The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Parents’ Opinions on Three Types of Schools

on December 17, 2016

Since I retired before the rise of charter schools I know only what I read about them in the media, and none of it is good. Even those articles that praise charters contain information that bothers me, such as harsh discipline and one size-fits-all instruction. Of course, I realize that I am biased by my long-time connection with public schools, where I sometimes saw weaknesses, but more often good teaching and student learning.

Anyway, today’s essay summarizes a report on parents’ opinions about their schools—public, private, and charter–which appeared in” Education Next” a few days ago. The report was written by Samuel Barrows, Paul Peterson and Martin R. West. It includes the results of two national surveys, which were quite similar.

 Although the number of charter schools is still smaller than the number of public schools in the United states, serving about 6 percent of the country’s students, it is growing rapidly and appears to be very popular among parents whose children are enrolled in charters and those who hope to get them accepted the next time around. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, more than a million students are on charter school waiting lists.

In order to better understand the popularity of charters, two researchers for Ed Next carried out a survey of a nationally representative sample of parents whose children are in public, private, or charter schools to determine their views of the quality of education they are receiving. Afterward, those researchers compared their results with a previous survey.

The Ed Next survey focused on five important school characteristics: teacher quality, discipline, expectations for achievement, safety, and instruction in character and values. In addition, it asked about three other school characteristics: ethnic and racial diversity, the quality of facilities, and the convenience of location. As expected, the parents of children in charter schools were more satisfied in all areas than parents of children in public schools. However, at the same time private school parents were the most satisfied.

Few parents at any of the three types of schools acknowledged any serious problems at their own children’s school. Also, the problems most often identified by parents of students at each type of school were quite different.Charter parents named the lack of extracurricular activities, while public school and private school parents named student misbehavior. On the other hand, parents of students in all three types of schools reported satisfactory communications with school staff members.

In studying the parent surveys for more information, the researchers attempted to find out if the degree of variation in parents’ experiences was greater in one type of school than in the others. On four items—school discipline, expectations for student achievement, school building and facilities, and the racial and ethnic diversity among students, they found no significant difference across school types. However, they did find that private and charter parents were more often satisfied with their schools than  public school parents.

At this point  I will quote in full two  statements made by the researchers in their “Conclusions” section because they make important points about the nature of their results and the likely consequences.

None of these results can necessarily be interpreted as identifying the actual characteristics of schools. Parents’ perceptions may be distorted by a lack of knowledge about what really goes on at a school or by an understandable tendency to view life at their own children’s schools through rose-tinted glasses. Nor can the results be interpreted as causal. We do not have experimental evidence as to the impact of attending schools in one sector rather than another. Parents have exercised choice in selecting a charter or private-sector school rather than a district school, making it impossible to say whether parental perceptions of the school are caused by actual school characteristics in each sector or some other factor.

Charter parents’ greater satisfaction with their schools as compared to district parents, and their perceptions of fewer problems and more communication, have important implications for their school choices and, perhaps, their political behavior. If the number of charter schools continues to increase, the parents who use these schools may form a growing constituency in support of the charter-school option.

In my opinion the first statement sums up very well what the survey actually shows: opinion not reality. And I am very glad that the researchers included it, even though I would have made a harsher judgment: popularity does not equal excellence

Again, I applaud the researchers’ acuity in the second statement. I think they are correct about the growth of charter schools in the future unless some miracle occurs, in which the national and state governments get off the backs of public schools and also fund them adequately.

Finally, I wish to applaud the researchers for creating an excellent survey and closely examining its various results. It is far more nuanced and carefully explained than any others I’ve read recently.

3 responses to “Parents’ Opinions on Three Types of Schools

  1. Doug Garnett says:

    Nice write-up, Joanne.

    I’ll also observe that the action of choosing to put kids on an alternate path increases the likelihood that parents will say the school is better – even if it’s worse. Parents have skin in the game so they will tend to justify their choice and will engage in wishful thinking that can ignore problems.

    Public schools parents will not have a choice to justify so less stated/perceived satisfaction is to be expected.

    This doesn’t mean anything about whether either type of school is better or worse. It just means these perception results are to be expected – and pretty much ignored if we are looking to learn whether charters deliver a better education.


  2. Don Bellairs says:

    This is a fair and balanced report. However, I believe that democracies cannot exist without good public schools. Charters are, in my mind, an insidious effort to undermine the efficacy of public schools. That said, many charter schools are supplying a desperate need. When a kid grows up without a good educational foundation, the result is WAY more serious than can demonstrated by a bell curve.


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