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Engagement, School Community

Parents and School Choice: What are the implications?

School choice allows parents to decide where to send their children to school, regardless of their location of residence. Research reveals that families – across ethnicities, income levels and socioeconomic statuses – consider common factors when choosing schools. These factors include high academic results, curriculum offerings, teacher quality, small class sizes, and the availability of day care and extracurricular activities. However, parents of lower socioeconomic status tend to rank safe environment as their primary concern, while parents of higher socioeconomic status prioritize the values that schools embrace. Although public schools are often assigned to children based on where they live, this difference in priorities reflects the diverse needs, interests and expectations of both students and parents when choosing a school.

Allowing parents to select which schools their children will attend has several implications, including:

  • Increasing parents’ choice over how and where their children are educated. This gives parents a sense of ownership and enthusiasm, which contributes to improvements in student performance.
  • Recognizing that learners are individuals with unique talents and specialized needs. Choice gives parents the freedom to find a school that will design curricula to accommodate their children’s needs. This is especially advantageous for children with learning differences, allowing schools to focus specifically on supporting students with special needs.
  • Forcing schools to compete for student enrollment. If schools are to survive in a competitive education market and continuously attract students, they must adapt their programming to reflect parental wishes. While this may bring new approaches into schools and support greater accountability, constant adaptation can take attention away from building durable initiatives that enhance student learning in the long-term.
  • Increasing student turnover. More desirable schools may receive greater enrolment, leading to decreased enrolment in less desirable schools and an inability of these schools to offer quality programming.

Evidence suggests that increased choice can lead to greater inequality across schools, reduce diversity and further negatively impact students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. As disadvantaged parents are more likely to have limited access to information and resources, they may experience difficulty in making informed school choice decisions. Therefore, ensuring equity must be considered in school choice initiatives to offset any barriers related to income and other resources.

 

Additional Information Resources

Burke, L. (2014). “The value of parental choice in education: A look at the research.”

Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/education/report/the-value-parental-choice-education-look-the-research

Lubienski, C. (2008). “The politics of parental choice: Theory and evidence on quality information.” In W. Feinberg & C. Lubienski (Eds.), School choice policies and outcomes: Empirical and philosophical perspectives (pp. 99–119). New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

Raty, H., Kasanen, K., & Laine, N. (2009). “Parents’ participation in their child’s schooling.” Scandinavian Journal of Education Research, 53(3), pp. 277–293.

References

OECD (2012). Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools (pp. 64-72), OECD Publishing.

Bell, C. A. (2008). “Social class differences in school choice: The role of preferences.” In W. Feinberg & C. Lubienski (Eds.), School choice policies and outcomes: Empirical and philosophical perspectives (pp. 121–148). New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

Brighouse, H. (2008). “Educational equality and varieties of school choice.” In W. Feinberg & C. Lubienski (Eds.), School choice policies and outcomes: Empirical and philosophical perspectives (pp. 41–59). New York, NY: State University of New York Press.Gibbons, S., Stephen, M., & Silva, O. (2006/7). “The educational impact of parental choice and school competition.” Retrieved from http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/CP216.pdf

Glatter, R., Woods, P. A., & Bagley, C. (1997). “Diversity, differentiation and hierarchy: School choice and parental preferences.” In R. Glatter, P. A. Woods, & C. Bagley (Eds.), Choice and diversity of schooling: Perspectives and prospects (pp. 7–28). London, UK: Routledge.

Gordon, L. (2008). “Where does the power lie now? Devolution, choice and democracy in schooling.” In W. Feinberg & C. Lubienski (Eds.), School choice policies and outcomes: Empirical and philosophical perspectives (pp. 177–196). New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

Paulu, N. (1995). “Improving schools and empowering parents: Choice in American education: Benefits of choice.” In M. D. Tannenbaum (Ed.), Concepts and issues in school choice (pp. 452 470). New York, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press.

Reich, R. (2008). “Common schooling and educational choice as a response to pluralism.” In W. Feinberg & C. Lubienski (Eds.), School choice policies and outcomes: Empirical and philosophical perspectives (pp. 21–40). New York, NY: State University of New York Press.

Tannenbaum, M. D. (1995). “Vouchers.” In M. D. Tannenbaum (Ed.), Concepts and issues in school choice (pp. 7–15). New York, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press.

Teske, P., Fitzpatrick, J., & Kaplan, G. (2007). Opening doors: How low-income parents search for the right school. Washington, DC: Daniel J. Evans.

Willms, J. D., & Echols, F. H. (1993). “The Scottish experience of parental school choice.” In E. Rasell & R. Rothstein, R. (Eds.), School choice: Examining the evidence (pp. 49–68). Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute.

 

Meet the Expert

Mindy Carter EdCan Author

Mindy R. Carter, PhD

Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University

Mindy R. Carter (PhD) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University (Montreal, QC). Her research interests include teacher educat...

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