By MIKE KLEIN
The popular conception is everyone cares about test scores. This must be true because media is consumed with test score news, politicians endlessly ask about test scores and educators leap through hoops to emphasize scores improved, when sometimes they do improve. But there is one sector that might be less focused on scores: School choice parents.
A new Georgia-based study published today by The Friedman Foundation for Educational Excellence reports several hundred private school parents placed greater emphasis on factors other than test scores when they moved children from traditional public schools into private schools. “MORE THAN SCORES: An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools” was researched and written by two Georgians, James P. Kelly and Benjamin Scafidi.
“When one considers the academic, social and cultural challenges so many young people and their families in America are facing, it is easy to understand why parents are less concerned about standardized test scores relied upon by politicians and policymakers as a simple form of accountability,” Kelly told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Kelly and Scafidi write about those challenges in this excerpt from the study, also published today on the Georgia Public Policy Foundation Forum.
Georgia school choice has traveled a long and winding road that started with 1998 passage of the state’s first charter school legislation. Ten years later the General Assembly took another big step forward by creating a state commission to authorize charter applications, and creating the structure for tuition tax credit scholarships. A 2011 state Supreme Court decision struck down the commission but in 2012 voters reinstated the commission and made it permanent.
Student scholarship organizations – best known as SSOs – provide partial – not full — financial support to families with K-12 students who attend private school. An annual statewide cap on tax credit donations is determined by the General Assembly. The cap began at $50 million and is now $58 million, which is well below interest in the scholarship.
MORE THAN SCORES analyzed voluntary survey data compiled from parents of 754 private school students who received financial support from the Georgia GOAL Scholarship program. Kelly is founder and unpaid general counsel of GOAL and Scafidi is a GOAL paid consultant. Their education sector public policy credentials are summarized at the bottom of this article.
Parents were asked to evaluate 21 options for choosing a private school. Higher standardized test scores were selected on 34.6 percent of surveys when parents were told they could make unlimited selections, even including all 21 options. When asked to name the top five reasons, test scores were named on 10.2 percent of surveys. When asked to select just one most important reason, test scores were selected on 0.0 percent of ballots … correct, that is, ZERO.
“In terms of academic goals, parents – especially low income and other traditionally disadvantaged parents – care more about school and classroom conditions that will lead to graduation from high school and success in college,” Kelly told the Foundation.
The top five reasons these 754 parents selected private schools were better student discipline (50.9 percent), better learning environment (50.8 percent), smaller class sizes (48.9 percent), improved student safety (46.8 percent) and more individual attention (39.3 percent). Asked to select just one most reason, there was a deadlock between better education (28.2 percent) and religious education (28.1 percent).
Other sections of MORE THAN SCORES discuss information private schools should uniformly provide to parents and local communities, and, whether a “spontaneous education order” – a free market approach to learning — would evolve if government empowered parents to enroll their children in any public or private school.
Scafidi said 79 percent of parents reported their school choice decision “would” be impacted if a private school declined to provide information they wanted; another 20 percent said it “might” impact their decision. “This is powerful evidence that private schools – without any prompting from the government – will have to be transparent with prospective parents,” Scafidi said, “or they will risk losing students and their tuition funds.”
About The Authors:
James P. Kelly was primary author of the Georgia Charter Schools Act of 1998 and is founder of the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program. President George W. Bush appointed Kelly to serve as a representative to UNESCO. He is General Counsel at the Georgia Community Foundation.
Benjamin Scafidi is an economics professor at Georgia College and State University and Senior Fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Excellence. Previously he served as chair at the Georgia Charter Schools Commission and education policy adviser to Governor Sonny Perdue.
“MORE THAN SCORES” was published on Wednesday, November 13.
Kelly and Scafidi are Senior Fellows at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
About Georgia GOAL:
From The Friedman Foundation report: “From 2008 through 2012, GOAL received $54,254,528 in contributions and awarded 8,681 scholarships to 5,220 students, totaling $33,161,165. As of December 31, 2012, GOAL had obligated an additional $17.8 million, earmarked for future scholarship payments and awards. In 2012, GOAL awarded 3,366 scholarships.”
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is our state’s leading organization promoting government transparency. The Secretary of State’s office shares the Foundation’s commitment to transparency and responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars, which is why our agency was the first in Georgia to publish its budget and spending data on a public transparency website.