How Parents Feel About School Choices (Fall 2020)

COVID-19 has changed the K-12 education landscape, at least in the short term and perhaps permanently, our School Choice Week survey of parents in Fall 2020 shows. More parents are focusing on their children’s education than at any time in recent memory. In addition to immediate challenges, like ensuring that their children learn during the pandemic, parents are getting an even closer look at the curriculum and textbooks their children are provided.

To be able to help families navigate this unprecedented time, we wanted accurate information about parent attitudes and opinions regarding school choice and the school search process. 

To get this data, we developed and deployed several surveys using Survey Monkey’s national response panel. This panel consists of millions of respondents who opt in to receive and complete surveys. Results are census-weighted to ensure that one geographic or demographic group does not skew the survey’s results. Our first survey included 1,325 parents of children between ages 5 and 16 years old (Sept. 27 – Oct. 2). Our second school choice survey included 1,540 parents of children aged 16 and younger (Sept. 30 – Oct. 2). The margin of error on each survey is +/- 3.5 percent. National School Choice Week was not listed as a sponsor of the survey, to reduce completion bias.

What we learned is that a majority of parents are considering, or have considered in the past year, finding a new or different school for their child. While parents find the school search process “frustrating” and “overwhelming,” we now have better information on what can make the process easier for them –– and how we can best encourage them throughout this process. Finally, our data also validates polling results from other organizations (such a EdChoice or Gallup), demonstrating overwhelming parent support for school choice.

Key Findings

A significant majority of parents have considered, or are currently considering, finding a new or different school or learning environment for their child(ren). Black and Hispanic parents were more likely to respond that they were considering or have considered different schools than White parents.

68% of Black parents said they considered or are considering a new or different school, compared to 66.1% of Hispanic parents and 57% of White parents. 

COVID-19 is the leading reason that parents say that they are considering, or have considered, a different school for their child –– but other reasons rank highly, too.

35.8% of respondents said a school’s response to COVID as a main reason they considered, or would consider, finding a different school. 32.7% said wanting a higher quality education was a main reason, and 25.4% said finding a better overall fit was a main reason. 

Parents who considered, or who are considering, different schools for their children are considering a variety of different schooling options. 

When asked, “What types of schools or learning environments did you, or might you, consider for your child? Select all that apply,” 40% of parents said private school, 34.9% said online school, 34% said homeschooling, 32.3% said traditional public school, 29.9% said public charter school, and 21.4% said public magnet school.

Parents find the process of searching for schools to be difficult, using words like “stressful,” “overwhelming,” “complicated,” and “exhausting” to describe the process.

Parents use a variety of resources to assist them in finding different schools for their children. Across all categories, parents rank school ratings and rankings as their top resources, followed by recommendations from family and friends.

46.5% of parents said they did use or might use school ratings, grades, and rankings to help them find a different school for their child. 41.3% said recommendations from family/friends while 36.8% said school websites.

Parents overwhelmingly (84.7%) agree that “parents should have the ability to select the schools and learning environments that best meet the needs of their children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online public schools, private schools, and homeschooling.”

Agreement is highest among Hispanic parents (92.6%) and Black parents (87.6%). Agreement is higher among women (86.7%) compared to men (82.6%). 

Parents overwhelmingly (67.9%) support school choice –– even when a definition of school choice is not provided.

When provided the following definition, support for school choice remains roughly the same (69.6%), with strong levels of support increasing across the board.

School choice means empowering parents with the ability to select the schools and learning environments that best meet the needs of their children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, online public schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

Find out more about National School Choice Week or how school choice works. If you’re a journalist covering education issues, we invite you to check out our press page.

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Alissa Jacques

Manager, Digital Communications

Alissa Jacques serves as manager of digital communications at the National School Choice Awareness Foundation (NSCAF). In this role, Alissa oversees the organization’s English-language social media presence and develops high-impact advertising campaigns to inform, inspire, and empower parents about their K–12 education options.

Previously, Alissa owned her own digital marketing agency, served as an adjunct writing professor at Bloomfield College, and spent two years as an elementary school teacher at Democracy Preparatory Charter School in New York.

Alissa attended both public and private schools as a child, where she developed a love for creative writing. She holds a bachelor of arts in education policy and entrepreneurship from New York University, and a master of arts in sociology of education from Teachers College at Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, scrolling through TikTok, and exploring NYC with her husband and cavapoo, Russ.