What do parents want? It’s not hard to decipher

EdChoice retained the polling firm Morning Consult to survey a nationally representative sample of more than 1,500 American parents in early November 2023 about what they want from schools and how they go about finding it. The above figure shows that more than twice as many parents report looking for school information from school ratings websites as from state report cards, and exactly twice as many report seeking information from friends and neighbors as from state report cards.

This finding reinforces previous research showing that parents value school reviews (which state report cards do not typically collect) and trust non-profit information sources more than government ratings. While mileage may vary by state, the public’s preference for private rating websites and informal networks strikes me as entirely appropriate given the presence of many state rating systems on a three-dimensional spectrum of convoluted, deceptive and/or more difficult to decipher than Mayan hieroglyphics. Some systems manage to earn a hat-trick on these dimensions (I’m looking directly at you Arizona).

Non-profit organizations run private rating systems, and delightfully have proven much more resilient to district industrial lobbying complex influence than state bureaucracies. If anything, your author can’t help to wonder if those 23% were just being, well, polite.


The survey also asked about what parents want from schools in terms of dealing with contentious issues. 86% of parents agreed with wanting students to learn to discuss contentious issues in a calm and rational manner, and 84% agreed with wanting teachers to keep their politics to themselves. Public school teachers posting political manifestos on social media looks bad for business. You don’t forfeit your First Amendment rights because of little things like blue-colored hair and/or a portrait of Pennywise tattooed on your forehead, so you do you. Likewise, however parents don’t forfeit their free association rights


In terms of what parents are looking for from school, it certainly varies (thus the need for pluralism) but it is not terribly hard to decipher.


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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of NextSteps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.

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