November 13 2013

New Study Highlights Why Parents Choose Private Schools

Vicki E. Alger

A new study from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice surveys parents with students participating in Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship program, the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program, Inc.

Under the program any public school student is eligible, as long as they had been enrolled for at least six weeks or were enrolling in public school preschool, kindergarten, or first grade. The state provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for charitable donations to nonprofit Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs), capped at a total of $58 million in tax credits per year available to individuals, married couples, and businesses. The study found:

The top five reasons why parents chose a private school for their children are all related to school climate and classroom management, including “better student discipline” (50.9 percent), “better learning environment” (50.8 percent), “smaller class sizes” (48.9 percent), “improved student safety” (46.8 percent), and “more individual attention for my child” (39.3 percent).

Student performance on standardized test scores is one of the least important pieces of information upon which parents base their decision regarding the private school to which they send their children. Only 10.2 percent of the parents who completed the survey listed higher standardized test scores as one of their top five reasons why they chose a particular private school for their child

Information parents actually want includes student-teacher ratios (84.2 percent), school accreditation (70.2 percent), curriculum and course descriptions (69.9 percent), college acceptance rates (61.3 percent), and the availability of religious instruction (56 percent).

So what accountability measures are at work in private schools when there are no government mandates? As the study authors continue:

Because they risk losing students to other K–12 schools in the educational marketplace, private schools have an incentive to voluntarily provide the information desired by parents. Based on the survey results, the failure of a private school to provide information would (79 percent) or might (20 percent) negatively impact a parent’s decision on whether to send his or her children there.

These findings have tremendous implications for parental choice supporters who favor testing mandates for participating private schools, including Common Core curricula and testing mandates. As the study authors conclude:

Given the low priority parents place on standardized test scores in choosing the private schools best suited for their children, public officials should resist the temptation to impose national or state standards and testing on private schools or demand that private schools publish “report cards” emphasizing test score performance.

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