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National Center for Education Statistics

Why Do Parents Choose Schools for Their Children?

Have you ever wondered why parents choose a specific school for their child? New data from the Parent and Family Involvement (PFI) Survey of the National Household Education Surveys (NHES) program allow us to identify the factors that parents of K–12 students rate as “very important” when choosing a school. In the 2018–19 school year, 36 percent of students had parents who indicated that they had considered multiple schools for their child. Among these students, 79 percent had parents who indicated that the quality of teachers, principals, or other school staff was “very important” (figure 1). Other factors that a majority of students’ parents indicated as being very important include safety (including student discipline) (71 percent) and curriculum focus or unique academic programs (e.g., language immersion, STEM focus) (59 percent).


Figure 1. Among K–12 students whose parents considered multiple schools, percentage whose parents indicated that selected factors were “very important” when choosing child’s school, by school type: 2018–19

SOURCE: Hanson, R., and Pugliese, C. (2020). Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019 (NCES 2020-076). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


Although parents of students attending different types of schools (i.e., public assigned schools, public chosen schools, private religious schools, or private nonreligious schools) rated most factors for choosing a school similarly, some differences were observed. For example, higher percentages of students in private nonreligious schools than of students in all other kinds of schools had parents who indicated that the following factors were very important when choosing a school:

  • Quality of teachers, principals, or other school staff (92 percent) (figure 1)
  • Curriculum focus or unique academic programs (74 percent) (figure 1)
  • Number of students in class (58 percent) (figure 2)

In addition, a higher percentage of students in private nonreligious schools (42 percent) than of students in public schools (30 percent for public assigned schools and 31 percent for public chosen schools) had parents who indicated that student body characteristics were very important when choosing a school (figure 2). Conversely, a lower percentage of students in private nonreligious schools (14 percent) than of students in any other school type (ranging from 22 to 29 percent) had parents who rated cost as very important.


Figure 2. Among K–12 students whose parents considered multiple schools, percentage whose parents indicated that selected factors were “very important” when choosing child’s school, by school type: 2018–19

SOURCE: Hanson, R., and Pugliese, C. (2020). Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019 (NCES 2020-076). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


Thirty percent of students in public assigned schools had parents who reported that they had considered other schools for their child. What did parents of students in public assigned schools value more than other parents (figure 3)?

  • Extracurricular options (including before- and after-school programs): 31 percent of parents of students in public assigned schools indicated that this factor was very important, compared with 25 percent in public chosen schools and 24 percent in private religious schools.
  • Special facilities (e.g., gymnasium, planetarium, library): 26 percent of parents of students in public assigned schools indicated that this factor was very important, compared with 20 percent in public chosen schools and 15 percent in private religious schools.
  • Quality or availability of special education (including services for students with disabilities): 25 percent of parents of students in public assigned schools indicated that this factor was very important, compared with 13 percent in private religious schools and 17 percent in private nonreligious schools.

Figure 3. Among K–12 students whose parents considered multiple schools, percentage whose parents indicated that selected factors were “very important” when choosing child’s school, by school type: 2018–19

SOURCE: Hanson, R., and Pugliese, C. (2020). Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019 (NCES 2020-076). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


On the other hand, a lower percentage of students in public assigned schools had parents who indicated that the quality of teachers, principals, or other school staff was very important (77 percent) than did students in any other type of school (82 percent of students in public chosen schools, 84 percent of students in private religious schools, and 92 percent of students in private nonreligious schools) (figure 1).

Only 38 percent of students in private religious schools had parents who indicated that the religious orientation of the school was very important when choosing a school (figure 4). Likewise, only a quarter of students overall had parents who indicated that convenience of location was very important when choosing a school.


Figure 4. Among K–12 students whose parents considered multiple schools, percentage whose parents indicated that selected factors were “very important” when choosing child’s school, by school type: 2018–19

SOURCE: Hanson, R., and Pugliese, C. (2020). Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019 (NCES 2020-076). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


More details about the characteristics and factors that play a role in school choice, as well as additional statistics on family involvement in schools, are available in the recent NCES release Parent and Family Involvement in Education: 2019.

 

By Sarah Grady, NCES

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