What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-offs

A National Survey of K-12 Parents

Vertical Tabs

This groundbreaking study finds that nearly all parents seek schools with a solid core curriculum in reading and math, an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, and the development in students of good study habits, strong critical thinking skills, and excellent verbal and written communication skills. But some parents also prefer specializations and emphases that are only possible in a system of school choice.

  • Pragmatists (36 percent of K–12 parents) assign high value to schools that, “offer vocational classes or job-related programs.” Compared to the total parent population, Pragmatists have lower household incomes, are less likely themselves to have graduated from college, and are more likely to be parents of boys.
  • Jeffersonians (24 percent) prefer a school that “emphasizes instruction in citizenship, democracy, and leadership,” although they are no more likely than other parents to be active in their communities or schools.
  • Test-Score Hawks (23 percent) look for a school that “has high test scores.” Such parents are more likely to have academically gifted children who put more effort into school. They are also more likely to set high expectations for their children, push them to excel, and expect them to earn graduate degrees. Test-Score Hawks are also more apt to report that their child has changed schools because, as parents, they were dissatisfied with the school or its teachers.
  • Multiculturalists (22 percent) laud the student goal: “learns how to work with people from diverse backgrounds.” They are more likely to be African American, to self-identify as liberal, and to live in an urban area.
  • Expressionists (15 percent) want a school that “emphasizes arts and music instruction.” They are more likely to be parents of girls and to identify as liberal; they are less likely to be Christian. (In fact, they are three times more likely to self-identify as atheists.)
  • Strivers (12 percent) assign importance to their child being “accepted at a top-tier college.” Strivers are far more likely to be African American and Hispanic. They are also more apt to be Catholic. But they do not differ from the total population in terms of their own educational attainment.

What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-Offs uses market-research techniques to determine what school characteristics and student goals are most important to parents.



PragmatistsJeffersoniansTest Score HawksMulticulturalistsExpressionistsStrivers

In the Media

February 17, 2017
The Philadelphia Citizen

Governance in the charter school sector: Time for a reboot

Vertical Tabs

When charter schools first emerged more than two decades ago, they presented an innovation in public school governance. No longer would school districts enjoy the “exclusive franchise” to own and operate public schools, as chartering pioneer and advocate Ted Kolderie explained. Charters wouldn’t gain all of the independence of private schools—they would still report to a publicly accountable body, or authorizer—but they would be largely freed from the micromanagement of school boards, district bureaucracies, and union contracts. Autonomy, in exchange for accountability, would reign supreme.

Over the course of its twenty-year history, however, American education and its charter school sector have evolved in important ways. One of the significant ways is school governance—not a topic that gets a lot of attention but, as it turns out, a crucial one that is overdue for an overhaul (and not just in the charter sector).

The growth of nonprofit charter networks (CMOs), the ubiquity of for-profit school-management companies (EMOs), and the emergence of “virtual” charter schools have all upended the notion that charters would mostly be freestanding “community-based” schools of the “one-off” variety. Yet the public policies and practices that characterize charter governance haven’t kept pace with these real-world changes.

To examine this mismatch more closely and consider how it might be set right, we interviewed nearly two dozen analysts, authorizers, board members, and practitioners with interest in and knowledge of charter schools. Not one of them felt that the inherited assumptions and regulations about governance in the charter sector are truly well suited to present-day realities. This brief explores several ways that charter governance might be rebooted.

In the Media

March 28, 2013
Georgia Public Broadcasting
April 03, 2013
Nonprofit Quarterly

Searching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality

A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality

Vertical Tabs

In just two decades, charter schools have grown from a boutique school reform strategy to an alternative public school system serving a significant percentage of the nation’s K-12 students. In 1996, just 19 states had charter legislation in place, and there were only about 250 charters serving some 20,000 pupils. Fast forward to 2013: 41 states and the District of Columbia now have charter laws on the books, and there are more than 2 million students enrolled in 5,600 charter schools.

Many students attending charters are in high-need, high-poverty neighborhoods; in Cleveland for example—in Fordham’s home state Ohio—nearly 15,000 students (25 percent of Cleveland’s public school students) attended a charter school during the 2011-12 school year. This begs the question: how are these schools doing in comparison to their district peers and in comparison to their wealthier peers across the state? And how might we structure closure and new school policies to increase the number of high-flying charters while reducing the number of academic laggards?

Conducted jointly by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Public Impact, the new research study Searching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality sheds light on charter performance — in Albany, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis. These cities were highlighted because they have relatively large numbers of charter schools and charter school students. These are cities where charters have been part of the educational landscape for a decade or more.

Searching for Excellence analyzes the 2010-11 standardized test results for 108 elementary and middle schools in these five cities. Charter school quality is assessed by comparing charter school test results to those of the home school district and to all public schools statewide. Results are reported for both individual charters and as a citywide cohort.

Download the report today!  

School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring?

Vertical Tabs

Many proponents of private school choice take for granted that schools won’t participate if government asks too much of them, especially if it demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. Were such school refusals to be widespread, the programs themselves could not serve many kids. But is this assumption justified?

A new Fordham Institute study provides empirical answers. Do regulations and accountability requirements deter private schools from participating in choice programs? How important are such requirements compared to other factors, such as voucher amounts? Are certain types of regulations stronger deterrents than others? Do certain types schools shy away from regulation more than others?

Among the study’s major findings:

  • Regulations that restrict student admissions and schools’ religious practices are more likely to deter school participation than are requirements pertaining to academic standards, testing, and public disclosure of achievement results;
  • Curriculum and testing requirements ranked among the least important considerations for school leaders, with just 25 percent citing state assessment rules as very important in their decision to participate or not;
  • Only 3 percent of non-participating schools cited governmental regulations as the most important reason to opt out;
  • The reasons most cited by school principals for participating in voucher programs were expanding their mission in the community (87 percent), helping voucher-eligible families already enrolled in their schools (75 percent), and aiding needy children in the community (72 percent);
  • About one-third of non-participating private schools cited a lack of eligible families in their vicinity as key to their decision to shun the program; and
  • Catholic schools are most likely to participate in choice programs, regardless of the regulatory environment.

Watch the replay of the event based on the report:







In the Media

January 29, 2013
January 30, 2013
Linking and thinking on education

Moving Up: Fordham's 2011-12 Sponsorship Accountability Report

Vertical Tabs

"Moving Up" is The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's charter school sponsorship accountability report for 2011-12. Through it, we hope to help readers understand the complexities of charter schools and better appreciate the hard work of the teachers, school leaders, and board members who serve not only the schools we sponsor but also the schools around the state and nation that are working to make a difference in the lives of children. This year's report features an in-depth look at the struggles of two Fordham-sponsored schools in Dayton; it is researched and written by former Dayton Daily News reporter and editor Ellen Belcher.

Student Nomads: Mobility in Ohio's Schools

A school level anlysis of student mobility in Ohio

Vertical Tabs

Student mobility happens when kids change schools for reasons other than customary promotions. The change of schools may occur for any one of a multitude of reasons--anything from a simple change of address, to seeking out a nicer school or neighborhood, or due to family turmoil. These school changes can happen during the school year or over the summer.

This pioneering and comprehensive study investigates the phenomenon of student mobility in over 3,000 Ohio public school buildings (traditional district and charter). This is first-of-its-kind research, since as far as we know, there has never before been a statewide analysis of student mobility. In order to do this, we sorted through over 5 million student records over two school years (October 2009 to May 2011), relying on the Ohio Department of Education's database.

The result of this work is a fascinating picture of student mobility in Ohio, which we present through maps, tables, and charts. We urge you to dig into our work. You'll find in-depth analyses of mobility in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Toledo. And additional school building mobility data, presented in spreadsheet format, can be accessed through website of Community Research Partners, the study's lead researcher:

The research was made possible through the support of a diverse set of funders: Thomas B. Fordham Institute, The Siemer Institute for Family Stability, The Nord Family Foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, KnowledgeWorks,, American Federation of Teachers/Ohio Federation of Teachers, School Choice Ohio, United Way of Central Ohio, United Way of Greater Toledo, and The Columbus Foundation.

The Diverse Schools Dilemma

Vertical Tabs

Many of today’s parents yearn to live in or near the lively, culturally vibrant heart of the city—in diverse, walkable neighborhoods full of music and theater, accessible to museums and stores, awash in ethnic eateries, and radiating a true sense of community. This is a major shift from recent generations that saw middle class families trading urban centers for suburbs with lawns, malls, parks, and good schools.

But good schools still matter. And standing in the way of many parents’ urban aspirations is the question: Will the public schools in the city provide a strong education for my kids?

To be sure, lots of parents favor sending their sons and daughters to diverse schools with children from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. But can such schools successfully meet the educational needs of all those different kids? How do middle class children fare in these environments? Is there enough challenge and stimulation in schools that also struggle to help poor and immigrant children reach basic standards? Is there too much focus on test scores? And why is it so hard to find diverse public schools with a progressive, child-centered approach to education?

These quandaries and more are addressed in this groundbreaking book by Michael J. Petrilli, one of America’s most trusted education experts and a father who himself is struggling with the Diverse Schools Dilemma.

The book is now available for purchase from Amazon, in print or as an eBook.



Vertical Tabs

Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector

Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector

Vertical Tabs

The twenty years since Minnesota passed the nation’s first charter school law have seen a great expansion in school choice, with charters operating in all but ten states and enrolling nearly two million students nationwide. Yet while parents now enjoy more schooling options for their children, a disappointing number of charter schools fail to provide excellent educations. As an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio, we struggle daily with birthing and growing high-quality charter schools—which is why we find promising and underutilized approaches like charter incubation so appealing.

In this policy brief, Public Impact’s Joe Ableidinger and Julie Kowal examine the merits of the incubation model, outline specific strategies for supporting it, and profile organizations around the U.S. putting it into practice. The authors explain that through the strategic recruitment, selection, and training of talented leaders—and support of them as they launch or expand new charter schools—incubators offer charter school advocates an important tool in guaranteeing quality school choice.

In the Media

April 29, 2012
Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools

Fwd: How Are Dayton's Charter Schools Doing?

Vertical Tabs

This edition of Fwd summarizes Ohio state report card data for Dayton public schools district and charter. Two major conclusions leap from these data. First, despite some recent gains, the phrase academic emergency continues to characterize the majority of Dayton's public schools. Second, youngsters in Dayton's charter schools outperformed their district peers in all parts of the 4th and 6th grade proficiency tests. This important finding flies in the face of recent assertions that charter school students are learning less.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Fordham's 2010-11 Sponsorship Accountability Report

Vertical Tabs

The 2010 elections were good for Republicans in Ohio, who have traditionally supported the expansion of charter schools (and choice broadly). We were hopeful as lawmakers and the governor set about removing caps on charter schools, lifting the e-school moratorium, and suggesting other legislative changes that would improve charter quality and accountability. However, we were disheartened when during the budget cycle, the Ohio House proposed several changes that would have been insidious to the charter movement in the Buckeye State, such as: neutering governing boards and authorizers of their oversight responsibilities; exempting charter schools from compliance with most of the state’s education laws and rules; and allowing operators to essentially run schools without an authorizing entity to hold them accountable.

Luckily, the charter community in Ohio and nationally stood firmly against these proposals and was united in the need for better accountability and quality (and not just growth for growth’s sake). This resulted in a rejection of the House’s provisions as well as a new requirement holding charter authorizers accountable (which we explain in the report). Fordham schools showed more academic growth than any of the state’s large authorizers, but we still realize there’s more work to do. Improvement is a continual process and we won’t hide from that challenge.

The report describes these developments over the year, and also delineates how our schools fared in terms of achievement, growth, and their contractual obligations. It provides achievement comparisons to other charters in Ohio’s Urban 8 cities and their home district peer schools, as well as data on student demographics, AYP, and finances. And it outlines important history and context related to our six years as an authorizer: how our portfolio has changed in terms of school composition and performance, as well as our plans for the upcoming year in taking on two new schools. For the first time ever, we are authorizing two rural schools (one of which is a high school – also a first in our authorizing portfolio), and we are positioned to take on other high-performing schools looking to expand.