Parents Value “More than Scores”

(Guest Post by James P. Kelly III and Benjamin Scafidi)

More and more American parents are being given the opportunity for school choice, including through the Georgia K-12 tuition tax credit scholarship program.  Through this program, Georgia taxpayers may contribute up to a statewide total of $58 million annually to student scholarship organizations (SSOs) that provide scholarships to students to attend private schools.

Why are parents actively seeking these scholarships for their children?  Why are they looking to move from a public to a private school?

Our study, sponsored by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, “More Than Scores: An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools” is available at www.edchoice.org/MoreThanScores

More Than Scores analyzed voluntary survey data compiled from parents of 754 private school students who received financial support from the Georgia GOAL Scholarship program, the largest SSO in Georgia.

The survey results indicate that low and middle income tax credit scholarship recipients valued a wide variety of factors when trying to move their children from traditional public schools into another learning environment.

Parents were given a list of 21 possible reasons for choosing a private school.  The top five reasons these 754 parents selected private schools were better student discipline (50.9%), better learning environment (50.8%), smaller class sizes (48.9%), improved student safety (46..8%) and more individual attention (39.3%).

When asked to name the top five reasons, test scores were named on 10.2% of surveys.  When asked to select just one most important reason, test scores were selected by 0.0% of parents.

When one considers the academic, social, and cultural challenges so many young people and their families in America are facing, it is easier to understand why parents are far less concerned about standardized test scores as a simple form of accountability. In terms of academic goals, parents—especially low income and other traditionally disadvantaged parents—care more about school and classroom conditions that will lead to graduation from high school and success in college.

Offering more parents school choice would significantly increase the transparency and accountability of private schools.  Low and middle-income GOAL Scholarship parents are willing to take several time consuming steps to obtain information about private schools.  Further, 79 percent of parents said that if a private school declined to provide them with any specific information they desire that it ‘would’ impact their school choice decision; another 20 percent said that it ‘might’ impact their decision.  This is powerful evidence that private schools—without any prompting from government—will have to be transparent with prospective parents or else risk losing students and their tuition funds.

Based on our survey results and the results of similar studies, we conclude that a “spontaneous education order” would arise if state governments provided all families with school choice.  Civil society would create crowd-sourcing platforms like www.greatschools.org and other tools to aid families in their school choice decisions.

School choice advocates should stop imposing standardized tests on students who attend private schools for reasons of expedience or accountability.  There are a number of schooling factors that satisfy a child’s educational needs and development.  The low and middle income parents who receive GOAL scholarships are capable of holding schools accountable.  States should create school choice programs that empower all parents to hold public and private schools accountable.

More About Georgia GOAL:

From 2008 through 2012, GOAL received $54.254,528 in contributions and awarded 8,681 scholarships to 5,220 students, totaling $33,161,165.  As of December 31, 2012, GOAL had obligated an additional $17.8 million, earmarked for future scholarship payments and awards.  In 2012, GOAL awarded 3,366 scholarships.

[Note from Jay: I accidentally jumped the gun and posted this before the study was released.  I’ve taken down the URL that goes directly to the report, but will restore that tomorrow after the study is publicly available.  My apologies.]

[Another note from Jay: The report is now available and I have updated the link]

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