Earlier this month, Fordham released a brand-new report, What Parents Want, which looks at parent priorities and preferences in K–12 schools. We found that parents’ “must-haves” do not vary greatly, and that parents are more alike than they are different. (Chief among parents’ priorities: schools that have provide a strong core curriculum in reading and math and that emphasize science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.) But differences among parents also emerged, in six market-research “niches,” where parents prioritized individual school attributes or student goals that other parents viewed as less important.
So we know what all parents—and what parent “niches”—want in our schools. But do we have the schools that meet parents’ needs? Does Ohio’s supply of schools meet the demands of picky parents?
Not perfectly, of course. By all accounts, school, student, and parent don’t always mesh like a hand in glove. But, there is also evidence that public schools are increasingly designing curriculum and hiring staff to meet the demands of specific parental segments, while at the same time, holding to high academic standards. Looking across Ohio, we put together a short list of district and charter schools that, in some way or another, appear to cater these niches. (By no means is this an all-inclusive list; we surely left off many schools that exemplify the market niches.)
The following bullets describe parental niches that were identified in the survey, along with a few schools—all high schools—that we think meet the various niche markets. (See our 2013 “Needles in Haystack” report for further information about a few of these schools.)
- Pragmatists (36 percent of K–12 parents) ranked highly the school attribute: “Offers vocational classes or job-related programs.” In Dayton, there are three charter schools—the Mound Street Academies—that help students who have dropped out, or are at-risk of dropping out of school, gain first-hand experience in a vocational field. One academy is focused on health care careers, the second, on military and technological careers (Dayton’s largest employer is a military base), and the third is focused on information technology (IT) careers. In 2011-12, the last year of traditional report card data for “dropout recovery” charter schools, two of the three Mound Street Academy schools earned a “B” rating, and the third—the health-focused academy—earned a “C” rating.
- Test-Score Hawks (23 percent) ranked highly the school attribute: “Has high test scores.” Cleveland is home to the John Hay Early College High School, a district high school. The school is among the state’s highest achieving high schools (“A” in achievement on its 2012-13 report card), and a majority of its students are low-income and minority. John Hay is a selective admissions high school, where admission is based on test scores. Elsewhere, the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) similarly produces strong achievement results (“B” in achievement in 2012-13), while serving mainly poor and minority students and having a completely open enrollment policy.
- Expressionists (15 percent) ranked highly: “Emphasizes arts and music instruction.” Among Ohio’s urban high schools, there is a small stable of arts-focused schools. The Toledo School for the Arts (rated “B” in achievement), Stivers School for the Arts (rated “B” in achievement), and Cleveland School for the Arts (rated “B” in achievement) are three exemplary high schools of both high academic quality, while also providing opportunities for their students to engage in performing and visual arts programs. Each of these schools are “choice” schools—Toledo is a charter school. Meanwhile, Stivers and Cleveland School for the Arts are intra-district magnet schools with a selective admissions policy.
Schools cannot be all things to everyone. Some schools’ strength lies in their ability to put youngsters on a vocational path, while other schools are better equipped to put kids on the track to a four-year college or university. It is through the marketplace of many unique types of schools that the different educational needs of children and the preferences of their parents can be met. Ohio’s school-choice marketplace, while far from perfect, is recognizing and adapting to the variation in child’s needs and parent’s wants. This is a good thing, and it bodes well for the future of school choice and education in the Buckeye State.