Parents Better at Holding Schools Accountable than Tests, Study Says

Published January 9, 2014

Low-income and minority parents are good consumers of private schools, capable of holding those schools accountable without mandated testing, said Ben Scafidi, who co-authored a study showing why parents choose private schools.

Scafidi is professor of economics and director of the Economics of Education Policy Center at Georgia College and State University. The study, “More Than Scores: An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools,” was published in November by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

More than 99 percent of Georgia parents the study surveyed said they were much less likely to enroll their children in a school from which they did not receive information they requested, the study found.

Parents were looking for more than test scores. More than 90 percent said they would ask to tour the school. More than half said they would ask to observe a class, and just less than half said they would ask to meet privately with the head of the school.

“Parent choice creates a marketplace for the purchase of educational services that creates accountability on its own,” said Jim Kelly, study co-author and founder of Georgia’s GOAL Scholarship Program.

The study surveyed parents who participate in the tax-credit scholarship program. Of the 2,685 families, 962 returned the survey.

Parents’ Top Priorities
For parents, top priorities included keeping children safe and in an orderly environment, and getting more individual attention. Academically, they chose schools they thought would get their children successfully through high school and college.

For their top three reasons for choosing a school, at least 20 percent of parents listed religious education (21 percent), more individual attention for their child (23.2 percent), smaller class sizes (25.9 percent), better education (28.9 percent), better learning environment (31.6 percent), improved student safety (37.7 percent), and better student discipline (40.3 percent).

Less-educated parents placed even more emphasis on high school and college success.

“There are social and cultural conditions in America that families are facing that make parents much more concerned about features of education beyond mere standardized test scores,” Kelly said.

Better Accountability Mechanism
“The big takeaway for school-choice advocates is don’t spend all your time focusing on test scores and holding private schools accountable, because it seems like parents care about a lot of different things,” Scafidi said. “You don’t want to change the educational missions of private schools to be more like the public schools, because the parents chose to leave the public schools.”

Without school choice, public schools need some type of accountability system such as No Child Left Behind, Scafidi said, but choice is actually a better accountability tool.

“Different parents and different students have different needs, and by standardizing education, like No Child Left Behind and Common Core do, you’re going to harm the education of children who need something different,” he said.

Image by Wesley Oman.