Study: Public supports parent choice in education

Part 45 of 45 in the series Educating America

By Mary C. Tillotson |

Expanding parents’ freedom to choose their children’s schools is the most often cited reason for supporting school choice, as measured in a public-opinion poll and study authored by Dick Carpenter.

The study, School Choice Signals: Research Review and Survey Experiments, was published by the Freidman Foundation Tuesday.

PARENT CHOICE: Expanding parents’ rights to choose their child’s education is the most popular reason for supporting school choice, according to a new study.

Survey respondents showed less support for school choice because of free-market competition among schools, or equal educational opportunity for poor and minority students.

But school choice wasn’t seen as the best way to improve education. Many survey respondents preferred what Carpenter referred to as “status quo” methods — smaller class sizes, better technology and accountability — to vouchers, though vouchers were preferred to longer school days. Merit pay and reducing the influence of teachers unions were preferred less than vouchers, but only slightly.

“It’s important to keep in mind that the vast majority of the people in this country went to public schools. They went to traditional public schools: this is what they know. This is where they send their children to. This is what they invest in, spend time in, go to games, know the teachers. So people have a connection and an affinity to these schools, and it’s not surprising that they’d lean toward the status quo, given the affinity and connection they have with the school system,” he said.

Education reformers need to do a better job educating the public, Carpenter said.

“The empirical evidence on technology has been very disappointing, and it certainly hasn’t shown in the past several decades that it has the potential to affect systematic reform,” he said. “We’ve now had accountability in place for at least two decades, and even though we’ve seen some mild improvement … we’re starting to roll back those accountability policies.”

“What’s left is smaller class sizes. There’s some evidence that smaller class sizes help, but the results are mixed,” he said. “Vouchers? We’ve never seen convincing evidence that voucher programs result in worse performance, and there’s a good amount of evidence that it does improve outcomes.”

The survey also found that tax credit reimbursements and scholarships are the most popular forms of school choice, and universal vouchers, available to all students, are more popular than vouchers targeted for students with disabilities or children from low-income families.

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at

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