When given school choice, how do parents choose? New Orleans offers insights.

I’ve been reading about recovery school districts, which Gov. Nathan Deal hopes to introduce to Georgia via constitutional amendment. In my research, I came across a recent study out of New Orleans where the recovery school district – an idea born prior to Katrina but put into action on a large scale post hurricane – has become a national model and one often cited by Deal as his inspiration.

Douglas N. Harris, director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, and Matthew F. Larsen, a post-doctoral fellow at Tulane, recently released the policy brief, “What Schools Do Families Want (And Why)? New Orleans Families and Their School Choices Before and After Katrina.”

After Katrina, school choice became the standard in New Orleans. But how do parents choose? (AJC File Photo)

After Katrina, school choice became the standard in New Orleans. But how do parents choose? (AJC File Photo)

Because New Orleans converted most of its public schools to charters, tossed attendance zones and offered choice, the city provides an opportunity to study how parents choose.

Parents there were already used to choice; 53 percent of students in New Orleans were already attending schools they were not zoned for before Katrina. After the Katrina, the percentage increased to 86 percent.

The researchers looked at how much parents were influenced in their decisions by academics, as reflected by the School Performance Score, a grade awarded to schools by the state of Louisiana based on test scores

Among the findings:

•Surveys of parents tend to over-state the role of academic factors in school choices.

•While very-low-income families in New Orleans have greater access to schools with high average test scores, they are less likely to choose schools with high test scores. This is partly because their incomes and practical considerations prevent them from doing so.

•Being close to home, having siblings in the same school, and including extended school days are all more important to very-low-income families than other families. Also, compared with other New Orleans families in the public school system, very-low-income families have weaker preferences for School Performance Score and stronger preferences in high school for band and football.

•Overall, the lowest-income families are attending schools with average test scores that are higher than before the reforms, but these families weigh academic outcomes somewhat less than higher-income families.

•At the same time, while very-low-income families are less likely than moderate-income families to choose schools for their academic outcomes, very-low-income families are not necessarily worse off academically. First, there is some evidence that average academic quality has improved and become more equally distributed across the city. Second, the reforms allow schools to develop specialized programs that attract like-minded families and teachers and may help build an engaging school culture — and higher achievement. Third, our evidence suggests that some parents have strong preferences for academics and these parents could influence the market in a way that improves academics for all students.

•With more choice, average driving distance to school attended increased by 1.8 miles, and 1 in 4 students attend a school more than five miles away from home

•Distance from home to school, academic performance of schools, and extracurricular activities predict school choices at all grade levels. Also, even after controlling for other school differences, families typically prefer schools that have “legacy” names that were used pre-Katrina.

•For families of children going to elementary schools, practical considerations such as distance and availability of extended school days and after-care seem especially important. For example, an elementary school that is right across the street and has free after-care and a C grade would typically be preferred to a school that is two miles away with no after-care and a higher B grade

•For families with children going to high schools, extracurricular activities such as band and football seem especially important. For example, a high school with a legacy status, football and band, and a C grade would typically be preferred to one without legacy status, no football or band, and a B.

Reader Comments 0

16 comments
newsphile
newsphile

No one at the state level has the capability to take over any schools or anything else.  The state-run GDOT, GEMA, SHBP, DFCS are all wrought with problems.  And, ETHICS, the lack of any plus an ineffective agency, have proven beyond any shadow of doubt what state management means. Both GA students and GA taxpayers are losers here.  Just follow the money as this movement unfolds.   

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Interesting that poor parents value convenience for elementary age kids and sports and extracurriculars for their high school students.  NOT, according to this, school achievement.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@Wascatlady Well of course not.  They want a free babysitter when the kids are young, and a football factory when they get to be teenagers.  I could have predicted that without seeing any data.


But at least they get the freedom of choice, something we lack here - and the entire point of the "school choice" discussion.  If they pick a school based on different criteria than we would have, well, that's their choice to make and not ours.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

@Wascatlady @DontTread I see.  So choice for the middle class = bad, the exact same choice for the poor = good - your argument for class warfare.


Individual freedoms are not and should never be dependent on one's income level or someone else's opinion of people at that income level.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@DontTread @Wascatlady It undermines the general claim that if parents had "choice" they would flock to the best academic schools.  In fact, "choice" is still mitigated heavily by other factors, such as transportation.  "Choice" helps the middle class, NOT the poor, get to "better schools."  This exposes the widely told lie.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@QuintBush If you mean the recovery school district plan by Deal, I don't think it will impact rural Georgia. 

Georgia will likely follow the Tennessee model where the state does not take over all failing schools, only those that make sense. The Tennessee model allows state takeover of schools in the bottom 5 percent of performance, which is about 70 or 80 schools all told.

But the Tennessee Achievement School District --- we would call ours the Opportunity School District -- has only taken charge of 23 failing schools, 22 of which are in Memphis. The ASD says it chooses which schools to take over based on academic need, opportunity for impact, feeder pattern trends and stakeholder input.

 It has already released the list of schools it is taking over next year. Of the seven on the list, six are in Memphis.


ASD only runs a few of the schools. It has brought in charter companies to run the rest.


QuintBush
QuintBush

Any speculation about how this would affect rural counties and schools in Georgia?  In my county and most of the counties around where I live in rural Middle Georgia, there is only one high school. 

Astropig
Astropig

New Orleans is never going back to the old zip code model. Parents there love choice way too much.Students love it also. Sorry, libs-you lost this one forever.

gactzn14
gactzn14

@Astropig Of course- a great deal of their original student body has been displaced.  Can you say SPIN.

Starik
Starik

@Astropig The zip code model is not accurate - the school board, at least in DeKalb has other criteria for setting attendance zones.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig I'm guessing the poor are still stuck with what they had.  Lacking transportation, the kids go to the same schools they would have gone to.

EdUktr
EdUktr

The whole point to choice is that parents will get to make choices well-off white liberals can take for granted: for reasons which make sense to those parents.

The point in opposing choice is denying choices which threaten the failed status quo.



gactzn14
gactzn14

@EdUktr It is about creating REAL options founded on truth and not on SPIN!!!