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What Parents Want—And How Charters Can Provide It

Last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a groundbreaking study, What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-offs. In collaboration with market-research firm Harris Interactive, Fordham attempted to segment American parents into distinguishable groups based on their educational values and desires. Surprisingly, Fordham and Harris found that parents’ must-haves don’t vary greatly: everyone wants high-quality instruction in core subjects and STEM fields; they want their kids to learn to think critically and to communicate strongly; and they want schools to instill good study habits. But some parents also prefer specializations and emphases that are only possible in a system of school choice.
  • Pragmatists (36 percent of K-12 parents) value schools that offer vocational classes or job-related programs
  • Jeffersonians (24 percent) value instruction in citizenship, democracy, and leadership
  • Test-Score Hawks (23 percent) look for schools with high test scores
  • Multiculturalists (22 percent) want their kids to learn to work with others of diverse backgrounds
  • Expressionists (15 percent) want schools that emphasize art and music instruction
  • Strivers (12 percent) want a pathway to a top-tier college
Interestingly, if not surprisingly, Expressionists and Strivers are currently more likely to send their kids to charter schools than traditional public schools. (Arts-focused charters and “no excuses” charters are common throughout the country.) Some of these other niches, however, may not be well-served by charter schools, or by any schools. Could charter authorizers and entrepreneurs be doing more to create career and technical schools? Those focused on citizenship and leadership? Those with diverse student populations? It appears that there are “market opportunities” waiting to be tapped. Check out the study for much, much more. Take this quiz to find out what group you’re in. Michael J. Petrilli is the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.