How Parents Select Schools

Published December 1, 1998

Critics of school choice argue that low-income families will select schools for their children on the basis of sports programs, location, or religious instruction–not on educational quality.

A report from the American Federation of Teachers, for example, suggests that voucher parents in Cleveland sought scholarships not because of “‘failing’ public schools” but “for religious reasons or because they already had a sibling attending that same school.” The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has claimed that “when parents do select another school, academic concerns often are not central to the decision.”

Results from the new Harvard/Mathematica analysis of the New York School Choice Scholarship Program show critics’ concerns to be ill-founded. Over three-quarters of low-income scholarship parents cited the following factors as “very important” in their choice of school: school safety, “what’s taught in class,” teacher quality, academic quality, and discipline. About half said religious considerations were very important. The items least frequently mentioned were attending a neighborhood school, attending a school with a child’s friends, and the sports program.