however, the results varied widely by city. In Denver, 60 percent of parents reported having good public school options available to them, but only 40 percent of Philadelphia parents reported having another good option.
Additionally, parent attitudes varied widely on whether their schools were improving:
More than half of all parents in Denver, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., reported that their cities’ schools are getting better, compared to less than a third of parents in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. Positive outlook about the public education system varied from as high as 65 percent of parents in D.C., to as low as 11 percent of parents in Philadelphia.
To take advantage of the academic options provided to them, some parents prioritized academic quality over safety and location—80 percent of parents in D.C. and 79 percent of parents in New Orleans reported making this choice. In other cities with fewer choices, however, smaller proportions of parents were able to prioritize academics.
Across all states, certain parents are finding it difficult to navigate the choices available to them. This is particularly true for black and Hispanic parents, parents with less education, and parents of students with special needs.
These results speak to a need for swift policy changes at the state and district level. For instance, providing parents clear, easy-to-understand, and comprehensive school report cards on an annual basis would allow them to compare their options and find the best fit for their children. Another option is to make sure charter authorizers and operators are held accountable to high standards of performance.
Regardless of which policy improvements states and districts pursue, one thing is clear: Parents are taking advantage of public school choice, and they deserve quality choices.