Thursday, November 21, 2002

Parental Judgment

The Goldwater Institute has a fascinating piece by former UCLA Dean of Education Lewis Solmon. He found that when Arizona parents graded their charter schools, the grades closely matched state grades for the same charter schools.

Critics of school choice have long questioned the ability of parents to choose the best schools for their children. Critics fear that parents do not have the time, qualifications, or information to make informed decisions about the quality of their children’s schools. New evidence tells us it’s time to put this fear to rest.

Gathering data for the fourth annual Arizona Charter School Parental Satisfaction Survey, I surveyed parents of children attending 239 charter schools in Arizona, and asked them to grade their schools on 21 characteristics. At the same time, the Arizona Department of Education was preparing profiles of 163 charter schools, ranking them as excelling, improving, maintaining, or under performing. The department ranked elementary schools based on Stanford 9 and AIMS scores, and high schools based on AIMS scores and graduation and drop out rates. 112 of the charter schools ranked by the state were included in my parent survey.

Comparing the two report cards helps us answer the all-important question: Are parents good judges of school performance? The data suggest they are.

Across the board, state officials and parents gave nearly identical grades to the charter schools in question. On 16 of the 21 characteristics on which parents graded their charter schools, the highest grades went to Tempe Prep Academy, the one charter school rated “excellent” by education officials.

Moving down the line, the pattern of parallel ratings continues. The lowest-graded schools by parents were the schools most likely rated “under performing” by the state.

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