Traditional public schools: An ‘endangered species’?

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( – Judging by the results of a parental satisfaction survey, traditional assigned-district public schools “may be an endangered species,” according to a new report from Education Next.

The first-of -its-kind survey, which was released Tuesday in Washington, D.C., compared parental satisfaction ratings for traditional assigned-district public schools, private/parochial schools, district schools-of-choice such as magnet schools, and publicly funded charter schools.

“Among the four sectors, parents of students attending assigned-district schools are the least likely to say they are ‘very satisfied’ with their child’s school,” according to the nationally representative survey of 1,571 parents, which was conducted between May 6th and June 13th.

But assigned-district school parents are generally more likely to say that their schools have “serious” behavior problems with students who miss class, fight, use drugs, and destroy property, the survey found.

It will take a strong political defense of the district-operated school system, which assigns children to the specific place where they are to be educated, to thwart an underlying trend toward greater choice that has gathered support among the families that are most directly affected“It will take a strong political defense of the district-operated school system, which assigns children to the specific place where they are to be educated, to thwart an underlying trend toward greater choice that has gathered support among the families that are most directly affected,” wrote the report’s co-authors, Harvard Government Professor and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Paul Peterson and post-doctoral fellow Albert Cheng.

President-elect Donald Trump has nominated school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education and pledged to “reprioritize existing federal dollars” to establish a new $20 billion federal program that expands school choice “to every K-12 student who today lives in poverty.”

DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children, is a pioneer of the school choice movement who helped pass Michigan’s first charter school bill in 1993. In 2010, DeVos and her husband founded the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a public charter high school.

Parents who opt out of the “free, more convenient assigned-district alternative” in favor of private, charter or magnet schools consistently report higher levels of satisfaction despite tuition payments and/or transportation challenges, the survey found.

Overall, school satisfaction is highest in the private sector, followed by the charter sector and then the district schools-of-choice sector, the survey found.

District-assigned public schools, which currently educate 75 percent of K-12 students in the nation, ranked the lowest in parental satisfaction.

Eighty-two percent of parents with a child in a private school reported being “very satisfied” with their school’s academic standards, compared to 68 percent for charter schools, 64 percent for district schools-of-choice, and 55 percent for assigned-district public schools.

Likewise, 83 percent of private school parents reported being “very satisfied” with their school’s disciplinary policies, followed by 66 percent of charter school parents, 63 percent of district school-of-choice parents, and 56 percent of parents whose child attends an assigned-district public school.

The same pattern held true when parents were asked their overall satisfaction level regarding their child’s teacher and the way the school staff interacts with them.

“Charters are a viable—and perhaps the preferred—option for those seeking to expand choice within the public sector,” the EdNext report noted. They are also more likely to enroll disadvantaged African American and Hispanic students who live in urban centers.

“Yet the high level of satisfaction with private schools provides encouragement for those who support school voucher initiatives, which increase access to the private sector by paying some or all of students’ tuition,” the report added.

Both high- and low-income parents reported being happiest with their children’s private schools.

“Averaging across all indicators, the difference in the share of low-income families who are ‘very satisfied’ with aspects of their child’s private school is 25 percentage points, which is similar to the difference of 22 percentage points among high-income families. This suggests that school vouchers or other programmatic interventions that expand families’ access to private schools have a good chance of boosting levels of parental satisfaction,” the report noted.

Parental satisfaction with charter schools is also higher than with traditional public schools.

“Both low- and high-income parents whose children attend charter schools are considerably more satisfied than comparable parents at assigned-district schools,” the report noted.

Nina Rees,  president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said during a panel discussion following release of the report that although charters receive only 70 cents for every dollar spent on district-assigned schools, parental satisfaction is higher because “a lot of charter schools have emulated the best practices of private schools,” including adopting a “no excuses model”.

Panelist Christopher Cerf, superintendent of Newark Public Schools, said that every child in his school district is given the opportunity to attend a school of their choosing, noting that 44 percent of Newark students attend charter schools.

“There’s no question that children who do not exercise choice have a deeper set of educational challengers,” Cerf said.   

But Howard Fuller, an education professor at Marquette University and chairman emeritus of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, said that some charter schools have focused “more on choice than accountability”.

Fuller also noted that “black parents have a more negative view of schools than any other race,” surmising that schools are “just another institution that they interact with that have let them down.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 75 percent of American K-12 students attend assigned-district public schools, 10 percent attend private or parochial schools, 9 percent attend non-charter district schools-of-choice, and 6 percent attend publicly funded charter schools.