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If you’ve tracked education for much of the past decade, you’d think that parents are obsessed with test scores and graduation rates. Between the No Child Left Behind Act, ceaseless invocations of the “achievement gaps,” and the self-assured pronouncements of education reformers, you’d think it’s uniformly held test scores are the crucial metric of school quality.
The strange thing, of course, is how often one encounters parents who think the importance of tests is overblown. They care about how well their kids can read and do math, of course, but they’re frustrated by the emphasis on test results and fear that schools aren’t paying enough attention to character, citizenship, the arts, or much else. The result is a remarkable disconnect between what policymakers, advocates, and academics focus on, and what parents actually think is important.
On this score, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice just released an enlightening new study of parents who participate in the Georgia scholarship program to transfer their child to a private school. The report, which will be released tomorrow morning, “More Than Scores: An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools” reports on the findings from a survey of 754 parents and sheds light into what parents value.
When asked about the top five reasons why they chose a private school, parents paid remarkably little heed to the things that so concern those of us in the policy world. The top five concerns were discipline (51%), the learning environment (51%), small class sizes (49%), safety (47%), and individualized attention (39%). Religious education didn’t show up until eighth place. And test scores? They showed up in 14th place, and were named by just 10% of respondents.
When asked what information would be helpful in choosing a good private school, the top five responses were” class size (84%), accreditation (70%), curriculum (70%), the percentage of students going to college (61%), and whether the family is comfortable with the school’s religious instruction (56%). Test scores first showed up in sixth place.
Even after more than a decade of frenzied attention to student achievement on reading and math tests, many parents are much more focused on other measures of school quality. That may suggest just how fragile is the popular support underpinning test-fueled policies regarding school accountability and teacher evaluation. Would-be reformers would do well to keep this in mind.
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