(Guest post by Patrick Wolf)
We interrupt this celebration of the Jay P. Greene Blog’s four years of extraordinary wonderfulness for a “stop the presses” headline: 71% of parents in Detroit have shopped for (and enrolled a child in) an alternative to their assigned public schools within the past five years. This is only one of many interesting results from the study Understanding School Shoppers in Detroit by Thomas Stewart and me.
Our study is based on the administration of a door-step survey to over 1000 parents living in nearly 300 different city blocks selected at random for canvassing. We also held follow-up focus groups with parents and older students.
The report was sponsored by Michigan Future, a non-partisan non-profit organization committed to creating 35 high-quality high schools in the city over the coming years. They are leading community efforts to improve education in Detroit and enlisted us to perform the first-ever demand study of urban schooling.
The people at Michigan Future sought basic research to better understand Detroit parents as shoppers for k-12 schools. They wanted to know how many parents had experience with school shopping (a lot!), when did they shop (May-August), how did they shop (through social networks, school fairs, web searches, and a limited number of school visits), and what were they looking for (schools with a strong academic program and safe environment).
Charter schools are the most popular schools of choice for Detroit parents, but a staggering 15% of Detroit children currently attend public schools outside of the city. Nearly 30% of parents said they would transport a child “up to 8 miles” to access a desirable school, and many clearly are doing so.
Stewart and I further determined that 59% of Detroit parents had the characteristics of “veteran” shoppers in that they had exercised choice in the past as well as the present and plan to continue to shop in the future. About 12% of parents were classified as “emerging” shoppers who were new to school choice and still trying to figure out where the good stores are. Another 8% of Detroit parents were “potential” shoppers with many of the characteristics that predicted school shopping, such as disappointment with their child’s school and an expressed willingness to travel long distances to a better school, but who had not yet actually shopped. The final 21% of parents were classified as “unlikely” school shoppers, with attributes and attitudes that suggest they will continue to accept the default of assigned public schools.