Research: 71 Percent of Detroit Parents Have Shopped for Schools

April, 2012

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A research team including members from the University of Arkansas has produced a pioneering study of the demand for school choice among families in Detroit. The study found that 71 percent of parents in Detroit have recently enrolled a child in an alternative to their assigned public school.

The study, which was released Monday, April 9, also examines the experiences parents had with school choice. It is available for download at the website of Michigan Future Inc. or of the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas.

The researchers administered a door-to-door survey to a representative sample of more than 1,000 Detroit families with school-age children and conducted follow-up focus groups with parents and students.

The research was spearheaded by Qwaku & Associates, an education research firm led by Thomas Stewart. Patrick J. Wolf, holder of the Twenty First Century Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas, oversaw the design of the survey research and co-authored the report. Jonathan Mills, a Doctoral Academy Fellow at the university, conducted the statistical analysis of the survey data.

The study found that, although 55 percent of kindergarten-12th grade students in Detroit currently attend assigned public schools, 71 percent of Detroit parents have enrolled one or more of their children in a school of choice within the past five years. Schools of choice in the study include public charter schools, magnet schools, public schools outside Detroit, private schools and home schools.

“Our most surprising finding was that such a high percentage of Detroit families have experience choosing from among alternatives to assigned public schools, Wolf said.The older their children were, the greater was the likelihood that their parents had shopped for schools.”

Other key findings of the study:

  • Public charter schools are the main schools of choice for Detroit families, with 22.5 percent of school-aged children enrolled in such schools while 15 percent attend public schools outside of Detroit, 5 percent are enrolled in public magnet schools, and 2.5 percent attend private schools or are home-schooled.
  • Fifty-nine percent of Detroit parents are considered “veteran” school shoppers with substantial experience shopping for schools, while 12 percent of parents are “emerging” shoppers who are selecting schools for the first time and 29 percent of parents have never explicitly shopped for schools.
  • Parents reported doing most of their school shopping between May and August and that they primarily gather information about schools from other parents and friends.
  • Both surveys and focus groups revealed that literacy, language, transportation and available time were limitations that prevented some parents from shopping for schools.
  • Parents generally listed academic quality as the most important feature of a school, followed by school safety and discipline, convenience and extracurricular activities.

“Parents clearly are looking for schools that combine academic rigor with safety and convenience, Stewart said. Veteran school shoppers view academic performance as especially important.”

The report was sponsored by Michigan Future Inc., a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank based in Ann Arbor, Mich. The School Choice Demonstration Project is an educational research project based within the department of education reform at the University of Arkansas. The mission of the national team of researchers, institutional research partners, and staff of the project is the rigorous and unbiased evaluation of school choice programs and other school improvement efforts across the country. Its goal is to raise the public's understanding of the strengths and limitations of school choice policies and programs.

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