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School Choice and Preference What Kind of Parent Are You

Today, we live in an era of choice. All things being equal, virtually anything and everything we want is available to us – ranging from cars to houses, movies to restaurants – we only have to make up our minds and choose, and this same principle of choice applies to education as well. Charter schools, public schools, private schools, and even STEM schools are all available for the average family to choose from – But what do parents really want? The Thomas B. Fordham Institute asked precisely this question in a groundbreaking report titled “What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-Offs.”
Prior to this report and its survey, most researchers viewed the average collection of parents “as a monolith of similar if not identical preferences.” And while the report does find that the majority of parents do share a core “must-haves” list when evaluating their educational options – such as an emphasis on STEM education and the development of strong verbal/written communication skills – upon further scrutiny, researchers found that there are subtle “segmented” preferences among parents.
After surveying a diverse group of over 2,000 K-12 parents nationwide, the report identified six “niche markets” of school choice in which parents would like to enroll their children:
◾Pragmatist (36%) parents prefer a school that “offers vocational classes or job-related programs.”
◾Jeffersonian (24%) parents prefer a school that “emphasizes instruction in citizenship, democracy, and leadership.”
◾Test-Score Hawk (23%) parents prefer a school that “has high test scores.”
◾Multiculturalist (22%) parents prefer a school that teaches their children “how to work with people from diverse backgrounds.”
◾Expressionist (15%) parents prefer a school that “emphasizes arts and music instruction.”
◾Striver (12%) parents prefer a school that will ensure their children are “accepted at a top-tier college.”
It should be noted that the different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds of the parents surveyed are certainly factors in determining their school preferences; age, race, gender, and financial status are all influencers to bear in mind, and the report does expound on these points. However, it must also be stressed that despite their differences, all parents surveyed believed that a strong set of standards and expectations in the core subject areas must be present in any given school.
“They want schools to offer high-quality instruction in core subjects and STEM fields,” the report states, “and to teach students good study habits and self-discipline. They also want their kids to know how to think critically and possess excellent written and verbal communication skills.”
These expectations and desires, as the researchers also point out, bode well for the Common Core State Standards, which are designed to meet all of those needs and expectations; however, the report also cautions educators and policy makers not to diminish the variety of choices that parents want. It is important to provide a strong academic foundation – with which we at NMSI wholeheartedly agree – but the researchers believe it is also important not to generalize education.