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Why Parents Leave Public Schools

A report was released last month which shows how American parents feel about their public education system. Survey data is crucial for any business wanting to understand its customers, so it seemed appropriate to publish some of this study for any of our readers looking for ways to market themselves to parents seeking a new school.

The problem for us is how to gear the study’s data toward a school choice readership…the data for charter schools vs. traditional public schools were not disaggregated, so there’s no way to point to the differences between them. Still, there is one underlying theme to the study itself: “What do parents think is most important when determining school quality?” In the case of a community that offers school choice to its parents, this question also becomes: “What do parents look for when choosing a school?”

Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to choose a school for their children, at least, not a tuition-free one. Still, for all you charter school professionals out there hoping to pull more parents through your doors and students into your seats, here are the things that parents consider to be the biggest problems facing them at their current schools (from Pg. 8 of the study):

  1. Low expectations for student achievement
  2. Inequality of funding among school districts
  3. Getting and keeping good teachers
  4. Lack of parental involvement
  5. Lack of student discipline
  6. Quality of instruction by teachers
  7. Bullying
  8. Low test scores
  9. Quality of curriculum
  10. Not enough art/music opportunities

Only 61% of the parents surveyed said that there were serious problems facing their school, meaning that over a third of them felt that their schools had no serious problems at all. Still, the 39% that said there weren’t serious problems might not be looking for school choices anyway, which means that the problems above represent opportunities for charter school operators, or even voucher-qualified private schools, to fulfill a service gap in the industry.

As it turns out, charter schools have been on the right track for years. For example, KIPP’s “Five Pillars”¬†expressly lists “high expectations” first, and the concept of “no excuses” is a strong part of the network’s culture. The 41% of American parents who are concerned about low expectations at their district school might be attracted to a charter school that requires uniforms and a strict and focused atmosphere, mainly because it shows that the school is setting higher expectations than local district schools. By the way, kids love meeting high expectations, but too many schools underestimate them.

Inequality of funding was second among things that parents saw as a serious issue in public school, and although this pertains primarily to the inequality of funding between respective school districts (think “rich vs. poor”), this also applies to the inequality of funding between traditional public schools and charter schools, which is often wildly disproportionate. Interestingly, those parents in a household making $100,000 or more thought the funding issue was more serious than low expectations, which is likely because wealthier districts typically have to raise local taxes just to support their schools to the levels that the federal and state governments support poor districts.

However, the biggest thing that jumped out at us was a single common theme in almost every response. Disregarding the funding issue, the top five problems listed by parents all have to do with one thing: Apathy.

Apathy is a curse of the entitled, and unfortunately a lot of Americans suffer from it these days. Just look at the survey results: households making more than $100,000 were far less likely to see any school problems as “very serious” or “extremely serious” compared to households making less than $50,000.

Our politicians, who already can’t set realistic budgets, complacently allow an apathetic monopoly to control public education. This has trickled down for years. Now our parents don’t care about which school their child attends because they’re zoned for one already, and public schools have an unending stream of customers, meaning there’s no incentive to improve the product. Our country’s leaders can talk about reforming education all they want, but until Americans come to understand the dangers of entitlement, we will never solve the national or international achievement gap. School choice creates the competition needed to purge the educational system of entitlement.

Parents want schools to expect more from students – America should expect more from its citizens. We can run our own schools, just as we can run our own local governments. We don’t need the education cartel to hand-feed us anymore.

There were more parental concerns outside the Top 10 listed above, but they were all below 30% (as reported under “very serious” or “extremely serious”).

As a final note, there were also some interesting results on the different perceptions of reporting groups. For instance, parents who are a teacher or who live with a teacher had wildly different views of testing and assessing teacher quality than those parents surveyed who were not teachers or who did not live with a teacher (Pg. 9, 15, 16). White vs. Non-white results were unsurprisingly distinct from one another (Pg. 3), and the perceptions of public school parents and private school parents as to the quality of the local public schools in their area showed the distrust that private school parents have for public schools in general (Pg. 3-4).

Oh, and parents are generally anti-Common Core (Pg. 15), which would explain all the pushback on it in recent months.





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