Choice Schools Rated Highly, Despite Lack of Resources

Published December 1, 1998

According to the new study of New York City’s School Choice Scholarship Program, the parents of students awarded scholarships placed their children in schools where they were less likely to have access to a library, a cafeteria, a nurse’s office, counselors, special programs for non-English speakers, and special education programs for students with learning difficulties.

Despite this lack of resources, parents of scholarship students are much more satisfied with their children’s education and schools than parents of students who did not receive scholarships.

A frequent and particularly trenchant criticism of school choice is that private schools ignore the needs of less fortunate students with physical and mental disabilities. In the New York City study, only 4 percent of those offered scholarships reported their child had a physical disability, while 11 percent reported their child had learning difficulties. However, among parents of children with learning disabilities, it was those using scholarships who were more likely to say that their child’ school met their child’s needs very well–this despite there being a lower likelihood of finding special education programs for students with learning difficulties in scholarship schools.

In fact, nearly 50 percent of parents with children in scholarship schools said those schools met their children’s learning needs very well, compared to only one-third of the control group of parents. The percentages for those with physical disabilities were 33 and 17 percent respectively, a difference not statistically significant.

“Because only a small percentage of families who applied for scholarships had special education needs, these results are hardly definitive,” the researchers admit. However, they note that, from the perspective of families of disabled children who apply for scholarships, “private schools seem as well or better equipped to meet their needs as are public schools.”

Overall, scholarship families were substantially more satisfied than the control group with every aspect of their children’s school. While only one-eighth of control group parents gave their school an “A”, half of the scholarship users gave their school the top rating. Only one-sixth of the control group parents were very satisfied with the academic quality of the school, compared to over half of the scholarship parents. Only 18 percent of the control group expressed the highest satisfaction with “what’s taught in school,” compared to 58 percent of the scholarship group.

“The scholarship program had a major impact on the daily life of students at school,” say the researchers, largely because private schools had fewer distractions to learning. Compared to those in the control group, parents of scholarship students wee more likely to report that the following were not serious problems at their school: students destroying property, fighting, cheating, and engaging in racial conflict. While only 22 percent of parents in the control group were very satisfied with school safety, almost half of scholarship parents were.

Another major difference between public and private schools is how discipline is maintained. While public schools emphasize rules and regulations to maintain discipline, private schools emphasize dress and orderliness. For example, 97 percent of scholarship parents reported that their school required uniforms, compared to only 33 percent of parents in the control group. Also, scholarship students are less likely to be required to obtain a “hall pass” when leaving the classroom.