The Many Facets of Parents’ Educational Preference


We know that when it comes to their child’s education, parents want the very best. We also know that, since no two families are exactly alike, a parent’s definition of the “best” will always be based on personal preferences.

What we strive to find is that happy balance of having all students in an educational environment most suited to their needs. With battles over school choice in Detroit and the growing statewide concerns about educational quality, lending a listening ear to what parents want might prove to be enlightening.

A 2013 national study conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute surveyed K-12 parents on what they’re looking for when it comes to their child’s education. It is no surprise that all parents want the fundamentals: a robust curriculum in math and reading, a focus on STEM education- and aid in development of learning tactics that will contribute to success in the future.

More interestingly, the authors broke parents into six categories that summed up what they’re most looking for, ranked in order of how frequently the study identified them:

  • Pragmatists assign high value to vocational classes and job-related programs
  • Jeffersonians value an emphasis in citizenship, democracy and leadership
  • Test-Score Hawks flock to schools with the highest test scores
  • Multiculturalists emphasize a focus on learning how to work with a diverse group of people
  • Expressionists value art and music-focused instruction
  • Strivers place a high importance on the student being accepted into a top-tier college

Different parents value different facets of education, and want to find schooling that best suits those values. To achieve this, parents must have maximum choice to place their child in what they feel is the appropriate environment.

Closer to home, we can take notes from states that have a more ideal model for maximum school choice. Indiana, with its robust choice policy offering voucher and scholarship programs, was the focus of a recent study examining the opinions of parents who participate in a private school choice program. When parents were asked the reason they choose their current private school, responses included religious environment/instruction, morals/charter/values instruction, better academics, smaller class sizes, safer environments and more one-on-one time. Ninety-two percent of these private school parents are satisfied with their private school; 81 percent are “very satisfied”.

Indiana’s study mirrors the older national survey in regards to highlighting the differences in parental preferences. Based on the Indiana study, non-choice, choice, voucher, and tax-credit scholarship parents place educational emphasis on different aspects. Non-choice parents look for better academic quality while choice parents tend to focus on the religious environment and instruction offered. Tax-credit and voucher parents differ as well, with tax-credit parents looking to the religious aspect and voucher parents placing weight on academics and class size.

When given the choice, Indiana parents were able to have access to those schools producing a myriad of results, including an overwhelming majority of parental satisfaction. Moving forward, Michigan lawmakers should take into account the evidence behind parent preferences and educational choice.

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