Opening Doors: How Low-Income Parents Search for the Right School

The latest report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) addresses the notion (often voiced by critics of choice initiatives) that low-income parents don’t make informed school choice decisions. Researchers asked 800 low- to moderate-income parents in Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., and Denver how they gathered information and made decisions about available schooling options. Survey results showed that low-income parents engaged in a significant amount of information gathering, and considered school performance as an important factor when making decisions. Low-income parents also relied on multiple sources of information and were generally satisfied with the school choice decisions they make (much like the more affluent parents surveyed).

Yet large numbers of low-income parents still preferred and trusted “soft data” (word-of-mouth, school observations, culture, etc.) more than test scores as an indicator of academic quality. And the lowest-income parents (those with incomes below $20,000 per year) gathered less information about options, reported lower levels of satisfaction with their choices, and believed they would benefit the most from access to a paid counselor or parent information centers. (Parents in Dayton have Greatschools.net, which publishes My School Chooser, a user-friendly guide to area school programs, and also trains parent leaders to help low-income parents through the school choice process.)

CRPE’s findings reveal that low-income parents, while far from uninformed consumers, still need greater access to information and resources to select the best options for their children. Ohio policymakers looking to assist them can start by reading the report, available here.

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