Column: New survey shows love is all around for Arizona schools

Ed Choice recently released findings from a survey of Arizona K-12 parents. The report analyzes a survey of 3,577 parents of children attending public district and charter schools, as well as private schools in Arizona. The survey also broke out private school parents by those using the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, a tax credit scholarship, or parents paying for private schools without assistance.

The diversity regarding the primary motivations of parents in choosing their school is the most striking information in the survey. As can be seen in the above figure, academics was the single biggest factor across all school sectors. Charter parents focused most heavily on academics as the primary driving factor at 44 percent, but even within this community factors such as morals/character development, safety and individual attention also standout. The figure above shows just how diverse the preferences of Arizona parents are in choosing their child’s school. Note that only 19 percent of district school parents picked “this is my assigned neighborhood school” as the primary reason for choosing their school. In Maricopa County, students participating in open enrollment outnumber charter students almost two to one, making district schools active “schools of choice” as well.

Charter school parents gave the highest ratings on four of five measures of school climate. Private school parents reported the highest levels of participation, followed by charter and then traditional public-school parents. Parents with children in charter schools as well as private school parents gave more favorable ratings of their schools’ disciplinary practices than parents with children in traditional public schools. In reflecting on relationships in their child’s school, 84 percent of charter school parents say that staff makes them feel welcome at school, a much higher percentage than that of traditional public or private school parents.

The survey also asked private choice program parents about the programs in which they participate. Private choice program families gave the ESA and tax credit programs positive reviews. For example, seventy percent of ESA parents—a majority of whom are the parents of children with disabilities—agreed with the statement that the ESA program “gives me peace of mind that my child’s needs are being met.”

The overall level of satisfaction for Arizona district parents (73 percent) and charter parents (82 percent) stood at higher levels than a national survey of parents conducted by Ed Choice in 2018. In that year 66 percent of district parents expressed satisfaction and 78 percent of charter parents nationwide. Arizona students have shown statistically significant improvements on all six state-level National Assessment of Educational Progress exams given since 2009 (in 4th and 8th grade math, reading and science).

So, between a pluralistic diversity of priorities for families and a lot of different types of school opportunities to choose from, higher than average satisfaction and improving results, Arizona schools just might make it after all.

Matthew Ladner

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