Study Reveals Increased Satisfaction Amongst Parents Choosing Private Schools

Contact: Antonio Wendland
Phone: 617- 495-7976
Date: August 07, 2001

Cambridge, MA -- When children shift from public to private schools, parental satisfaction increases dramatically. According to an independent evaluation by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, 40% of low-income Dayton, Ohio parents whose children attend private schools of their choice gave their school an "A" in spring 2000, compared with 16% of similar public-school parents.
Thirty-six percent of parents who had moved their children to private schools reported that they were "very satisfied" with the academic quality of their child's school, compared with 15% of public-school parents. Parents selecting private schools were also far more satisfied with their school's safety and with the teaching of moral values. These results come from an independent evaluation of a private scholarship program sponsored by Parents Advancing Choice in Education (PACE), a non-profit organization in Dayton that helps low-income families afford private education. The evaluation, a randomized field trial, was conducted by the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
According to PEPG director and evaluation co-author Paul E. Peterson, "The evidence is clear-when Dayton parents are given a choice regarding their children's education, they find places they consider to be better and safer learning environments."
Other key findings from the study include:
61% of public-school parents reported that fighting is a serious problem in their child's school, compared with 11% of private-school parents. Private-school parents were also significantly less likely to describe vandalism, cheating, truancy, or racial conflict as serious problems at their children's schools.
Over 38% of parents offered a scholarship indicated that academic quality was the most important consideration in their choice of school, while only seven listed religious instruction as most important. However, 92 % of the private-school students participating in the evaluation attended schools with a religious affiliation.
The private schools attended by students participating in the PACE program were, on average, 144 students smaller than those attended by their public-school counterparts. However, average class sizes were the same in Dayton's public and private schools.
As previously reported, after two years African American students who attended private schools scored 7 national percentile points higher than African American public-school students in combined reading and math on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. However, the test performance of non-African American private-school students did not differ significantly from their public-school counterparts.
All students from low-income families in the Dayton area entering a grade between kindergarten and twelfth grade in the 1998-99 school year were eligible to apply for PACE scholarships. The evaluation is limited to those 515 students who had previously attending public schools and a control group. PACE also gave scholarships to 250 students already enrolled in private schools. In 1999-2000, the program expanded, reinforced by additional resources made available by the Children's Scholarship Fund, a nationwide scholarship program, but the evaluation is limited to those who began in the 1998-99 school year. The average value of the partial scholarships received by families during the second year of the PACE program was $1,400; families' own contributions towards tuition averaged $1,150.
The PEPG evaluation examines the program's impact after two years on those students who had been attending public schools prior to receiving a scholarship. PACE distributed scholarships among applicants by lottery, making it possible to design the evaluation as a randomized experiment. The findings presented above are based on a comparison of the responses of families offered a scholarship with those that applied for the scholarship but did not win the lottery drawing.
The authors of the study are Martin R. West, David E. Campbell, and Paul E. Peterson. Peterson is the Shattuck Professor of Government at Harvard University and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) a joint program of the Taubman Center for Local and State Government, Kennedy School of Government and the Center for American Political Studies, Department of Government, Harvard University. He is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. West and Campbell are PEPG research associates. The evaluation was funded by grants from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.
The findings and interpretations reported are the sole responsibility of the authors and are not subject to the approval of program operators or foundations providing financial support.
The full report is available at


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