Research & Commentary: Study Finds Charter, Private School Families More Likely to Report Being Very Satisfied with Their Schools

Published October 31, 2019

A new study by Corey DeAngelis, director of School Choice at the Reason Foundation, finds families with children in charter schools and private schools are much more likely to report being “very satisfied” with their schools than families who have children in traditional public schools (TPS).

The study, published at Brown University’s Annenberg Institute, which used a nationwide sample of more than 13,000 students, finds charter school families are 16 percent more likely to report this than TPS families. These numbers are even higher for private school families. Families of students in non-religious private schools were 27 percent more likely to be very satisfied than TPS families. Catholic school families and non-Catholic religious school families were 26 percent and 30 percent, respectively, more satisfied than TPS families.

“Because students likely differ on characteristics that affect school satisfaction, the [study’s] analytic models include over 200 controls for factors such as household income, parent education, and family engagement,” DeAngelis wrote in an accompanying op-ed. “The overall advantages for private and charter schools remained even after controlling for the student’s grades and whether the school was their first choice, suggesting grade inflation and bias do not explain the positive results.”

A recent roundup of literature on parental satisfaction with private school choice programs from EdChoice finds 26 surveys on the subject going back to 1998. A positive effect on parental satisfaction was found in each survey, including eight that used random assignment. Not a single study found a negative effect on parental satisfaction. “Overall, parents with children participating in [school choice] programs are more satisfied with their chosen private school than their previous school and are more satisfied with their schools than other private school parents and public school parents,” the review notes.

Copious other empirical research covering ESAs and other school choice programs shows they offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Moreover, these programs improve access to schools that deliver quality education inexpensively. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices. 

It is probably for these reasons that choice programs are more popular with parents than ever before. The results of EdChoice’s seventh annual “Schooling in America” survey, released in October 2019, found 77 percent of respondents favor ESAs, up 3 percentage points from 2018. According to the survey, support for ESAs is 80 percent among millennials, 79 percent among Generation Z, 78 percent for those with incomes less than $40,000 a year, 78 percent for blacks, 79 percent for Hispanics, 78 percent among self-identified Democrats, and 77 percent among independents. Another 63 percent support voucher programs and 68 percent support tax-credit scholarships.

Supporters of parental freedom in education hope lawmakers will take a closer look at the popularity and efficacy of school choice programs in 2020. It is time to reform America’s mediocre public education system. American families are ready for education choice. Public schools should not hold a monopoly on education. By implementing school choice programs in their states, legislators can ensure far more children have the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents can provide more information about ESAs and parental choice in education.

School Sector and Satisfaction: Evidence from a Nationally Representative Sample
This survey from Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation uses a representative sample of more than13,000 students across the United States and finds private schools and public charter schools are outperforming traditional public schools in six different measures of parental and student satisfaction.

The 123s of School Choice
This report from EdChoice is an in-depth review of the available research on private school choice programs in America. Areas of study include: private school choice program participant test scores, program participant attainment, parent satisfaction, public school students’ test scores, civic values and practices, racial/ethnic integration and fiscal effects.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.

2019 Schooling in America Survey: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Busing, Technology, and School Choice
This annual survey from EdChoice reports polling results based on a nationally representative sample of the general public, with more robust samples of parents, current public school teachers, Millennials and Generation Z than in previous editions. The survey asks standard questions about schooling experiences and educational choice reforms, as well as hot-button K–12 subjects that seem to polarize lawmakers and advocates, including inter-district busing, teacher protests, and children’s use of technology.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
This study from Corey DeAngelis at the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University empirically examines the relationship between school choice and mental health. It finds that states adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides and suggests that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.

Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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