A common concern about school choice is that parents, especially low-income parents, will not have enough information to pick the school that is the best fit for their child. Perhaps this is true in the absence of school choice programs—after all, what’s the point in seeking out information when your only option is the neighborhood school?
New research confirms, however, that school choice gives parents an incentive to become more knowledgeable about different schooling options. A study by Michael F. Lovenheim and Patrick Walsh found “clear evidence that the availability of public school-choice options under NCLB [No Child Left Behind] increased demand for information on school quality.” When parents had the option to transfer their child to another school, internet searches about the schools in their area increased; conversely, when there was no longer a transfer option, searches dropped.
When people say that parents are not informed enough decide among school options, they fail to recognize that school choice can actually encourage parents to gather information and shop around for the best school.
Moreover, state agencies and third-party organizations can help make information on school quality more accessible. Louisiana’s Department of Education launched a website that allows families to compare schools and child care centers via customizable searches.
Show Me KC Schools is a nonprofit organization that helps parents navigate all of their options—public, charter, and private schools—in Kansas City and provides them with the information they need. In an article for US News & World Report last month, Mike McShane described what the organization does to assist parents:
They have an online school finder that allows users to compare and contrast the offerings and performance of different schools. They host a school fair that had over 700 attendees last year. They offer guided school tours that begin with a discussion of what parents are looking for and end with a debrief and conversation with other parents whose children attend the various schools they have visited.
Sure, there will be a learning curve if new school choice programs are introduced, but organizations like Show Me KC Schools can help with the transition.
The bottom line is that school choice empowers parents—it creates an incentive to find out which school will meet their child’s needs and it provides parents with an opportunity to send their child to that school. We should not underestimate parents’ desire to give their kids a better education or the time they are willing to devote to that effort if given the opportunity.