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School Choice: Most Parents Would Rather Not Choose, Study Finds

October 26, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Most American parents would rather see improvements to their neighborhood public schools than choose another for their children to attend, says a new report.

The study, released over the weekend by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, examines the idea of school choice, a concept favored by both President Bush and Bill Clinton as it applies to public schools.

Bush would go further and provide government financial assistance for parents who want to send their children to private schools.

The study does not take a position on whether school choice is good or bad, nor does it support or oppose a particular political position.

However, it makes a number of recommendation for how choice programs could be made to work for jurisdictions who wish to use them.

The bulk of parents - 70 percent - say they wouldn’t transfer their children to another school if given a choice, and 82 percent say the best way to improve public education is to strengthen every school, instead of encouraging competition between a select few, the study found.

″What it does suggest is that the push for school choice appears to be coming more from theoreticians and politicians than from parents,″ the study said.

Thirteen state legislatures have adopted choice plans, and 21 others have considered them, the study said. Minnesota instituted the first program in 1987; laws offering choice are scheduled to take effect in Michigan and Ohio next year.

The foundation’s report was based on interviews, visits to school districts, and surveys of more than 1,000 parents in six states with choice programs: Arkansas, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska and Washington.

It found that, in states with school choice, only 2 percent of parents participate, and most do so for non-academic reasons, such as safety concerns or smaller class sizes. By a 2-to-1 margin, parents opposed vouchers for private school.

The study compared district-wide and statewide choice programs and one private school choice program. It discounted choice as a key means of improving public education, and recommended creating ″a national strategy for renewal that affirms the neighborhood school tradition.

The study also said:

-Choice works better for the most economically and educationally advantaged families.

-Student achievement and school renewal efforts are largely unaffected by private school choice.

-Statewide choice programs widen the gap between rich and poor districts.

Educators expect Bush to push vigorously for his choice plan if he is re- elected.

″It’s a high priority for the conservative wing of the (Republican) party,″ said Willis Hawley, director of Vanderbilt University’s Center for Education and Development Policy.

The Bush administration put a positive spin on the Carnegie results, citing as ″astonishing″ the 28 percent of parents who would like to send their children to other schools, public or private.

″More astonishing is Carnegie’s view that this is only mild support for giving these families more choices of schools,″ said Education Secretary Lamar Alexander. ″Would the Berlin Wall still be a good idea if only 28 percent of East Germans wanted out?″

Many education leaders expect the Bush administration to shift its choice efforts to the state level, citing administration involvement in the choice debate in California and in Colorado, where voters will decide a statewide choice referendum next month.

″This is an administration that says the best decision is made at the state level,″ said Arthur Fege, director of governmental relations for the National Parent-Teacher Association.

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