Administrators Wrong on Choice

Published April 1, 2000

Parents who took advantage of Wisconsin’s public school choice program were not driven by convenience, but were seeking a better education for their children, according to a new study from Milwaukee’s Public Policy Forum, a private, nonprofit public policy research organization.

The new research stands in sharp contrast to the dismissive views of school administrators surveyed a year ago, who contended “convenience for the parents” was the most common reason for taking part in the state’s open enrollment program.

“Parents are primarily motivated by academic and discipline concerns when making the decision to participate in an open enrollment program,” according to the Forum report.

Only 19 percent of the 141 parents surveyed cited school location as the primary factor in selecting a school in another district. Thirty-seven percent cited academic characteristics of the school, such as student achievement, curriculum, class offerings, class size, teacher performance, and teaching methods.

When the Forum checked the overall academic quality of the school districts involved in the transfers, they found parents’ actions to be consistent with their assertions: 58 percent had moved their children to higher-achieving districts and only 23 percent had moved them to lower-performing districts.

“School districts that want to retain and attract students under open enrollment are going to benefit from paying close attention to the reasons parents leave their district,” concludes the Forum’s report. “Competition resulting from open enrollment participation may have a positive influence on school performance.”