Within the past two decades, more parents are able to exercise school choice because of educational reforms like magnet and charter schools. The purpose of this project is to examine why and how parents make school choices, how involved and satisfied they are with their schools, and the dynamics of the choice process. The project focuses on parents in one district in a large Midwestern city, where their choices can be examined in context. It has looked specifically at parent choice of magnet versus private schools. And it has considered parents in charter schools and their perceptions of invitations to involvement from schools and teachers--that is, to what extent are charter schools and teachers inviting parents to be involved?
Findings from parents choosing magnet versus private schools suggest that parent satisfaction with the child’s previous school has no effect on the likelihood that parents will consider a private school. Instead, parent involvement seems to be an important aspect of choosing: those who communicate frequently with their children about school, are more involved in school, and feel that the level of parent-teacher collaboration is inadequate at the present school are more likely to consider private schools. Results also show that income is a main factor in determining consideration of a private school, and that the more parents have access to social capital through informal networks, the more likely they are to consider private schools.
Concerning parents who choose public charter over private schools, dissatisfaction with the private school motivates the switch. Overall, parents who transfer their children to charter schools emphasize academic quality and focus of school, and they give lower ratings to their private schools on academic rigor and social climate. Consequently, they also express less enthusiasm about returning to those schools. Among the students who came to their current charter schools from other schools, 75% switched from regular public schools and 16% switched from private schools. Those from private schools display statistically significant higher levels of prior academic performance, family income, and parental education attainment. However, the average racial-ethnic composition of the private school switchers is statistically identical to their counterparts from traditional public schools.
In terms of parent involvement and charter schools, results suggest great variability in parent experiences. On average, parents report higher invitations to involvement from schools than from teachers. The data suggest unique clusters of schools--some clearly struggling to involve parents--whose differences are attributable more to the schools’ varied structure and climate rather than parents’ social background. Other patterns are attributable to parents’ and students’ prior educational experiences and the prior schools themselves: parents entering charter schools from regular public schools report different perceptions and experiences than do parents entering from private or other charter schools. Their reasons for choice play an important role as well.