| Why parents pick private schools
Consider it a reason to press the pause button in the push to judge schools solely by test scores.
A new survey of parents shows that assessment results are not even among the top 10 reasons why families choose private schools.
Released last month by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the survey of parents participating in the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program found, "Student performance on standardized test scores is one of the least important pieces of information upon which parents base their decision regarding the private school to which they send their children."
Since 2013, parents in Georgia have been able to take advantage of scholarships offered by student scholarship organizations (SSOs), contributions to which are eligible for state tax credits. The GOAL program is the largest of the state's SSOs, accounting for roughly 32 percent of all taxpayer contributions to scholarship organizations. In 2013, surveys were distributed to 2,685 families receiving GOAL scholarships, and 754 of those families completed all the questions in the survey.
One question asked parents about their level of satisfaction with the private school they had chosen. As the report puts it, "Surveyed parents were overwhelmingly satisfied with their private school choice, with 98.6 percent of parents being 'very satisfied' or 'satisfied' with their decision to send their children to a private school."
Respondents were also asked the following question: "There are many possible reasons why families send their children to a private school rather than to a public school. Please select each of the following reasons you had for sending your child to a private school (you may mark as many or as few reasons as applied to your situation)." Respondents were given 21 possible reasons.
According to the report, more than 85 percent of parents said they chose a private school for a "better learning environment" for their child, whereas 81.3 percent said the choice was made for a "better education." The next two most common responses were "smaller class sizes" (80.5 percent) and "more individual attention for my child" (76.4 percent). Other reasons cited by a majority of parents were "religious education" (64.1 percent), "better preparation for college" (62.9 percent), "better student discipline" (61.7 percent), "more responsive teachers and administrators" (60.3 percent) and "improved student safety" (52.9 percent).
"Higher standardized test scores" was the 15th highest-rated reason, with only 34.6 percent of respondents listing it at all, and only 10.2 percent listing it among their top five reasons.
"These results should dissuade lawmakers from forcing standardized tests on private schools, including those with school choice students," Benjamin Scafidi, co-author of the Friedman report and professor at Georgia College & State University, said. "Parents want to evaluate schools based on their children's needs, not the government's."
Asked what information they would seek to help them decide which private school to choose, 84.2 percent of parents identified the "ratio of students per teacher and the average class size" as important.
Other factors identified as important included "school accreditation (70.2 percent), curriculum and course descriptions (69.9 percent), college acceptance rate (61.3 percent) and the availability of religious instruction (56 percent)."
In addition, 52.8 percent of respondents identified "average performance on standardized tests" as important.
The Friedman report called the sixth place ranking of standardized tests on this question "a somewhat low ranking relative to the disproportionate emphasis that many educators, politicians, policymakers, business leaders and the media are placing on national standards and standardized testing."
(Reprinted with permission from the December 2013 CAPE Outlook newsletter of the Council for American Private Education; to see the study, More Than Scores: An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools, download it from the Friedman website at: www.edchoice.org/CMSModules/EdChoice/FileLibrary/1031/More-Than-Scores.pdf.)
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