Survey: What parents care most about

Academic achievement ranks at or near the top of every parent’s list when evaluating the best possible fit for his or her child, according to a new study from a researcher at the University of Southern California.

Administered to 1,277 parents in an online format in June, the survey aimed to determine aspects of parental choice in education – in other words, what parents value most when making a decision for their child’s education.

In a pre-survey, researcher Shira Alicia Korn Haderlein narrowed to six a list of 33 school attributes related to parental choice: academic achievement status, academic achievement growth, quality of school leadership, graduation rates, chronic absenteeism and student body racial demographics.

Respondents were first asked to rank the importance of the six attributes. They then reviewed a set of 20 hypothetical school report cards in which various levels of the six attributes were randomly mixed.

Then they were asked to assess school quality based on that report card on a 7-point Likert scale. Finally, they were given two hypothetical schools with randomly assigned levels of the six attributes and asked to which of the schools they would send their child.

On average, respondents ranked academic achievement as the most important attribute, followed by graduation rate, achievement growth, school leadership, demographic composition and absenteeism rate.

School leadership and demographic composition each had a small group of parents who ranked them most important, but most respondents ranked those criteria last. Black and Hispanic respondents ranked chronic absenteeism as more important than white respondents.

In terms of evaluating school quality, respondents said all attributes mattered. The schools with the overall most positive attribute mixes were deemed by respondents to be the highest-quality schools.

Consistent with ranking data, achievement status was the most impactful predictor of parents’ school quality perceptions. The higher a school’s hypothetical achievement, the higher its quality was deemed to be. Chronic absenteeism brought up the rear in that regard.

Student demographics was the only attribute that varied across racial groups, with Black and Hispanic parents rating diverse schools of higher quality than those with mostly white or with mostly non-white students. White parents, on the other hand, assigned lower quality ratings to schools with mostly non-white students.

When it came to choosing between two hypothetical schools, respondents’ overall preference was to enroll their child in whichever school had the best overall attribute mix. But achievement growth was more influential than achievement status in their final choice.

White parents were somewhat more likely to choose more diverse schools than all-white schools but less likely to choose schools which were majority non-white. Meanwhile, Black and Hispanic parents were more likely to choose diverse schools over both schools with mostly non-white and mostly white students.