What do parents want in their schools? A new national study of K-12 parents reveals some interesting clusters of opinion.
The Fordham Institute completed the research via an online survey of over 2000 parents in August of 2012. The results were disaggregated by the authors into six categories of school parents:
These parents see the purpose of school as a passage to a career. College is not as important in their child’s future; they see school as a venue for their child (mostly boys) to gain the skills necessary to be successful.
Parents in this category want schools that “emphasize instruction in citizenship, democracy, and leadership”, the vision that Thomas Jefferson certainly had for public schools. What is interesting about this group is that these parents match the overall demographic of the survey.
Test-Score Hawks (23%)
The “Hawks” search for schools with the best test scores. They are not as concerned with school culture; they want their children to attend graduate school someday and achieve mightily. These parents are apt to change their child’s school if they are not satisfied.
These parents want their children to experience students of other nationalities, races, and religions. They are more likely to be African-American, politically liberal, and be from an urban area.
Parents in this category care most about the arts. They want a school that “emphasizes arts and music instruction”. They are less likely to be of the Christian faith and in fact they are three times more likely to be atheists. Charter schools might be an option for these parents too.
These parents appear similar to the “Test-Score Hawks” but they are more concerned with their child being accepted at a top-tier college regardless of the school’s test scores. African-Americas and Hispanics dominate in this category and these parents are not more likely to be college educated than the populace at large.
Knowledge of this study has implications for educational leaders:
1. Truthfully, even acknowledging that our “clients” (parents/students) may have different needs may be illuminating. In a world hyper-focused on standards and skills, we may not be stretching our perspective to include the parents that pay the taxes and allow our schools to exist.
2. As I read over the list, I naturally placed my own beliefs within a category or two. We must refrain from judging our parents and strive to treat each with equal value. I received a nice compliment last week when a family lauded a particular teacher team for treating that family with care, though they were poor and in great need of support. Obviously, our mission is to serve all students and families equally, but parents are curious and sometimes nervous about what we think.
3. As we read the categories, I am certain there are parents of which we are less comfortable. Since we all come out of college backgrounds, can we relate to the hopes and dreams of the pragmatists? We may abhor the current high-stakes test climate but shouldn’t we understand the perspective of those “hawk” parents who simply want the best for their high achieving children?
4. Is it legitimate to influence parents’ pedagogical point of view? For example, I have had conversations with parents about favoring differentiation over tracked classrooms. This may not have led to a whole-scale shift from “Test-Score Hawks” to “Jeffersonians” (nor would that necessarily be my preference) but in the process, we learned from each other.
In my 17 years as a Principal, I can easily conjure up parent faces for each of the six categories above. As much as I care about each of my students, every mother or father cares about their child more than I. Even if my vision doesn’t match each parent in my school, a respectful discourse nearly always leads to greater understanding between adults which is bound to have beneficial effects for children.
What are your thoughts? Do these categories line up with your experiences of working with parents?