Click here for coverage of new Education Next poll results, which include Americans’ opinions of school choice issues, including charter schools.
- Charter school parents are more likely than parents in traditional district schools to report volunteering and attending parent-teacher conferences or parent group meetings. But overall, there are no significant differences between charter and district parents in participating in general meetings, committees, fundraising and guidance counselor activities, according to an article in the American Educational Research Journal.
- The study, which uses data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Parent and Family Involvement surveys, also shows charter parents report significantly higher levels of satisfaction. But as the charter sector grew between 2007 and 2016, there was also an “uptick” in satisfaction among district parents and a downward trend among charter parents.
- The study’s author, Zachary Oberfield of Haverford College in Pennsylvania, suggests parent volunteering contracts, sometimes in place at charter schools, could be one reason these parents report more volunteering. In addition, the differences in satisfaction levels, he said, could “result from steps that charter schools are taking to ensure that parents and children are having positive schooling experiences.”
While the study adds another layer to the many ways researchers are comparing traditional and charter schools, Oberfield also addresses what he calls a charter school debate that “often devolves into caricature and hardline position taking,” noting the research overall on whether charter schools are different or better than traditional schools is mixed.
“As these results accumulate, perhaps they can encourage policymakers and stakeholders to ratchet down the rhetoric and engage in more generative conversations,” he wrote. “In doing so, we can deepen our understanding of how charter and district schools compare and what they can learn from one another.”
Digging into the satisfaction data, for example, he found parents whose children attended district schools outside of their geographically assigned school had higher levels of satisfaction than those who attended assigned schools. Perhaps, he wrote, exercising some choice — whether it’s a charter or district school — “conditions a positive feeling.”
In a Q&A about a book on charters he published last year, he also noted “a fire has been lit under public school administrators” in traditional schools, and many are working harder to attract families and provide unique opportunities for students.
Oberfield adds that a future area of research — and comparison — should explore parents’ experiences with school leaders and teachers. “Future work could contribute by comparing how district and charter parents experience the teachers and leaders who run their child’s school and how this is connected to their engagement and satisfaction,” he wrote.