Philadelphia's Changing Schools and What Parents Want From Them

Tom Ferrick, Jr. and Laura Horwitz
Philadelphia Research Initiative, Pew Charitable Trust
June 2010

Comparing parental satisfaction in district, charter, and Catholic schools in Philadelphia, this analysis examines the City of Brotherly Love’s K-12 school-choice landscape. The city has seen the same trends as many other urban areas: District and Catholic enrollment is declining, while charter enrollment is booming. How do parents feel about these trends? To find out, researchers polled about 800 parents and conducted focus groups with a subset of them; they also interviewed teachers, city administrators, and others, and visited a handful of schools in person. They found that charter and Catholic schools have higher parental satisfaction rates (95 percent, for both) than their district counterparts (77 percent). And, even more importantly, parents are not “philosophically wedded” to any one type: Parents think about schools individually, rather than as systems, and they don’t care what type it is so long as a safe, caring environment at little to no out-of-pocket cost. District-school frustration ran deep: Indeed, charter or Catholic school parents who had once sent their children to district schools were the most disillusioned about the latter, and even district school parents who were upbeat about their own child’s school were not enthusiastic about the system as a whole. The authors predict that enrollment trends will continue: District and Catholic schools should brace for continuing decline, while charters will expand. And unfortunately, charter schools may force Catholic schools out of the market: Though parents are largely satisfied with their Catholic schools, charters present an attractive no-cost option. Read the full report here.

By Daniela Fairchild

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