Over the last few years, public charter schools have faced increasing hostility in state and federal legislatures and in the media. A once bipartisan issue has become emblematic of partisan politics, highlighted by the release of several anti-charter platforms from candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination.
While choice in education has become more polarizing, the release of EdChoice’s seventh annual report on public opinion of schooling suggests that students and their families have maintained solid support for charter schools.
Here are a few things we learned on parent opinion and charter schools:
Parents are more satisfied with charter schools
The report shows parents who have enrolled their children in a charter school are more satisfied with that choice (77%) than families who have enrolled their children in a district school (67%). This has been a consistent and widening trend over the last several reports. In general, parents—regardless of where they send their children to school—are more likely to rate charter schools with an “A” or a “B” (61%), than they are to rate district schools with an “A” or a “B” (48%).
Bottom line: parents want choice in their communities—and when given that choice, they are usually satisfied with the results.
Parents are choosing charter schools for a reason
The report also lists reasons why parents turn to charter schools. According to the survey results, the top three reasons why parents choose charters are their academic reputation (32%), proximity to home/work (28%), and a safe environment (27%). For comparison, proximity to home/work (49%), assigned school (37%), and peers/socialization (32%) are the top three reasons parents indicated they choose a district school.
While parents may have opted to live in the area of the district school in question, the fact that over a third stated that their decision was due to assignment rather than active choice suggests that there may be unmet demand for charter schools. This is underscored by the fact that real-world enrollments do not match parents’ first choice for enrollment:13 percent of parents said sending their children to charter schools would be their first choice, even though only 5 percent of parents surveyed actually had a child in a charter school.
Increased knowledge of charter schools leads to increased support
Additionally, the report highlights a key aspect of the debate on charter schools—as people become more informed about what charter schools are, their approval for them increases.
This year reflected the highest support for public charter schools since the report’s inception. When given a description on charter schools, public support ticks up by 13 points, to a 64% approval rating. Teacher support increases to majority support after a description, up six points to 55%. Current school-age parent approval rating hits the highest mark of all with almost 70% of parents favoring charter schools after hearing a definition.
This is part of a growing trend we see with charter schools—as people learn more about them and experience them, support grows.
Taken together, these three takeaways show that parents want more educational opportunities for their children and, as charter schools continue to receive negative attention in media and political arenas, it is important that charter school advocates voice their support and take opportunities to counter misconceptions and misinformation. Charter schools have a unique opening to show they are putting student needs first—and advocates should take this opportunity to provide an accurate picture of the school choice landscape.
Adam Gerstenfeld is the manager, data and research for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.