Wishing for more information to help parents make the best school choice

When Children’s Scholarship Fund received 1.25 million applications for the first 40,000 CSF scholarships in 1999, it became painfully obvious that many parents were unhappy with their assigned public school and were demanding better educational alternatives. That demand for better choices hasn’t changed; every day, we continue to hear from parents who want the chance to make a different school choice.

REDEFINED_WISHLIST_FINALEven with the rise in the number of charter schools and the expansion of public school choice, too many families still live in neighborhoods with limited options and poorly performing traditional public schools. Like many more affluent parents, they recognize that providing their children with a good education would put them on the path to future success and security. But they simply cannot afford to move to a good public school district, or choose a private school.

At the same time, many private schools – especially lower-cost inner-city private schools – have empty seats available. These private schools often operate on a fraction of what nearby public schools spend per student, yet they have higher graduation rates and test scores. The only thing standing between a child in an underperforming school and an empty seat in a private school is funding for a scholarship. While scholarship organizations across the country work hard to raise private funding, if more tax credit or voucher programs were adopted, many more parents could afford to move their children to schools where they could get a safe, quality education.

Parents need good information to make good school choices, too. When given the option to choose a private school, or a public charter school, families unfamiliar with evaluating and comparing schools often find the selection process confusing and frustrating. If parents are to be truly empowered to choose, they need to be better informed.

While many schools (and some schools districts) are open about sharing test scores and other metrics online, more transparency is needed – especially from private schools.

At minimum, schools should share test score data and details about their curricula on their own websites. It would be even better if parents could find scores, reviews and other pertinent information on all types of schools (traditional public schools, charters and private schools) in the same place.

Several groups are already providing valuable leadership in this area, putting powerful data and information in the hands of parents. For example, GreatSchools, Great Philly Schools, and Colorado School Grades each rate schools and allow parents to search for and compare schools online. Along with school profiles, all three websites offer guidance on what to look for in a school and other helpful advice on many aspects of parenting and education.

Parental engagement and empowerment are necessary for any educational program to succeed. When parents are fully invested in their children’s schools, and they are in charge of choosing the school that best fits their children’s needs, we can change the culture of low expectations and show what is truly possible. Let’s give parents the resources and information they need to make that happen.

Coming Monday: Wishing for better schools of education.

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