School Choice Would Encourage Parental Involvement

Published May 1, 2003

Although education-related organizations like the National PTA, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association all promote the idea of parental involvement, they are rigidly opposed to one proven method for encouraging parents to be more involved in their children’s education: parental choice.

Since 2000, the National Center for Education Statistics has tracked data on school choice and parental satisfaction. The data show the more choices parents have for their children’s education, the more satisfied they are with the schools their children attend and the school’s teachers, academic standards, and discipline.

An October 2000 report for the Cato Institute, prepared by educational consultant Philip Vassallo, notes parents of children in school choice programs:

  • are more involved with their children’s academic programs;
  • participate more in school activities;
  • believe their child’s choice school is safer, better disciplined, and has better instruction than the child’s previous school;
  • are more satisfied with their children’s education in a choice program; and
  • are likely to re-enroll their children in the choice program.

“Once parents assume the responsibility of advocating for and supporting their children’s education,” Vassallo writes, “they will become partners with educators to create the schools their children need.”

The public education system “is the greatest barrier to parental involvement,” argues Vassallo, because it interferes with the right of parents to seek the education they believe is best for their children. By making choices for parents and directing all education funding to public schools, the system fosters parental indifference rather than parental involvement.

As University of California-Berkeley law professor Jack Coons has noted, the choices left to parents in a typical public school district are few. School board members or school officials make nearly all of the decisions that matter: They assign children to schools based on where their parents live, they set the length of the school day and school year, and they select the textbooks, the curriculum, and other inputs into the child’s schooling.

In many schools, teachers are required to be available to parents only on designated teacher conference days. Also, parents often are discouraged from helping students with their homework, because they might teach children to arrive at answers in a way that differs from the method their teachers prefer.

While good schools promote parental involvement by providing greater access to teachers and administrators and by being more responsive to parents’ advice and expressions of concern, empowering parents with school choice would promote that involvement much more directly. For example, Children’s Scholarship Fund co-founder John Walton noted the profound change that school choice wrought on parents in a speech in Milwaukee three years ago.

Walton recounted how parents had responded when provided with the power to make choices for their children. No longer intimidated by school officials, they became more involved with their child’s school and took on more responsibility for their child’s education. (See “Parent ‘Vote’ Is Key to Better Schools,” School Reform News, February 2000.)

Diane Carol Bast is editor of School Reform News. Her email address is [email protected].

For more information …

See Philip Vassallo, “More Than Grades: How Choice Boosts Parental Involvement and Benefits Children,” Policy Analysis No. 383 (Washington, DC: Cato Institute, October 26, 2000). It is available on the Cato Web site at

The 16-page report is also available through PolicyBot. Point your Web browser to http:/, click on the PolicyBot icon, and search for document #12066.